Just hours after Donald Trump appeared in Florida to make his first public comments about the killing of the veteran Iranian military leader, reports said a US airstrike hit two cars travelling north of Baghdad and containing members of an Iran-backed militia.
Initial reports said up to five people may have been killed, though there was no immediate confirmation of this.
An Iraqi military source told Reuters that six members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias were killed in the incident, and that others were injured. A statement issued by the group claimed the convoy was made up of medics, rather than senior leaders.
On Thursday, when the US killed the 62-year-old Iranian leader in an attack said to have utilised missiles fired from Reaper drones, among the other victims was militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. A spokesman for the umbrella group, Mohammed Ridha Jabri, was also among the dead.
On Friday, Mr Trump claimed the US killed Soleimani “to stop a war” not start one. But he also warned Iran against retaliating over the targetted killing of its military leader.
“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Mr Trump said. “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”
Mr Trump said he had tremendous respect for the people of Iran and that the US was not seeking regime change.
However, he added: “The United States has the best military by far, anywhere in the world.
“We have best intelligence in the world. If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified, and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary. And that, in particular, refers to Iran.”
Iran has responded by threatening revenge. On Friday, it told the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, it reserved the right to self-defence under international law.
In a letter, Iranian UN ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said the killing of Soleimani was “an obvious example of state terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, the Charter of the United Nations”.
Mr Ravanchi later told CNN the killing of Soleimani amounted to a “military action”. He added: The response for a military action is a military action.”
The airstrike north of Baghdad is said to have taken place at 1.12am local time.
Reports said two of the three vehicles making up a militia convoy were found burned.
The development came as the US said it was was sending thousands more troops to the region as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing of Soleimani.
Additional reporting by agencies
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