‘All retaliation options are on the table’: Iran-backed forces warn US they will send soldiers ‘back in coffins’ if troops don’t withdraw from Iraq

‘If the American people re-elect Trump, this means they support his crimes. This may change our position towards the American people. All their interests in the region will be at risk,’ say militia members

The rising tensions between the US and Iran explained

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have warned “all retaliation options are on the table” and they will “send American soldiers back in coffins” if US citizens do not pressure their government to withdraw troops from the country.

The comments came as Iraq’s prime minister told the US ambassador to Baghdad that Washington must cooperate to prevent “an open war” with Iran and pull out its forces.

Speaking to The Independent, factions within the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), said they had “no red lines hindering their revenge” for the Friday drone strike on Baghdad Airport which killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMF’s chief.

They threatened attacks against US military interests and servicemen in Iraq but said the net may widen to civilians if the nation re-elected Donald Trump, therefore, endorsing “his crimes”.

On Monday Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led funeral prayers in Tehran over the remains of Soleimani, who headed up the Quds Force, the foreign military arm of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards that worked closely with the PMF.

Iranian state TV claimed millions had poured onto the streets to bid farewell to the feared commander. The scale of the crowds shown on television appeared to be the biggest since the 1989 funeral of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“Our message to the American people is you have to pressure Trump’s government to withdraw their troops from Iraq before we send your soldiers back in coffins,” said Jawad Al Telbawi, a commander and spokesman for a faction within the Iran-supported PMF.

“All retaliation options are on the table. After the crime committed by Trump’s administration, our revenge will be the size of our doctrine and no red lines shall hinder our revenge.”

Calling the American president a “fool and a blackmailer” he added that if the US people re-elected Mr Trump in the 2020 elections, the PMF and its affiliates will scale up the violence.

“If the American people re-elect Trump to the US presidency, this would mean they support his crimes. This may change our position towards the American people. All American interests in the region will be at risk.”

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi met the US ambassador Mathew Tueller on Monday to urge cooperation saying it was key to prevent “sliding towards an open war” with Tehran.

He told the diplomat the US must also work with Iraq to bring about the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi soil.

Tensions in Iraq and the wider Middle East reached boiling point this week, after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and several other officials.

Soleimani, 62, who oversaw the training and financing of Iran’s feared proxy groups like the PMF in Iraq and the Lebanese Military group Hezbollah, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, as well as overseeing the killing of civilians and sieges in places like Syria.

But to his supporters in the region, he was a key figurehead in the battle against western imperialism. His death has only galvanised that image across the region.

In Iraq, the PMF’s forces called the US army “criminals”.

“We shall convulse the ground underneath the American army’s feet in Iraq. These are not slogans, rather truths in which we believe,” Mr Telbawi added.

The assassination also angered Iraq who saw the strike as a massive violation of the country’s sovereignty. Iraq’s parliament voted on Sunday to expel US and foreign troops in the wake of the killing.

Baghdad has for years worked to balance its alliances with both Washington and Tehran: some 5,000 US military personnel are believed to be in Iraq to help fight Isis militants and train Iraqi forces.

Furious, Mr Trump threatened to impose sanctions on Baghdad if they followed through with expelling US troops. He also demanded billions of dollars in financial compensation for US military investments in Iraq over the years.

He later threatened to target 52 sites in Iran, including areas of cultural importance, which if carried out would likely be a war crime, according to legal experts.

On Monday night an apparently leaked letter suggested that the US military was pulling out of Iraq, but Mark Esper, the defence secretary, later said this was not the case.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by saying the US president should “never threaten the Iranian nation”.

America’s western allies have rushed to try to pull back the US and Iran from the brink of war.

Dominic Raab, who spoke to Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif on Monday, urged all sides to find a diplomatic solution to tensions.

“The key message that we have got to all of our European and American partners but critically also to the Iranians, to the Iraqis and all of those affected in the region is the importance of defusing the tensions, to de-escalate ... and the importance of finding a diplomatic way through,” Mr Raab said.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, also called for restraint during emergency talks between Nato ambassadors in Brussels on Monday, where he said: “A new conflict would be in no one’s interest.”

Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), paramilitaries stand guard during a funerary procession for Wissam Alyawi, a leading commander of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq faction that is part of the PMF, in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on October 26, 2019

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, meanwhile focused on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, brokered with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany, that aimed to prevent Tehran from building an atomic weapon.

After Soleimani’s killing Tehran said it would no longer abide by any limits of an international nuclear deal including restrictions on the enrichment of uranium, or research and development, dealing a devastating blow to the deal.

“We have to convince Iran that it’s also in its own interest,” she said.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Iran could now enrich uranium without any constraints and so European powers would consider launching the dispute mechanism for the deal in the coming days.

In Iran the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani, presided over the main funerary prayers in Tehran – where he wept as he prayed over the commander’s casket.

Over the last few days, mass funerary processions have taken place across the country, which up until recently had been gripped by nationwide anti-government protests during which more than 300 people were reportedly killed.

The commander’s assassination appears to have temporarily silenced that anger and instead has seen politicians and leaders across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum take part in the mourning.

Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Qaani, stood near Khamenei’s side, as did Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders in the Islamic Republic.

The leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas which governs the blockaded Gaza Strip was also in attendance, despite the fact that Egypt has only granted him permission once to travel in December on the condition he did not visit Iran.

Soleimani’s daughter Zeinab also spoke reiterating that her father’s killing will only “resurrect” the cause.

“Crazy Trump, don’t think that everything is over with my father’s martyrdom,” she said.

Mr Qaani, the new head of the Quds force, made his own threat in an interview with Iranian state television also aired on Monday.

“God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly, actions will be taken,” he said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in