Iran General’s Wake Brings Deadly Stampede and Calls for Revenge

2020-01-07 07:21:47

(Bloomberg) — Iran said it is evaluating 13 possible ways to inflict a “historic nightmare” on the U.S. for killing a powerful Iranian general, whose burial was postponed after dozens of mourners died in a stampede.

General Qassem Soleimani’s exploits in conflicts from Syria to Yemen made him a national hero, and hundreds of thousands have turned out this week as his funeral procession stopped in various cities, first in Iraq, where he was killed in a drone strike, and later Iran. But the masses that met the cortege ahead of his burial overwhelmed his southeastern hometown, leaving more than 50 dead and 213 injured, state TV reported.

The burial was postponed indefinitely, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said. Some of those hurt as two large crowds merged at an intersection were in a critical condition, emergency officials said.

The tragedy unfolded after Iran served notice that it was assessing 13 scenarios for reprisal.

“Even if the weakest of these scenarios gains a consensus, its implementation can be a historic nightmare for the Americans,” Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, was cited as saying by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency. “For now, for intelligence reasons, we cannot provide more information to the media.”

Iranian officials have previously said that U.S. forces in the region will be targets, and the Iranian parliament on Tuesday designated the Pentagon and affiliated companies as terrorists. The U.S. issued a warning to shipping in the Middle East over the possibility of Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement.

The menacing comments from Shamkhani, which were later denied by the security council, briefly roiled markets. But U.S. equity futures edged higher, and stocks in Europe and Asia later jumped as investors set aside fears about escalating tensions in the Middle East.

In Brussels, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the U.K. are holding an emergency meeting to discuss their options to try and defuse tensions.

A German lawmaker, Roderich Kiesewetter, said some German troops would temporarily be withdrawn from Iraq, and in Lebanon, the U.S. embassy tightened security in anticipation of retribution, according to a local news report.

Extended Influence

The general directed the foreign operations of Iran’s military, and was instrumental in extending Tehran’s influence across the Middle East through a network of proxy militias. His death near Baghdad’s airport has rippled through the region, with the U.S. and its allies on alert for retaliation and questions swirling about the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, deployed there to combat Islamic State and serve as a counterweight against Iran’s formidable influence.

U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told Fox News on Tuesday that Soleimani was in Iraq planning attacks on “facilities” that contained American diplomats and troops.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said earlier in Tehran that the U.S. would suffer consequences for the killing of Soleimani “at a time and place of Iran’s choosing.” The countdown has begun for the U.S. exit from the Middle East, he said, warning of a multi-generational war should the region continue to rely on the U.S. presence.

The Pentagon dispatched additional forces to the Middle East, even as conflicting signs emerged about Washington’s commitment to remaining in Iraq.

The three-ship Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group was ordered to move to the Persian Gulf region from the Mediterranean, where it has been exercising, according to a U.S. official. The group, which includes about 2,200 Marines and a helicopter unit, follows the deployment of about 3,500 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne to Kuwait late last week.

The show of force followed reports of a letter telling U.S. military officials in Baghdad that American personnel were repositioning in preparation to leave Iraq. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that a letter to that effect was a draft and should never have been sent. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, at a briefing alongside Milley, said “there is no decision to leave, nor did we issue any plans to leave or prepare to leave.”

(Updates with details on injured, adds U.S. security adviser.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Arsalan Shahla in Tehran at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benjamin Harvey at [email protected], Amy Teibel, Mark Williams

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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