14:54 GMT15 January 2021
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    The US assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, alongside other senior members of the Iraqi militia, has stoked tensions in the Middle East and reverberated throughout the world, sparking fears of full-scale war, as Washington and Iran engage in rhetoric laden with threats.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was instrumental in getting US President Donald Trump to sign off on the air strikes that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, according to US officials cited by The Washington Post.

    After large protests erupted outside the US Embassy in Baghdad at the end of December, with demonstrators hurling Molotov cocktails at the compound, Mike Pompeo discussed the new security threat to his diplomats in phone calls with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Matthew Tueller, the US ambassador to Iraq. Pompeo was also said to have spoken with President Donald Trump multiple times throughout the week.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters aboard his plane on departure from Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.
    © AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters aboard his plane on departure from Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

    On 29 December, Pompeo, Esper and Milley reportedly traveled to the president’s private club in Florida, where the two defense officials offered possible option responses to Iranian aggression, including the targeted killing of Soleimani, senior US officials said.

    Trump’s decision to target Soleimani came as a surprise and even shock to some officials briefed on his decision, writes the outlet.

    Trump’s decision to approve the killing of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Al Quds commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was the culmination of determined urging by Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, the officials are cited as saying on condition of anonymity.

    A significant factor cited was the “lockstep” coordination for the operation between Pompeo and Esper, both graduates in the same class at the US Military Academy, who deliberated ahead of the briefing with Trump.

    Pence was claimed to have also endorsed the decision, while not attending the meeting in Florida.

    “Taking out Soleimani would not have happened under [former secretary of defense Jim] Mattis. Mattis was opposed to all of this. It’s not a hit on Mattis, it’s just his predisposition. Milley and Esper are different. Now you’ve got a cohesive national security team and you’ve got a secretary of state and defense secretary who’ve known each other their whole adult lives,” the official is quoted as saying.

    Pompeo reportedly first spoke with Donald Trump about killing Soleimani months ago, when the US President declined to retaliate militarily against Iran after the downing of a US surveillance drone that Tehran claimed violated its airspace - a fact Washington had denied. Tensions between Iran and the United States nearly escalated into a dangerous direct confrontation as President Donald Trump approved airstrikes against Tehran following the incident, but abruptly backtracked on his decision.

    That decision by the President, according to one cited official, left Pompeo “morose.”

    A reshuffle of Trump’s national security team, and concerns lest he be viewed as hesitant in the face of Iranian aggression, the sources claim, offered Pompeo an opportunity to press ahead with the action he had been advocating. The officials are quoted as referring to Pompeo’s fixation on Iran that spans 10 years of government service from Congress to the CIA to the State Department.

    In the days since the strike, Pompeo has been speaking to allies and making the public case for the operation.

    “We took a bad guy off the battlefield. We made the right decision... I’m proud of the effort that President Trump undertook," Pompeo told CNN. 

    Critics inside and outside the administration have questioned Pompeo’s justification for the strike based on his claims that “dozens if not hundreds” of American lives were at risk.

    Pressed on Sunday about the imminent nature of the threats, Pompeo dismissed the questions.

    “If you’re an American in the region, days and weeks — this is not something that’s relevant,” Pompeo told CNN.

    In the early hours of Friday, 3 January, Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of an Iraqi Shia militia group, were struck by a US drone near Baghdad International Airport. Both were blamed by Washington for organising demonstrations at the US Embassy in Baghdad on 31 December.

    Washington justified the assassination by claiming that Soleimani was plotting sabotage against US assets in the Middle East. However, no proof of the alleged plot was provided.

    As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Tehran would take revenge for what it views to be a heinous crime, US President Donald Trump said that Washington has identified 52 further Iranian targets, including those important for the Iranian culture, that would be struck if Tehran attacks US individuals or assets.


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