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President Trump declares Iranian general's 'reign of terror' over

Updated: January 03, 2020 03:06 PM

President Donald Trump is declaring that a "reign of terror is over" as he marks the death of an Iranian general killed in a U.S. strike.

Trump said from Florida that Gen. Qassem Soleimani "made the death of innocent people his sick passion," and should have been hunted down years ago.

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The Pentagon is scrambling to reinforce the American military presence in the Middle East in preparation for reprisals. As part of that, the U.S. is sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mideast, and it's placed a brigade in Italy on alert to fly to Beirut if needed to protect the embassy there.

Defense officials said the troops are from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. They are in addition to about 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who deployed to Kuwait earlier this week after the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters.

The reinforcements took shape as Trump gave his first comments on the strike. He said he ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani because he was "plotting to kill" many Americans.

Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed its top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East.

The killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran.

Iran's Supreme National Security Council said it has reached a decision on how to respond, but the council isn't saying what the decision is.

US sending 3,000 more troops to Mideast as reinforcements

A brief statement after a special session Friday says the council investigated the airstrike and "is announcing that the United States of America is responsible for all consequences of this criminal adventure."

Iran's Supreme National Security formulates the country's military and nuclear program strategy. However, any matter of state is finally decided by the country's supreme leader.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is asserting that the U.S. killed Iran's top military commander to disrupt an "imminent" attack orchestrated by him.

He told CNN that the general "was actively plotting in the region to take actions, the big action as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk."

The secretary of state did not say where or when the attack had been expected to take place. He told Fox that in the attack "there would have been many Muslims killed as well, Iraqis, people in other countries as well."

President Trump says the commander was "plotting to kill" many Americans.

The U.S. ordered its citizens to leave Iraq and closed the embassy in Baghdad.

Iran's supreme leader warned that a "harsh retaliation is waiting" for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the "international face of resistance."

Did Trump have legal authority to order the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq? The short answer: Probably.

But it depends on facts that aren't publicly known yet. And legal experts are quick to note that even if it was legal that doesn't necessarily make it the right decision.

State Department urges US citizens to depart Iraq immediately

The administration says Soleimani was "actively developing" plans to kill American diplomats and service members.

Experts in U.S. and international law say that would appear to justify the action under established doctrines allowing the president as commander in chief to act in the nation's self-defense.

How Iran will respond remains in question as well. It could include anything from challenging U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, firing ballistic missiles or deploying the asymmetrical proxy forces Iran has long cultivated.

Soleimani's death is the latest in a series of escalating incidents tracing back to Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.

The killing, and any forceful retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

Oil prices surged, reflecting investors' jitters about Mideast stability. Iran vowed revenge against Americans.

Twitter users turned "WWIII" into a top trending term. But there was praise from Israel and a right-wing opposition leader in Italy.

Pompeo worked the phones, calling world capitals to defend the killing. Saudi Arabia appealed for international efforts to stabilize the vital region.

Over the last two decades Soleimani had assembled a network of powerful and heavily armed allies stretching all the way to Lebanon and Israel's doorstep.

He enjoyed the fierce loyalty of tens of thousands of fighters in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Gaza Strip who received aid, arms and training from Tehran. Many of them are within easy striking distance of U.S. forces and American allies, including Israel.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says Trump has "tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox" with the targeted killing.

The former vice president is joining other Democratic White House hopefuls in criticizing Trump's order, saying it could leave the U.S. "on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East."

Iran vows 'harsh' response to US killing of top general

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling the attack "dangerous," while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren says it was "reckless."

Israel's prime minister has welcomed the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's top general, saying Trump "deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively."

Benjamin Netanyahu said the head of Iran's elite Quds Force was "responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks."

Israel has long viewed Iran as its greatest threat and has carried out airstrikes in recent years against Iran-backed forces in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Global powers are also warning that the world has just become a more dangerous place.

The United Nations secretary-general is urging leaders to "exercise maximum restraint."

The U.N. chief stressed in a statement from his deputy spokesman that "the world cannot afford another war in the Gulf."

The spokesman said Friday the U.N. chief "is deeply concerned with the recent escalation" in the region.

China, Russia and France, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, took a dim view of the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani.

A French deputy minister says "We are waking up in a more dangerous world."

Russia's Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. airstrike as "an adventurist step" that will inflame that Mideast. China said it was "highly concerned."

But Britain and Germany also suggested that Iran shared blame for provoking the targeted killing that dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the Mideast.

A German government spokeswoman says the U.S. strike is "a reaction to a whole series of military provocations for which Iran bears responsibility."

Urgent reconciliation efforts are being launched behind the scenes, and calls for restraint are growing.

A European Union top official urges all parties involved to avoid further escalation "at all cost."

The minister of state for foreign affairs in the United Arab Emirates, which sits across the Persian Gulf from Iran, calls for rational engagement and a "calm approach, free of emotion."

And Iraq's president urges Iraqis to remain united to spare the country more violence after decades of bloodshed.

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is congratulating all involved for "eliminating" Iran's top military commander.

Bolton said in a Twitter post on Friday, that "long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran's malign Quds Force activities worldwide. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran."

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The Associated Press

(Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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