Soleimani’s body arrives in Iran as Trump issues new threats

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The body of General Qassem Soleimani arrived yesterday in Iran where thousands of mourners thronged his coffin ahead of a grand funeral procession across the Islamic Republic amid soaring tensions between Iran and the United States (US).

US President Donald Trump has threatened to bomb 52 sites in Iran if it retaliates by attacking Americans. Meanwhile, Iran vowed to take an even-greater step away from its unravelling nuclear deal with world powers as a response to Soleimani’s slaying.

The US drone strike killing Soleimani in Iraq last Friday escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that put the wider Middle East on edge. The conflict is rooted in Trump pulling out of Iran’s atomic accord.

Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the US attack, which shocked Iranians across all political lines. Many saw Soleimani as a pillar of the Islamic Republic at a moment when it is beset by US sanctions and recent anti-government protests. Retaliation for Soleimani could potentially come through the proxy forces which he oversaw as the head of an elite unit within the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani’s longtime deputy Esmail Ghaani already has taken over as the Quds Force’s commander.

Late Saturday, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the US Embassy.

Trump wrote on Twitter afterward that the US had already “targetted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.

Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be “HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD”.

The 1954 Hague Convention, of which the US is a party, bars any military from “direct hostilities against cultural property”. However, such sites can be targetted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate “military objective,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran. PHOTO: AP