Iran aims to kick all US forces out of the region: Rouhani

Tehran aims to kick all American troops out of “the region,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday following the country’s ballistic missile strikes the night before on Iraqi bases hosting US forces that came in response to an American operation last week that killed one of Iran’s top military commanders in Baghdad.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Tehran aims to kick all American troops out of “the region,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday following the country’s ballistic missile strikes the night before on Iraqi bases hosting US forces that came in response to an American operation last week that killed one of Iran’s top military commanders in Baghdad.

“General [Qasim] Soleimani fought heroically against ISIS, Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al,” Rouhani claimed in a tweet, referring to the former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force (IRGC–QF) whom a US drone killed early Friday as his convoy was just leaving Baghdad International Airport.

Read More: Iran strikes military bases in Iraq, Kurdistan housing US forces: Pentagon

The Iraqi army and Washington have both said that their forces suffered no casualties in the missile strikes, which Tehran widely publicized, claiming that the action had resulted in the death of 80 “American terrorists,” without offering proof.

IRGC vs ISIS

Iran’s Quds Force is responsible for Tehran’s extraterritorial and clandestine operations, holding a crescent of influence across the Middle East by arming and training proxy militias who oppose the Western presence in the region and the state of Israel.

Various militias Iran backed in Iraq after the 2003 toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein took an active and leading part in the sectarian civil war that followed with varying degrees of impunity throughout the years. Though their members had infiltrated Iraqi security forces and government offices as well as fielding multiple prominent politicians in parliament, the groups themselves were operating illegally.

After the rapid rise of the Islamic State in Iraq in 2014, these militias and other newly-formed armed groups were brought into the country's official security apparatus, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). They were a key component in fighting the Islamic State, but their past record of well-documented sectarian human rights abuses, primarily against Sunni Arab Iraqis, continued.

These included credible and consistent allegations of mass violence, killings, forced disappearances, torture, and ethnic cleansing. Backed by Coalition airpower, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) regained much of the territory lost to the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria. 

More recently, the PMF have been accused of taking a significant role in violence against peaceful demonstrators who have taken to the streets in multiple central and southern Iraqi cities since early October to protest systemic government corruption, the low standard of living, chronically inadequate public services, and, to some degree, the dominant role of the PMF in Iraq. 

Read More: As Iraq protest casualty numbers rise, parliament speaker decries forces 'outside the framework of the state'

In his Wednesday Twitter post, Rouhani said that, without Soleimani’s “war on terror, European capitals would be in great danger now.” He added, “Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region.”

Iran’s main political allies in Iraq hold a majority of the seats in the national legislature, which voted earlier this week on a non-binding resolution to expel US and Coalition troops from Iraqi territory. So far, what Washington will do going forward is still unclear.

Soleimani’s assassination came after a series of escalatory incidents involving US forces and PMF militias, including the notorious Kata’ib Hizbollah, the leader of which was also killed in the American strike.

Response to US Retaliation

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posthumously promoted Soleimani— who is given the honorific title “Haji” by followers and peers—to the rank of Lieutenant General and appointed the notorious commander’s former deputy, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, to take up his position.

Khamenei, along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, has said in separate statements that "harsh revenge” would await America for killing Soleimani. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the US operation was “an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation,” stating further that, “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”

Related Article: Iran vows retaliation after US killing of notorious commander Soleimani

Following early Wednesday’s operation, Zarif said, "Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense… We do not seek escalation or war but will defend ourselves against any aggression.” Meanwhile, Khamenei stated, the Americans “were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough.”

Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of the General Staff of Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also issued a threat to the US, saying that any American retaliation to the Wednesday missile strikes would be met with “a stronger, more crushing, and wider response.” 

Editing by John J Catherine