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US, Iran Trade Threats Following Iran General's Killing

US Army paratroopers prepare equipment and load aircraft at Fort Bragg, N.C. on Jan. 4, 2020. This Pentagon said their deployment is a response to increased threats against US personnel and facilities.

The leaders of the U.S. and Iran lobbed threats at each other following the death of a top Iranian general who was killed Friday in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq's capital.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised harsh revenge following the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday threatened to attack multiple Iranian locations if Iran takes retaliatory measures for Soleimani's death.

Trump tweeted that the U.S. has identified 52 sites in Iran that the U.S. would strike "very fast and very hard" should Iran attack any U.S. personnel or assets. The number 52 represents the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago.

"This is not how America should behave and would likely violate international conventions and norms," Larry Pfeiffer, the director of the Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security at George Mason University, told VOA. Pfeiffer, who is a former senior director of the White House Situation Room said Trump's threats "sound like something that would be issued by an autocratic regime like North Korea."

"When the U.S. president makes it open season on cultural sites, he offers false justification to adversaries to do the same," Pfeiffer said.

Trump spoke Friday about the killing of Soleimani for the first time since U.S. defense officials confirmed the Iranian general had been killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Trump said Soleimani's killing was long overdue.

“We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump said at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. “However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors must end and it must end now.”

Trump maintained Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans, Iraqis and Iranians, saying the longtime regime general “made the death of innocent people his sick passion” while helping to run a terror network that reached across the Middle East to Europe and the Americas.

Iraqi officials said another airstrike early Saturday hit a convoy of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, killing at least five people. Iraqi state media blamed the strike on the U.S., which has not confirmed the attack.

Analysts say any moves that Iran would take would likely come after the three days of mourning that were declared Friday.

Analysts Discuss the Impact of Airstrike that Killed a Top Iranian Commander in Iraq
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On Saturday, the White House formally notified Congress of Friday's drone strike, two senior congressional aides told Reuters. Under the War Powers Act, the notification is required within 48 hours of introducing U.S. forces into an armed conflict that could lead to war.

The classified document was sent to congressional leadership, the aides said. It would likely describe the Trump administration's justifications for the strike against Soleimani, as well as intelligence information behind the decision and the expected scope of the military involvement. It is not known if the information will be released to the public.

Many Democrats in Congress have criticized the strike, saying Trump failed to notify lawmakers ahead of time or seek approval for the attack.

U.S. Democratic lawmakers question whether the attack was intended to deflect attention from Trump's expected impeachment trial.

Amid the escalating tensions in the region, the Pentagon said more than 3,500 additional U.S. troops would be dispatched to Kuwait, joining some 14,000 U.S. troops already in the region.

NATO, which has been training Iraqi security forces on how to prevent the Islamic State militant group from regaining strength, has suspended its training missions in Iraq.

A U.S. military official told VOA that the military is aware of reports of Hezbollah warning Iraqi forces to pull back from U.S. forces, but they have not seen any changes to Iraqi positions.

Mourners march during the funeral of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2020.
Mourners march during the funeral of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2020.

Soleimani's body arrived in Iran Sunday. Thousands of people took to the streets of the southwestern city of Ahvaz to mourn the general who was the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force. He was Iran's most distinguished military commander and the architect of Iran's growing influence in the Middle East.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Baghdad Saturday to mourn the deaths of Soleimani and the Iraqi military leaders, who were killed in the airstrike, which has significantly increased tensions in the volatile Middle East region.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi joined marchers in the funeral procession, many of whom chanted slogans such as "Death to America" and "America is the Great Satan."

Soleimani's body is scheduled to go to Iran's holy Shi'ite city of Mashhad and then to Tehran Sunday, before he is buried Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman.

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.