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US to send more troops to Middle East — as it happened

January 3, 2020

Tehran vowed to "retaliate" over a US airstrike in Baghdad that killed Qassem Soleimani. At least 3,000 more US troops will be deployed to the Middle East after the killing of a top Iranian commander.

Iran Teheran | Demonstration nach Dronenattacke gegen Qassem Soleimani
Image: Reuters/WANA/N. Tabatabaee
  • US forces have killed the head of Iran's elite Quds Force and the deputy leader of Iraq's Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units.
  • Days earlier US President Donald Trump warned that Iran would "pay a very big price" after Shiite militia supporters stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad.
  • Iranian officials have vowed retribution for Friday's attack.
  • The United States has urged its citizens to leave Iraq "immediately," and the Netherlands has said the same for Dutch nationals. France urged its citizens in neighboring Iran to stay away from public gatherings while Germany advised its nationals not to make video or audio recordings of demonstrations as it may be interpreted as espionage.
  • Both Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said Qassem Soleimani was planning to carry out more attacks on innocent victims.
  • Some 3,000 US troops are being sent to the Middle East as a "precautionary" measure.

Read more: US kills top Iranian General Soleimani in Baghdad airstrike

All updates in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)

03:09  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed frustration at the perceived lack of support from Washington's European allies. "Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well," Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News.

"This was a good thing for the entire world, and we are urging everyone in the world to get behind what the United States is trying to do to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation," he added.

01:19 German Greens politician Omid Nouripour has warned that "the risk of an escalation is very high," with the danger Iran's armed forces could "hit the Americans and us, as their allies, massively."

In an interview with DW, Nouripour said it was time to reactivate "any imaginable mechanism of crisis diplomacy," including sending Germany's foreign minister to Tehran, Riyadh, Doha and Ankara to find a way "to prevent an overreaction to a potential Iranian overreaction." 

He added that German soldiers should be taken out of Iraq immediately because security on the ground cannot be guaranteed.

'Not active enough'

00:57 World leaders, officials and analysts have been responding to the fatal US strike against the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force. Some have praised Washington, while others have condemned the action as a threat to regional stability. DW has been taking a look at reactions in the German press — you can read the full roundup here.

00:49 Iran's UN ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, has told US broadcaster CNN that the killing of Soleimani was tantamount to starting a war, and that "the response for a military action is a military action." 

00:27 Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces say an airstrike targeting their fighters north of Baghdad hit a convoy of medics, not senior members of the group, as suggested by some initial reports. 

A US official speaking on condition of anonymity said the attack was not launched by the American military, as reported by Iraqi state TV.

Read moreUS, Iran on precipice of unpredictable Middle East war

00:21 Russia's foreign minister has urged the US to "stop using unlawful methods of force" in trying to achieve its foreign policy goals and instead bring "any problems to the negotiating table."

In a telephone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sergey Lavrov said Washington's actions against Soleimani violate international law and should be condemned. The foreign minister added that the Iranian general's killing could have "severe consequences for the peace of stability in the region and doesn't help resolve complicated problems in the Middle East." 

US soliders walking towards a military plane
The US is planning to deploy at least 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East after Iran's promise of revengeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Cpt. R. Haake

00:17 Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi has told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that his country reserves a right to self-defense under international law after the US strike on Soleimani.

The diplomat wrote in letters sent to the Security Council and Guterres that the killing "by any measure, is an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular, those stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations."

He said the Security Council must "uphold its responsibilities and condemn this unlawful criminal act.''

Read moreIran's military power: What you need to know

00:04 Saudi Arabia, Iran's top rival in the region, has stressed "the importance of self-restraint to ward off all acts that may lead to aggravating the situation with unbearable consequences.''

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry called on the international community "to ensure the stability of such a vital region to the entire world.''

23:56 Iraqi state TV is reporting that a new US airstrike has hit an Iran-back militia north of Baghdad. It did not name the group or provide details about any casualties.

An army source cited by Reuters said strikes targeting vehicles carrying members of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces — an umbrella grouping of Shiite militias supported by Tehran — had killed six people and critically wounded three others.

23:42 White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien has told a press briefing that any Iranian retaliation in response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani would be a "very poor decision."

Speaking to reporters, he said the commander had been traveling around the Middle East planning attacks against American military personnel and diplomats when he was targeted in Friday's strike. The adviser added that the Trump administration planned to give classified briefings to US lawmakers in the coming week.

23:29 German Left party politician Alexander Neu has called for the Bundeswehr to withdraw "immediately and entirely" from the US-led coalition against Islamic State.

"The US kills an Iranian general in violation of international law, of course without previously informing its allies," he said.

23:15 Germany is temporarily suspending its training of security forces across Iraq following the US attack on Soleimani.

According to the German Press Agency, the Bundeswehr Operations Command told officials in the Bundestag's defense committee the decision is a precautionary measure to protect deployed soldiers.

Some 90 Bundeswehr troops are currently training Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, while 27 others are training Iraqi armed forces just outside Baghdad. Five German soldiers are also stationed in the Iraqi capital as part of the international military coalition combatting Islamic State.

22:36 The Iraqi oil ministry says US citizens working for foreign oil companies in the southern city of Basra are leaving the country. It said the ongoing evacuation of dozens of foreign workers would not affect oil operations. 

Italian energy group Eni, US giant Exxon Mobil, Gulf Keystone Petroleum and Schlumberger said they were closely monitoring the situation.

22:21 Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who tracked Soleimani's activities, says there is "a simple question'' that prevented the previous Bush and Obama administrations from targeting the Iranian leader.

"Was the strike worth the likely retaliation and the potential to pull us into a protracted conflict?'' Slotkin wrote on Twitter. "The two administrations I worked for both determined that the ultimate ends didn't justify the means.''

She said it was critical that the Trump administration "has thought out the moves and counter-moves this attack will precipitate," adding that it should consult with Congress as soon as possible. 

22:07 More details have emerged about how the strike on Soleimani was orchestrated. Two Iraqi security officials say the attack followed an intelligence operation in which CIA-recruited inside sources passed on information about the general's arrival in Baghdad and when his convoy would be leaving the airport. Soleimani was killed soon after his plane touched down in the Iraqi capital.

20:55 EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for "maximum restraint" and a "show of responsibility in this crucial moment" as tension between Iran and the United States escalates following the Baghdad airstrike against Soleimani.

"The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped before it spirals out of control," Borrell said in a statement, adding that the European Union was ready to continue to engage with all sides to defuse tensions and avoid a crisis that "risks jeopardizing years of efforts to stabilize Iraq."

20:30 "We caught him in the act and terminated him," US President Donald Trump said of the killing of Qassem Soleimani, adding that the Iranian military leader's "reign of terror" was over.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the drone strike, Trump said Soleimani was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks" against American diplomats and military personnel and that the US was ready and prepared for any response from Iran.

"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said, adding that the US did not seek regime change in Iran.

20:15 Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told state TV that Tehran would launch international legal measures against the US to hold Washington to account for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

19:43 Read more about the historical hostilities between the two feuding nations here: The US and Iran: Decades of enmity

19:33 More details are beginning to emerge on the increased presence of US troops in the Middle East.  The Pentagon revealed that the Immediate Response Force (IRF) brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was being sent out to the region.

"The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve," the Pentagon said in a statement.

The troops will be joining some 750 forces that were sent to Kuwait, which borders Iraq to the south, earlier this week.

19:24  Yemen's Saudi-backed government said it believed the killing of Qassem Soleimani was a significant step to end conflict in the Middle East.

18:31 Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne confirmed his country's hopes for a "united and stable Iraq."

"We call on all sides to exercise restraint and pursue de-escalation," said Champagne. "Canada has long been concerned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, led by Qassem Soleimani, whose aggressive actions have had a destabilizing effect in the region and beyond," he added. "The safety and well-being of Canadians in Iraq and the region, including our troops and diplomats, is our paramount concern."

18:25 US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has canceled plans to take a vacation later this month amid rising tension with Iran, officials have confirmed.

18:10 "No compromise, no surrender, fight the US," thousands of Iranian protesters chanted on the streets of Tehran while burning Israel, British and US flags.

17:59  The United States is going to increase its presence in the Middle East by sending an additional 3,000 troops, officials announced.

17:52 The top Democrat in the US Senate said Trump does not have the authority to go to war with Iran without Congressional authorization. Senator Chuck Schumer also said the president should have consulted with top lawmakers before giving the go-ahead to kill Soleimani.

"It is my view that the president does not have the authority for a war with Iran," Schumer said. "If he plans a large increase in troops and potential hostility over a longer time, the administration will require congressional approval and the approval of the American people."

17:42 New York's mayor, Bill de Blasio, has announced the city and its security officials are on increased alert following the assassination of General Soleimani, fearing Iranian retribution within the city. "We have to assume this action puts us in a de facto state of war," de Blasio said.

17:35 Iraq's parliament will hold extraordinary sessions to discuss this morning's airstrike.

16:16 Bahrain's Gulf Air have just announced a suspension of flights in the region. The airline's official Twitter account said "TRAVEL ALERT: Flights to and from Baghdad and Najaf in the Republic of Iraq have suspended until further notice due to safety and security issues."

15:30 German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke of his conversation with his US equivalent, Pompeo: "The US military operation followed a series of dangerous provocations by Iran. However, this action has not made it easier to reduce tensions. I made this point clearly to Secretary Pompeo as well."

"Further escalation, which could set the whole region on fire, must be prevented," Maas added.

15:07 "This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region," Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to a Kremlin readout of a phone conversation with French counterpart Macron.

14:58 World oil prices spiked following Soleimani's killing, fanning fresh concerns of conflict in the crude-rich region. Brent oil soared by 4.5% and WTI surged 4.1% as traders fretted over the dramatic escalation in tensions.

14:56 French President Emmanuel Macron echoed the UN's sentiments in calling for calm at this tense time.

14:42 The United Nations' chief Antonio Guterres said via his spokesman that he is "deeply concerned by the recent escalation in the Gulf," and that the "world cannot afford another war" in the region, urging leaders to "exercise maximum restraint."

14:38  Meanwhile Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to comment on Friday's developments, merely saying he "won't go into that, that's to do with foreign politics."

14:02 DW's Middle East reporter Theresa Tropper said that Iran "will have to react." That response may come in any number of guises, such as an attack on US soldiers in Iraq or embassy personnel, Tropper suggested.

13:47 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is back on the airwaves, this time talking to CNN. He said that Soleimani was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens, hence his killing, reiterating the earlier comments of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"He was actively plotting in the region to take actions that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk," Pompeo said.

"We know it was imminent," Pompeo said of Soleimani's plot, without going into details. "This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process," Pompeo concluded.

13:42 The deaths of people killed alongside Soleimani were "[a]bsolutely" unlawful, UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callmard said on Twitter.

13:27 In separate statements, Egypt and Turkey expressed "concern" over the rising tensions between US and Iran.

13:26 A Swiss diplomat delivered a message from the United States to Iran, the Swiss foreign ministry told Reuters. The ministry did not provide details on the message content.

13:06 Germany's Foreign Ministry urged their citizens not to take "video or audio recordings of demonstrations and the surrounding area, or police and security forces and public spaces."

"This can be interpreted as an act of espionage," German diplomats said on the ministry's website.

German nationals are also advised against "stating their political opinions in front of strangers or new acquaintances."

12:53 US President Donald Trump responded with a cryptic tweet on Iran after tweeting a picture of an American flag.

"Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!" Trump wrote.

12:42 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with his German counterpart Heiko Maas about the "defensive action" against Soleimani.

"Germany is also concerned over the Iranian regime’s continued military provocations," Pompeo said on Twitter.

12:38 The US does not want a war with Iran but is ready to respond to Iran's actions, Pompeo told US Fox news.

12:26 Israel "stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The prime minister also gave Donald Trump "all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively" by ordering the airstrike on Soleimani.

Netanyahu said the head of Iran's elite Quds Force plotted to cause further carnage in the region. "He was planning more attacks on innocent people," he said.

12:13 NATO was monitoring the situation in Iraq "very closely" and remained "in close and regular contact with the US authorities" following the US killing of Soleimani. The US-led military alliance is currently training Iraqi forces in a bid to prevent the return of the Islamic State.

"The safety of our personnel in Iraq is paramount," spokesman Dylan White told the AFP news agency. "We continue to take all precautions necessary."

12:04 Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo struck a conciliatory tone following the deadly airstrike.

"The US remains committed to de-escalation," he wrote on Twitter.

11:52 The strike which killed Iran's Soleimani also took the life of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units, a state-sanctioned alliance of militias with strong ties to Iran. 

The Iraqi military slammed the "cowardly and treacherous attack" which killed al-Muhandis, whom they described as a "hero martyr."

"We affirm that what happened is a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a clear breach by the American forces of their mandate which is exclusively to fight Islamic State and provide advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces."

Anti-US rally in Magam
Protesters also rallied against the killing of Soleimani in the Indian-controlled part of KashmirImage: AFP/T. Mustafa

11:44 Iran will "try very hard to evict United States forces from Iraq," Guido Steinberg from the German Institute for International & Security Affairs told DW TV.

"The United States doesn't have a strategy," he said. "Maximum pressure is not a strategy." 

11:34 The deadly airstrike was conducted by a drone, according to a US official.

"A precision drone strike hit two vehicles at Baghdad airport," the official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. 

11:29 Former US national security adviser John Bolton, known for his hawkish position on Iran, congratulated all involved for "eliminating" the Iranian general.

"Long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran's malign Quds Force activities worldwide," he wrote on Twitter. "Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran."

11:27 European Council President Charles Michel has said the cycle of "violence, provocations and retaliations" in Iraq needs to stop.

"Further escalation must be avoided at all cost," the EU official said. "The risk is a generalized flare-up of violence in the whole region and the rise of obscure forces of terrorism that thrive at times of religious and nationalist tensions."

11:21 Former US Vice President Joe Biden said that President Trump "just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox" at a risk of a major conflict.

"No American will mourn Qassem Soleimani's passing," said Biden, who hopes to run against Trump in this year's election. "He supported terror and sowed chaos. None of that negates the fact that this is a hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region."

11:18 The Netherlands urged Dutch citizens to leave Baghdad "if that is possible in a safe manner."

"Unrest and violence have increased in Baghdad, and around the airport. The situation is unpredictable," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

11:16 Tens of thousands of people rally in Tehran and other Iranian cities to protest American "crimes," chanting "Death to America" and holding up Soleimani posters.

Tehran protests over Soleimani killing
Tehran resident protested the US killing of SoleimaniImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Salemi

11:07 Berlin called for "prudence" after the killing of Soleimani but also described the US strike as a response to a range of provocations from the Iranian side.

"Right now, at this point, it comes down to de-escalation," said deputy spokeswoman for the German government Ulrike Demmer.

11:02 Iran will most likely respond with "an escalation in Iraq," Chatham House expert Sanam Vakil told DW.

"Another possibility is stepping up uranium enrichment activity. At the same time, we cannot discount that Iran won’t begin attacking ships in the Persian Gulf and might even attack an Arab Gulf country with missiles," he added in the interview DW's Asian desk.

10:58 Soleimani was the mastermind behind Iran's current foreign policy doctrine, Chatham House expert Sanam Vakil told DW.

"He built strong ties with the Hezbollah in Lebanon and with militia groups in Iraq," said Vakil, who serves as deputy head and senior research fellow for the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa program. "This strategy expanded Iran’s influence in a very non-traditional and destabilizing way across the region, but it protected Iran and gave Tehran leverage in some countries."

10:47 Iran is a major military power in the region, with more than half a million active service members and battle-hardened experience in asymmetric warfare. Read more about Iranian capabilities in this DW explainer on Iran's military power.

10:39 Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the US strike that killed Soleimani but also said that Iraq must avoid the tragedies of armed conflict which have plagued it for decades.

10:36 Commenting on the US troops in the Middle East, an adviser to Iran's Khamenei said it was time to "clear the region from these insidious beasts."

"I am telling Americans, especially Trump, we will take a revenge that will change their daylight into a nighttime darkness," said Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami.

10:27 Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, slammed the "vicious attack" committed by the US in Baghdad which "led to the killing of several commanders who defeated Islamic State terrorists."

The cleric called on all parties to act "wisely" and show restraint.

10:21 Iran-backed Yemeni rebels, which control the capital Sanaa, have called for "direct and swift reprisals" over the US killing of Soleimani.

10:19 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed Soleimani's deputy Esmail Qaani as the new leader of the Quds Force.

10:18 The US is "war-weary," said US political analyst Rachel Rizzo to DW.

Washington views the killing of Soleimani as a "response to recent escalations, an attack that killed a US contractor and an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad." 

"No one wants a war with Iran ... we'll see opinion divided along party lines within the United States," she added.

10:15 A poll published in May showed that a majority of Americans believe the US is on a warpath with Iran. Some 51% of respondents said Washington and Tehran would go to war within a couple of years.

If Iran attacked US military forces first, 79% of poll respondents said that the US military should retaliate. 39% of them favored a full invasion of Iran while the other 40% supported airstrikes on Iranian military targets.

Read more: American believe war with Iran is coming

10:11 The UK said London has "always recognized the aggressive threat" of the Soleimani-led Quds Force. At the same time, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged all parties to de-escalate.

"Further conflict is in none of our interests," Raab said.

10:05 Iran is likely to target US soldiers stationed in Iraq, according to Iraqi journalist Amir Musawy.

In an interview with DW, Musawy said Iraq will definitely be the "battlefield" of the US and Iran showdown.

"I think the US base near the Iraqi-Syrian border in Anbar province would be the first [target]. Second, within Kirkuk," he said.

10:00 The "martyrdom" of Soleimani will make Iran "more decisive to resist America's expansionism and to defend our Islamic values," said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

09:51 Germany restricted the movements of its soldiers in Iraq after the strike against Soleimani. Germany currently has five soldiers within the anti-Islamic State coalition in Baghdad and another 27 Bundeswehr soldiers training Iraqi forces some 30 kilometers (14 miles) outside the city. Another 90 are training Kurdish forces in the north of the country.

"The assignment has not changed in any way and we will continue according to given orders," said the Germany-based spokesman.

09:43 Iraq's parliament is set to hold an emergency session on Saturday to discuss "decisions that put an end to US presence inside Iraq," said deputy parliament speaker Hassan al-Kaabi. The official said it was time to end "US recklessness and arrogance" after the Baghdad strike.

09:38 The threats from Iran should be taken "deadly seriously," said senior lawmaker for Germany's Green Party, Omid Nouripour. He called for the immediate evacuation of German soldiers currently stationed in Iraq.

"When not even the US embassy can be protected, it shows that members of Bundeswehr must also be evacuated," said the opposition lawmaker.

09:14 Even before the killing of Soleimani, Iran and Israel were engaged in tense and dangerous struggle. Read more on their conflict here.

09:05 Israel's military has gone on heightened alert for fear of retaliatory strikes, according to Israel Army Radio. An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the leader would cut short his visit to Greece due to the killing of Soleimani.

08:56 Iranian senior lawmaker Mojtaba Zolnouri threatened US troops on Iranian television.

"When the US is killing Iranian forces outside of Iran, the U.S. must see its troops killed at its bases in the region," said the hardline cleric, the head of Iran's parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy.

08:44 Hezbollah militia leader Hassan Nasrallah also pledged revenge against the US for the death of his Iranian allies.

"Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins ... will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide," Nasrallah said in a statement.

08:40 Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the US strike was "an act of state terrorism."

"Perhaps America's action was a response to the pain that this great man had inflicted on them," Zarif said of Soleimani.

08:30 Want to know more about General Qassem Soleimani? DW presents a profile on the powerful military leader.

08:24 France's priority is to stabilize the Middle East, says French Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin.

"We have woken up to a more dangerous world," she told RTL radio.

08:22 The US strike "blew up" any remaining hope of solving the nuclear program issue with Iran, said Russia senior foreign policy lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev.

"Iran may now prioritize making nuclear weapons, even if they were not about to do it before," Kosachev wrote on his Facebook page.

08:17 European shares slip in the wake of the US strike on Soleimani as oil prices soar.

08:14 After Iran declared three days of mourning over the death of Soleimani, the French embassy in Tehran urged French nationals "to stay away from any gatherings and to behave with prudence and discretion and abstain from taking pictures in public spaces."

08:12 Moscow warned that airstrike on Soleimani was an "adventurist step that will increase tensions" in the Middle East.

"Soleimani served the cause of protecting Iran's national interests with devotion," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. "We express our sincere condolences to the Iranian people."

08:10 The US embassy in Iraq has urged citizens to "depart Iraq immediately" for fear of retribution over the killing of Soleimani.

08:05 US airstrike near Baghdad airport is an act of aggression that will "spark a devastating war" in Iraq, the region, and the world, said Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

07:59 Fighters of Iraq's pro-Iranian militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq were placed on "high alert for upcoming battle."

"The price for the blood for the martyred commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is the complete end to American military presence in Iraq," militia commander Qais al-Khazali told a local TV channel. "The price for the blood of martyr Qassem Soleimani is the elimination of all of Israel from existence."

07:55 US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has slammed the strike against Soleimani as "provocative and disproportionate."

"America — and the world — cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return," said the Democratic Party lawmaker.

07:53 The Syrian government has slammed the "cowardly US aggression," accusing Washington of trying to fuel conflict with the Baghdad airstrike.

07:47 Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the assassination of Soleimani would be avenged.

"The joy of the zionists and Americans in no time turn to mourning," spokesman Ramezan Sharif told Iranian state television.

07:38 China urges "the relevant sides, especially the United States" to remain calm and avoid escalating tensions, a Chinese military spokesman told reporters.

07:29 One of Iraq's most powerful Shiite clerics said his forces are prepared to defend Iraq.

"As the patron of the patriotic Iraqi resistance I give the order for all mujahideen, especially the Mahdi Army, Promised Day Brigade and all patriotic and disciplined groups to be ready to protect Iraq," said Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army was considered the most vicious militant group to wage an insurgency against US troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Read more: Who is Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's influential Shiite cleric?

Supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr shoot their guns in the air as they hoist a picture of al-Sadr to honour Majid Kassim who was killed in the fighting in Najaf
Al-Sadr was the face of the Iraqi insurgency against US troops in the wake of the 2003 invasionImage: picture-alliance/K. Kadim

07:21 In the US, law enforcement agencies are on alert. "While there is no credible threat to Los Angeles, the LAPD is monitoring the event developing in Iran."

07:05 To catch you up to speed, here's a brief rundown of today's events and how we got here. US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) deputy leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, according to the Pentagon. A US strike was carried out overnight near Baghdad International Airport.

The attack came after Iran-backed PMU supporters stormed the US embassy in Baghdad in protest of a US airstrike that killed PMU militiamen. The US had defended their actions, saying it was in retaliation for PMU elements launching rockets at US troops in Erbil.

06:48 Iranian officials announced "an extraordinary meeting of the Supreme National Security Council." The plan is to "review the murderous attack on the vehicle of General Soleimani in Baghdad that lead to his martyrdom."

06:44 Social media users appear worried. "World War III" was trending on Twitter with more than one million tweets.

Qassem Soleimani
Qassem Soleimani was considered one of Iran's most powerful generals. He led the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, which reported directly to Ayatollah Khamenei.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader

06:31 To provide some context on the crowds of cheering Iraqis in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces were seen as instrumental in quelling anti-government protests since October. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in the airstrike, was reportedly behind orders to quash the protests.

Here's the take from Hassan Hassan, a veteran Middle East analyst and author of ISIS: The Army of Terror:

"If the killing of Iran's top operatives in Iraq happened outside the context of protests, it'd have been different. But it came amid a wide sense of helplessness, anger and frustration with pro-Iran militias (PMUs) and their role against the popular protests."

06:11 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a video that he said showed: "Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more."

06:07 Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the US should expect "hard retaliation," describing the attack's perpetrators as "criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood."

"Martyrdom was the reward for his ceaseless efforts in all these years," said Khamenei. 

06:00 Welcome to the DW News' live blog covering the latest in the ongoing escalation between the US and Iran.

Earlier on Friday, US forces carried out a targeted airstrike killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

For officials and observers, the attack represented a dangerous escalation that threatens to destabilize the region. It comes on the heels of tit-for-tat attacks between PMF elements and the US that triggered protests in Baghdad and the eventual storming of the US embassy.

Follow us here for the latest.

Read more: US to send troops to Middle East following Iraq embassy attack

nm,dj,ls,jsi,mmc/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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