Tensions between US and Iran continue to escalate after US airstrike kills Qasem Soleimani

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10:40 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

Iran will "patiently" wait to respond to the US strike in a "crushing and powerful manner": Iranian Armed Forces

Iran had already vowed revenge for the US attack on its top general Qasem Soleimani. Now, it is vowing it will respond in a "crushing and powerful manner."

"(Iran) will set up a plan, patiently, to respond to this terrorist act in a crushing and powerful manner," the spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces, Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, said Saturday.

Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran's most powerful men, was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Friday.
Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran's most powerful men, was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Friday. (Photo by MEHDI GHASEMI/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

“We are the ones who set the time and place of our reciprocal response."

Shekarchi said Iran’s response to the US will incorporate offensive strategies beyond defense measures. Shekarchi -- who is also a senior commander with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- said Tehran will defend the "axis of resistance" with all its might.

“The resistance against US aggression will not be weakened by the assassinations of the commanders," he said.
10:05 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

If you're just joining us, here's what's happened in the last few hours

Iran's top military commander Qasem Soleimani was killed Friday in a US airstrike in Baghdad that was ordered by President Donald Trump.

Trump says the strike was to prevent a war -- not start one. But Iran has since vowed "harsh revenge" for the killing of the general, who was revered in Iran as a national hero.

Here's a recap of what's happened over the past few hours:

  • Nancy Pelosi questions timing: Under the US War Powers Act, the White House is required to formally notify Congress within 48 hours of entering into hostilities. The White House has now notified Congress -- but House Speaker Pelosi said in a statement that it raised "more questions than it answers." She added: "This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran."
  • Trump on alert: The President issued a warning to Iran via Twitter Saturday, saying if the country's leaders decided to strike Americans or American assets the US has "targeted 52 Iranian sites" that will be "hit very fast and very hard."
  • Phone calls between Iran and other foreign powers: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the phone Saturday, and said the region should unite against the US presence there. "If we remain silent against the US, it will become bolder and more aggressive," he said. In a Saturday call with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the US strike violated international laws.
  • Calls for deescalation: France, Germany and China have called on Iran to preserve the nuclear deal and avoid any measure that would violate it, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement after a phone call with his counterparts.
  • Protesters gather: On Saturday, antiwar protesters assembled across the US and around the world to protest the Trump administration's action.

9:03 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

To Trump, the December killing of an American contractor "crossed his line"

President Donald Trump did not have to be talked into the Soleimani strike by advisers, according to a Republican congressional source familiar with the decision. 

While in the past, the source acknowledged that the President "has been reluctant to take military action" in this case, the killing of an American civilian contractor near Kirkuk, Iraq, in December and subsequent embassy protests “crossed his line.”

Trump's advisers also pointed out to him that if he "didn't respond now, they (Iran) will continue to cross it." 

“I am very confident he was not reluctant,” the source said. When Trump finally gets ready to act, the source added, "you can’t out escalate him." 

President Donald Trump speaks during a 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event in Miami, Florida, on January 3.
President Donald Trump speaks during a 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event in Miami, Florida, on January 3. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As to the timing of the attack and whether it was politically motivated, the source said: “If an American hadn’t died, I don’t think any of this would have happened.”

The source also noted Soleimani, who was killed outside Baghdad International Airport, was traveling with impunity -- he hadn’t always done that. Intelligence on his location and planning may therefore have been easier to get than in the past, the source added.

9:37 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

Soleimani was in the "final stages" of ordering attacks before US strike: US defense official

Top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was believed to be in the final stages of ordering attacks when was killed in a US airstrike on Friday, a US defense official told CNN.

“It all depends on what you call imminent,” the official said, “but we believe he was in the final stages” of ordering attacks when he visited Beirut and Damascus in the days before he was killed at Baghdad International Airport.

While intelligence continues to show he was planning multiple attacks at multiple locations, the official said they do not have absolute detailed evidence of everything he was trying to execute.

A second senior defense official said there were multiple intelligence indicators that he was continuing to plan attacks. A significant turning point came when a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base near Kirkuk, Iraq, on December 27, the senior official said.

The second official said various pieces of intelligence -- including the fact Soleimani was heading back into Iraq -- were put together, leading them to conclude that he was planning what the official called imminent attacks.

10:42 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

Iranian president: "If we remain silent against the US, it will become bolder and more aggressive"

 Iran's President Hassan Rouhani
 Iran's President Hassan Rouhani ATTA KENARE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the phone Saturday, Iranian state news agency IRNA reports.  

Rouhani said the region should join in unison against the US presence in the area or the whole region will be in jeopardy.

He stressed the "assassination" of Qasem Soleimani was a big mistake and retaliation is crucial because "if we remain silent against the US, it will become bolder and more aggressive."

Rouhani stated that, according to the Quran, “we do not oppress nor be oppressed.”

The Iranian president said that "we expect that all our friends and neighbors should explicitly condemn this crime."

During the call the Turkish president extended his condolences to the Iranian Supreme Leader, the Iranian nation and the government of the Islamic Republic.

Referring to the ongoing developments in Syria, Rouhani said that the Iranian involvement there will remain the same.

“The efforts will continue within the framework and level of the Iranian, Turkish and Russian leaders to resolve Syria problem,” he said.

7:52 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

Soleimani's remains will be tested for DNA

Iranian authorities will perform DNA tests on the remains of Qasem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary deputy commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and all those killed in the US airstrike Friday, according to a statement from the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

The PMF says it is necessary for Tehran to examine the remains before they are buried because the severity of the explosion caused their remains to "become entangled."

The statement stressed that the process of examining the DNA between the bodies will take days before al-Muhandis' remains can be returned to Iraq for burial at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery.

8:39 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

Aftermath of an airstrike: 10 things you need to know

Here are the 10 key things you need to know about Friday's airstrike at Baghdad International Airport.

  1. US drone attack kills one of Iran's most powerful men: President Trump ordered the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, who as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force became the architect of Tehran's proxy conflicts in the Middle East.
  2. A huge escalation: Trump's move dramatically ramps up regional tensions that have pitted Tehran against Washington and its allies in the Middle East. The Pentagon blamed Soleimani for hundreds of deaths of Americans and their allies.
  3. Trump says the attack was to "stop a war," not "start a war": During a news conference from Mar-a-Lago Friday, Trump claimed Soleimani was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks" on Americans. "We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said.
  4. Trump is prepared to take more action: "If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified," the President said. "I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary, and that in particular refers to Iran."
  5. Trump didn't seek congressional sign-off for the strike: Before the strike, White House lawyers consulted with national security officials and assembled a "strong rationale" that Trump had authority to not ask for congressional authorization due to self defense, an administration official said. That legal rationale formed the basis for not going to Congress for authorization beforehand.
  6. Iran vows "harsh revenge": Three days of national mourning were declared in Iran, where Soleimani was revered as a national hero, and thousands of demonstrators were seen marching in the capital Tehran. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for "harsh revenge," according to a statement published to his official website.
  7. Iran expected to retaliate "within weeks": The Trump administration has privately warned members of Congress that Iran is expected to retaliate against the US "within weeks." Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley publicly addressed the issue of potential retaliation from Iran on Friday. Asked whether there is now a risk to US safety in the region, Milley said: "Damn right there is risk."
  8. US tells citizens to get out of Iraq: The State Department urged US citizens Friday to leave Iraq immediately. It also warned that citizens "should not approach" its embassy in the capital Baghdad and that all consular operations are suspended.
  9. Democrats warn of consequences: The strike has divided US lawmakers, with several Democratic presidential candidates raising concerns about what comes next. Joe Biden said Trump "tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox," and Bernie Sanders said the move "puts us on the path" to war with Iran.
  10. World governments react: Russia has cautioned that the attack could have "grave consequences," while China urged the US to show "restraint." In Europe, the UK called for "all parties to de-escalate." The French government told its citizens in Iran to stay away from public gatherings.

7:46 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: War Powers Act notification 'raises more questions than it answers' 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement Saturday on the War Powers Act notification sent earlier in the day, saying "this document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran."

The notification "raises more questions than it answers," her statement read.

The Trump administration's aggression "continues to put servicemembers, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger," she said.

"This initiation of hostilities was taken without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran, without the consultation of the Congress and without the articulation of a clear and legitimate strategy to either the Congress or the public," the statement read.

Pelosi said the Trump administration has to work with Congress for "a bonafide de-escalatory strategy that prevents further violence.”

7:30 p.m. ET, January 4, 2020

US officials confirm attacks near Iraqi bases

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve
Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve

Two Iraqi military bases that host coalition forces were attacked, US military officials with the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve confirmed Saturday. No coalition troops were harmed in either attack.

The International Zone took indirect fire at 7:46 p.m. (Baghdad time) that landed outside Coalition facilities and possibly left Iraqi citizens injured, according to a CJTF news release.

At 7:50 p.m. (Baghdad time), rockets landed in the area of Balad Air Base.

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve
Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve

"We have increased security and defensive measures at the Iraqi bases that host anti-ISIS Coalition troops. Our command places protection of Coalition personnel and security partners as the top priority; we remain vigilant and resolute," said Col. Myles B. Caggins III, Coalition military spokesman.