WASHINGTON (AP) — US officials braced for Iran to respond to the killing of its most powerful general, noting heightened military readiness in the country and preparing for a possible “tit-for-tat” attempt on the life of an American military commander. They warned ships across Mideast waterways crucial to global energy supplies about the “possibility of Iranian action” against US maritime interests in the region.
President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 2 strike against Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, after the death of an American contractor in Iraq. Now, amid massive demonstrations of Iran’s public mourning period for Soleimani and a state TV report of a deadly stampede at his funeral, officials believe the next steps by America’s longtime foe will determine the ultimate course of the latest crisis.
While officials say American intelligence isn’t clear on whether Iran’s latest military moves are designed to bolster Tehran’s defenses or prepare for an offensive strike, the US is continuing to reinforce its own positions in the region, including repositioning some forces. One official said the US anticipated a “major” attack of some type within the next day or two.
On Monday, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said no decision had been made about withdrawing troops from Iraq. Pro-Iranian factions in the Iraqi Parliament have pushed to oust American troops following Soleimani’s killing on Iraqi soil. Esper spoke to reporters after a letter from a US Marine general circulated that seemed to suggest a withdrawal had been ordered in response to a vote by the Iraqi Parliament over the weekend. “There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper said.
On Tuesday, the US Maritime Administration put out the warning for ships, citing the rising threats after Soleimani’s killing. Oil tankers were targeted last year in mine attacks the US.blamed on Iran. Tehran denied being responsible though it did seize oil tankers around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.
Soleimani’s death, which has sparked major protests, further nuclear development and new threats of violence, has raised the prospect of a wide and unpredictable conflict in the Middle East and escalated tensions between Iran and the US.