TEHRAN: The Iranian Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill designating the entire US military and Pentagon terrorist organisations after the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq.
Lawmakers also backed a motion allocating $220 million to the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards Corp's (IRGC) Quds Force to take revenge for Soleimani's death in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump.
“Any aid to these forces, including military, intelligence, financial, technical, service or logistical, will be considered as cooperation in a terrorist act,” parliament said, reports the international media.
The Bill was an amended version of a law adopted in April last year that declaredthe United States a "state sponsor of terrorism" and its forces in the region "terror groups".
The US action has threatened to spill over into outright military confrontation between Tehran and Washington, though both sides insist they don't want war. Trump has sought a "maximum pressure" policy on Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear activities, ballistic missile programme and support for militant groups.
Iran's new legislation was unanimously approved by 223 lawmakers, according to the Iranian state media. The Supreme National Security Council had previously – last year – designated US Central Command, the US military's Middle East command unit, a terrorist group. That came in response to the Trump administration's labeling of the IRGC as a terrorist organization after Washington exited a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers and reimposed economic sanctions.
Soleimani headed the Quds Force, an elite wing of the IRGC that orchestrated Iran's ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, with whom Soleimani was holding meetings when he was killed in a US strike near Baghdad's main airport Friday.
Separately, Iranian state TV reported that at least 56 people were killed and 213 others injured in a stampede that erupted at a funeral procession Tuesday for the slain general in his hometown of Kerman, in southeastern Iran.
A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over one million people, crowding main thoroughfares and side streets. Emergency services in Kerman blamed high levels of congestion and overcrowding for the tragedy.
Soleimani's burial was later delayed because of the huge crowds. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Tuesday said the US "will pay" for a drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani. Speaking with All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly in Tehran, Zarif said last week's assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was "a cowardly armed attack" that "amounts to war."
"[We] will respond according to our own timing and choice," he said. Pressed on specifics of an Iranian response to the drone strike that killed Soleimani in neighboring Iraq, Zarif said, "We will decide."
"[In] exercising our right to self-defense, we are bound by international law, unlike the United States, which is not bound by international law," he told NPR. Referring to the deployment of US forces in Iraq, Zarif said the reaction to Soleimani's death would "make it almost impossible for the US to continue to stay in this region."
Zarif said there would be no further discussions of prisoner exchanges with the United States.
A number of American citizens are detained in Iran, and Zarif said, "We had proposed a universal exchange of all prisoners. "I don't think at this time we can discuss those issues. We have to deal with the present issue at hand, unfortunately."
He said the US had failed to issue him a visa to attend the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday, where he was scheduled to deliver an address. Zarif said he had requested the visa 25 days ago, but said the State Department informed the U.N. that it "didn't have enough time to issue a visa."
Meanwhile, Iraqi armed factions called on Tuesday for an urgent meeting to face "the war against the resistance". "We will regroup the forces of resistance in a single entity to respond to Washington," said Nasr al-Shammary, deputy head of the Harakat al-Nujaba group.
Nujaba, backed by Iran and fiercely opposed to the United States, is one of the most hardline factions of Iraq´s Hashed al-Shaabi military network, which has been incorporated into the state.
"The American aggression against the Hashed al-Shaabi has marked the beginning of war against the resistance," Shammary said in his statement. The statement did not identify the factions invited but it was expected the Hashed´s pro-Iran factions and forces loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr would attend.
Sadr has reactivated his Mahdi Army, the militia that fought US troops after their 2003 invasion, calling for formation of "international resistance regiments."
Qais al-Khazali, a paramilitary leader and bitter rival of Sadr´s, echoed his call and threatened the US that his forces would "turn the skies above you into hell."
In his statement, Shammary said the "resistance" would respond across the region, and said his group was already in touch with Iran-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
"We will wage a war against the American presence in all parts of the region that we can reach," he said, describing the US embassy in Baghdad as a "den of spies".
"Thousands of Marines are present in possible targets," he said. In a related development, the foreign ministers of four leading European powers met in Brussels on Tuesday for emergency talks on Iran and Libya, as the EU scrambles to respond to two escalating crises on its doorstep.
The talks between Britain, France, Germany and Italy, plus the EU diplomatic chief, covered the fallout from the US killing of General Qasem Soleimani. The situation in Libya, where strongman Khalifa Haftar´s forces have seized the coastal city of Sirte, is also on the agenda. Haftar receives backing from the UAE and Egypt, while Turkish forces are deploying to protect the UN-recognised government. "Libya has long since become a place for a war of proxies and we don´t want to accept that any longer," Germany´s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters as he arrived for the start of the talks.
The meeting came as the EU searches for ways to contain the growing tensions in the major flashpoints on its periphery, as Iran threatens revenge for the death of Qasem Soleimani.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab held a one-on-one meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, who has warned Iran against retaliating over Soleimani´s death, before joining the German and Italian ministers for talks on Libya. "The E3 will then meet to discuss tensions between the US and Iran with all three pushing for de-escalation," the British foreign minister said, referring to the three European signatories of the Iran nuclear deal.
"The talks will also cover the nuclear deal following Iran´s latest announcement on Sunday that it is withdrawing from further commitments in the deal."
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