The UK has warned against “further conflict” between the West and Iran after the US airstrike that killed the country’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani on Friday morning.
In a statement that did not explicitly back President Donald Trump’s decision to order the airstrike that killed the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani.
“Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
The US did not inform the UK that it was planning to assassinate Iran’s top military commander in advance of Friday’s airstrike, a UK government source said.
Prime minister Boris Johnson was unaware of the move against the head of the Quds Force, Soleimani, in Baghdad, Iraq, before it took place.
Raab spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after Soleimani was killed. Britain currently has around 1,400 military personnel in Iraq and Syria.
Other US allies were also out of the loop.
Several European governments had complained in recent days to US counterparts that, up until the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, allies were being kept in the dark by the Trump administration, a senior diplomat from a major EU member state told BuzzFeed News.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said he had told Pompeo that the US airstrike “has not made it easier to reduce tensions”.
Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, said that “Trump’s decisions provoke global risks”.
Soleimani, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were killed when rockets destroyed two vehicles travelling near the airport in Baghdad.
The Pentagon later confirmed Soleimani’s death, saying the airstrike was ordered by Trump, in part, to deter “future Iranian attack plans”.
The UK military has increased its security and readiness at bases in the Middle East in response, Sky News reported. US nationals have been urged to leave Iraq immediately, in a statement released by the US embassy.
Opposition Labour Party politicians lined up to criticise the US airstrike. Outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn called it “an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict in the Middle East with global significance” and said “the UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the United States”.
Keir Starmer, the current frontrunner to replace Corbyn, said: “This is an extremely serious situation. There’s a clear danger of further violence and escalation in the Middle East. We need to engage, not isolate Iran. All sides need to de-escalate tensions and prevent further conflict.”
Labour MP Lisa Nandy said: “This is a very dangerous moment. 17 years after the catastrophic decision to go to war in Iraq violence still rages every day. World leaders must stand up to Trump. The last thing we need is another all-out war.”
Labour MP Stella Creasy called for Britain’s Parliament — which is currently in recess until next week — to be recalled to debate the UK response. “That parliament not due to meet until Tuesday surely unsustainable in such circumstances. Needs urgent statement from PM or foreign sec accordingly,” she tweeted.
France’s EU minister Amélie de Montchalin said Emmanuel Macron’s priority was to “re-create conditions of stability” in the region. “This morning, we wake up in a more dangerous world, because military escalation is always dangerous,” she said.
Alistair Burt, who served as the UK’s minister for the Middle East under Theresa May, warned that the killing of Soleimani had “totally unknowable consequences”.
“Direct war has been avoided until now, despite provocations, and all efforts now must be directed to defuse the confrontations at the heart of this. But this incident is unlikely to be the end of it,” he said.
During a news conference Friday, Trump insisted that his decision was preemptive in nature.
“We took action last night to stop a war,” he said. “We did not take action to start a war.”
But the UK’s former ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, called the assassination a “massive moment” in a series of tweets and said Soleimani had become one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East, “certainly more so than Bin Laden or Baghdadi at moment of their assassinations”.
He added: “Question that US planners must now consider urgently is how to make this look like part of a coherent strategy rather than what otherwise will look like drive-by adventurism. The last 30 years, even under less erratic leadership, does not provide great reassurance.”
In response to the US airstrike, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the assassination would lead to greater “resistance” against the US in the Middle East.
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“The brutality and stupidity of American terrorist forces in assassinating Commander Soleimani … will undoubtedly make the tree of resistance in the region and the world more prosperous,” he said.
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