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Iran says US killing of Soleimani weakens fight against Islamic State

Qasem Soleimani (khamenei.ir/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A high-ranking Iranian military commander who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month had sought to bring stability to the Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on February 10.

“Commander [Qasem] Soleimani was a man who was pursuing stability and calm in the region,” Rohani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

The United States killed Major General Soleimani, who headed Iran’s elite Quds Force, in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, saying that he was planning attacks on Americans.

“If commander Soleimani wanted to kill American generals it would have been very, very easy for him, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and any other place. He never did that,” Rohani said.

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Rohani’s comments were echoed by the head of Iran’s nuclear program, who said on February 10 that Soleimani’s killing by the United States has weakened the fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the region.

Ali Akbar Salehi told a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that Soleimani’s killing showed “the U.S. administration has not yet come to its senses in recognizing the realities on the ground.”

Salehi called Soleimani, who had a leading role in mobilizing Iraqi militias on the ground against IS, “the most instrumental element in combating [the group].”

In response to Soleimani’s killing, Iran launched missiles on two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. forces, without causing any fatalities. Salehi said Tehran was prepared to launch more strikes.

“Be it known as my country strongly retaliated once, it will never hesitate to strike back when necessary,” he said.

The United States last month imposed additional sanctions on Salehi’s Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and on Salehi himself, freezing any assets he had within U.S. jurisdiction.

In Vienna, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said Tehran was still not offering the IAEA explanations regarding the discovery of uranium particles in a warehouse near Tehran.

“We call on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA in monitoring and inspecting Iran’s facilities, and in addressing all of the agency’s questions,” Brouillette said.