Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the US will see further retaliation for the January drone strike on elite commander Qasem Soleimani, telling Iraq’s premier that Tehran will resist American meddling in the region.
Khamenei met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran on Tuesday, the PM’s first trip abroad since taking office in May. During the talks, the ayatollah stressed that the American presence in Iraq is an ongoing “source of corruption and destruction,” citing Soleimani’s assassination earlier this year in Baghdad as a case in point.
“They killed your guest at your house and explicitly confessed to the crime,” Khamenei said, adding that “the US and its agents are always looking for a power vacuum in the region to create chaos and pave the way for their intervention.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran will never forget this and will definitely strike a blow to the Americans.
The assassination of Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, skyrocketed tensions between Washington and Tehran, triggering an Iranian missile strike in retaliation and a rash of warlike rhetoric between the two sides. The strike also incensed Baghdad, as a top Iraqi militia commander was also killed in the blast. Iraqi lawmakers voted to expel US forces from the country, deeming the kill operation a clear violation of their sovereignty. While that move never took shape and has since stalled, Khamenei encouraged al-Kadhimi – who was not in office at the time of the strike in January – to renew the push during Tuesday’s talks.
The ayatollah also emphasized the need to expand Iran-Iraq relations “in all areas,” saying “reason, religion and experience” required it, but warned of foreign forces that might look to disrupt improved ties.
“Of course, the expansion of Iran-Iraq relations has opponents, led by the United States,” he said, arguing Washington did not want to see an “independent, strong Iraq,” but added “in no way should we be afraid.”
Following the sit-down with Khamenei, the Iraqi PM appeared at a news conference alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, echoing the ayatollah’s calls for improved relations and insisting he would not “allow any aggression or challenge to Iran” to be launched from Iraqi territory.
The efforts to strengthen the two countries’ ties follows a much less amicable history, which saw Iran and Iraq fight a bloody war between 1980 and 1988, in which Baghdad tried to invade Iran with US backing soon after the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the country’s monarchy.
The top-level meeting comes as Washington continues its crippling “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign on Iran, looking to completely dry up the country’s oil exports and deprive the state of a vital source of revenue. The US has also pushed to extend an arms embargo on Tehran in recent weeks, a move Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said would effectively dismantle the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and other world powers.
In the event the US fails to persuade the UN Security Council to renew the weapons ban, set to expire this fall, Washington has vowed to invoke a “snapback” measure in the 2015 deal to reimpose all UN sanctions on Iran, despite unilaterally abrogating it in 2018.