Iranian lawmakers hold pictures of slain General Qassem Soleimani during a parliamentary session in Tehran. Picture: ICANA NEWS AGENCY/AFP
Iranian lawmakers hold pictures of slain General Qassem Soleimani during a parliamentary session in Tehran. Picture: ICANA NEWS AGENCY/AFP

Tehran — Iran said it is evaluating 13 possible ways to inflict a “historic nightmare” on the US for killing a powerful Iranian general, whose burial was postponed after dozens of mourners died in a stampede.

Qassem Soleimani’s exploits in conflicts from Syria to Yemen made him a national hero, and hundreds of thousands have turned out this week as his funeral procession stopped in various cities, first in Iraq, where he was killed in a drone strike, and later Iran. But the masses that met the cortège ahead of his burial overwhelmed his southeastern hometown, leaving 40 dead and 213 injured, state TV reported on Tuesday. The funeral was postponed indefinitely, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said.

The tragedy unfolded after Iran served notice that it was assessing more than a dozen possible reprisals. In Brussels, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK are holding an emergency meeting to discuss their options to try and defuse tensions.

“Even if the weakest of these scenarios gains a consensus, its implementation can be a historic nightmare for the Americans,” Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, was cited as saying by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency. “For now, for intelligence reasons, we cannot provide more information to the media.”

Iranian officials have previously said that US forces in the region will be targets, and the Iranian parliament on Tuesday designated the Pentagon and affiliated companies as terrorists. The US issued a warning to shipping in the Middle East over the possibility of Iranian action against US maritime interests, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement.

The menacing comments from Shamkhani, which were later denied by the security council, briefly roiled markets, but US equity futures edged higher, and stocks in Europe and Asia later jumped as investors set aside fears about escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Extended influence

The general directed the foreign operations of Iran’s military, and was instrumental in extending Tehran’s influence across the Middle East through a network of proxy militias. His death has rippled through the region, with the US and its allies on alert for retaliation and questions swirling about the continued US military presence in Iraq, deployed there to combat Islamic State (IS) and serve as a counterweight against Iran’s formidable influence.

German lawmaker Roderich Kiesewetter said some German troops would temporarily be withdrawn from Iraq; and in Lebanon, the US embassy tightened security in anticipation of retribution, according to a local news report.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said in Tehran on Tuesday that the US would suffer consequences for the killing of Soleimani “at a time and place of Iran’s choosing”. The countdown has begun for the US exit from the Middle East, he said, warning of a multi-generational war should the region continue to rely on the US presence.

The Pentagon dispatched additional forces to the Middle East, even as conflicting signs emerged about Washington’s commitment to remaining in Iraq.

The three-ship Bataan amphibious readiness group was ordered to move to the Persian Gulf region from the Mediterranean, where it has been exercising, according to a US official. The group, which includes about 2,200 Marines and a helicopter unit, follows the deployment of about 3,500 soldiers from the army’s 82nd Airborne to Kuwait late last week.

The show of force followed reports of a letter telling US military officials in Baghdad that American personnel were repositioning in preparation to leave Iraq. Gen Mark Milley, chair of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters Monday that a letter to that effect was a draft and should never have been sent. Defence secretary Mark Esper, at a briefing alongside Milley, said “there is no decision to leave, nor did we issue any plans to leave or prepare to leave”.


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