TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Blowback over the U.S. killing of an Iranian general mounted Sunday as Iran announced it will no longer abide by limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal, and Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.
The developments could bring Iran closer to building an atomic bomb and enable the Islamic State group to stage a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East more dangerous and unstable.
Iranian state television cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country will not observe the 2015 deal’s restrictions on fuel enrichment, the size of enriched uranium stockpile, and research and development activities.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations,” a state TV broadcaster said.
In Iraq, meanwhile, lawmakers passed a resolution calling for an end to foreign military presence in the country, including some 5,200 U.S. troops stationed to help fight Islamic State extremists. The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.
In yet another sign of rising tensions and threats of retaliation over the deadly airstrike, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq said it is putting the battle against IS on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases.
The string of developments capped a day of mass mourning over Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike Friday in Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in the cities of Ahvaz and Mashhad on Sunday to walk alongside the casket of Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Mideast and the man who was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in suicide bombings and other attacks.
The U.S. State Department had no comment on Iran’s announcement by press time. As for the troop-withdrawal vote in Iraq, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. is awaiting clarification on its legal meaning but was “disappointed” and strongly urged Iraq to reconsider: “We believe it is in the shared interests of the United States and Iraq to continue fighting ISIS together,” he said.
Iran insisted it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program and did not back off from earlier promises that it would not seek a nuclear weapon.
But the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.
Soleimani’s killing has escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of back-and-forth attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack.
The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game. A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader suggested Israeli cities such as Haifa and Tel Aviv could be targeted should the U.S. attack Iran.
In the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a round of TV interviews Sunday that the U.S. military may strike more Iranian leaders if the Islamic Republic retaliates by attacking Americans or American interests.
Trump continued issuing warnings via tweet: “These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” he wrote Sunday afternoon. “Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!”
The tweet appeared to serve as a warning to Congress that Trump would respond quickly to any attack without first gaining the approval of lawmakers.
Congressional Democrats have complained that Trump’s order to kill Soleimani took place without first consulting with or informing top lawmakers, noting that Congress still holds sole power to declare war. Trump did meet the 48-hour deadline required by the War Powers Act to notify Congress of the strike, though documents provided Saturday were classified and no public version was released.
The White House faced a barrage of questions about the legality of the killing. On Sunday, Pompeo said the administration would have been “culpably negligent” in its duty to protect the United States if it had not killed Soleimani, although he did not give evidence for previous claims that Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks on Americans, arguing instead that attacks had been inevitable.
“We watched him continue to actively build out for what was going to be a significant attack — that’s what we believed,” he said. “We continue to prepare for whatever it is the Iranian regime may put in front of us within the next 10 minutes, within the next 10 days, and within the next 10 weeks.”