FRONT PAGE NEWS
7 January 2020
IRAN SOLEIMANI KILLING: US DENIES IRAQ PULLOUT AMID LETTER CONFUSION
The U.S. military on Monday told the Iraqi government American troops were
preparing to pull out of the country but a top U.S. general in Washington
said the message was sent by "mistake".
It came after a deadly American drone strike on Baghdad on Friday that
killed senior Iranian and Iraqi military commanders, sparking fury in both
countries with Tehran vowing "revenge".
The head of the U.S. military's Task Force Iraq, Brigadier General William
Seely, informed his Iraqi counterparts in a letter dated Sunday that troops
were preparing to leave.
"We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure," said the
letter, whose authenticity was confirmed to AFP by both Iraqi and U.S.
Seely said the U.S.-led coalition would "be repositioning forces over the
course of the coming days and weeks".
"In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take
certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a
safe and efficient manner," said the letter.
It said helicopters would be travelling in and around Baghdad's Green Zone
where the U.S. embassy is located as part of the preparations.
AFP could hear helicopters flying low over Baghdad throughout the night on
But Pentagon Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said on Monday the letter was
a mere "draft" and "should not have been sent".
"This was a mistake," Mr. Milley told reporters. "It was a mistake, an
honest mistake, a draft unsigned letter, because we are moving forces
around," he said.
"It shouldn't have been sent," Mr. Milley said.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the letter was "inconsistent" with
Washington's position, denying there has been a decision to leave Iraq.
U.S.-IRAN UNREST: WEEPING, IRAN SUPREME LEADER PRAYS OVER GENERAL SLAIN BY
Weeping amid wails from a crowd of hundreds of thousands of mourners, Iran's
Supreme Leader on Monday prayed over the remains of a top Iranian general
killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, an attack that's drastically raised
tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The targeted killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani already
has seen his replacement vow to take revenge. Additionally, Tehran has
abandoned the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in
response to the slaying while in Iraq, the Parliament has called for the
expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.
The developments could bring Iran closer to building an atomic bomb, set off
a proxy or military attack launched by Tehran against America and enable the
Islamic State group to stage a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East a
far more dangerous and unstable place.
Adding to the tensions, President Donald Trump threatened to demand billions
of dollars in compensation from Iraq or impose "sanctions like they've never
seen before" if it goes through with expelling U.S. troops.
Soleimani's daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened an attack on the U.S.
military in the Mideast while speaking to a crowd of hundreds of thousands
in Tehran that stretched as far as the eye could see. Iranian state TV put
the crowd size at "millions," though that number could not be verified.
"The families of the American soldiers in western Asia ... will spend their
days waiting for the death of their children," she said to cheers. Iranian
state television and others online shared a video that showed Mr. Trump's
American flag tweet following Soleimani's killing turn into a coffin, the
"likes" of the tweet replaced by over 1,43,000 "killed" with the hashtag
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself prayed over the caskets
of Soleimani and others slain in the attack. Mr. Khamenei, who had a close
relationship with Soleimani, wept at one point during the traditional Muslim
prayers for the dead. The crowd wailed.
Soleimani's successor, Esmail Ghaani stood near Mr. Khamenei's side, as did
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders in the Islamic
TRUMP UNDER FIRE FOR THREAT TO IRANIAN CULTURAL SITES
US President Donald Trump has faced growing criticism over his threats to
attack Iran's cultural sites.
Mr Trump made the threats amid fallout from the US assassination of Iranian
commander Qasem Soleimani.
The president said cultural sites were among 52 identified Iranian targets
that could be attacked if Iranians "torture, maim and blow up our people".
But the UN's cultural organisation and UK foreign secretary were among those
to note that such sites were protected.
The US and Iran have signed conventions to protect cultural heritage,
including during conflict. Military attacks targeting cultural sites are
considered war crimes under international law.
On Monday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway defended the president,
saying he had not said he was targeting cultural sites, only "asking the
She also said: "Iran has many strategic military sites that you may cite are
also cultural sites", before later clarifying her remark to say she was not
suggesting Iran had camouflaged military targets as cultural sites.
Defence Secretary Mark Esper was later asked if the US would target cultural
sites, and said: "We will follow the laws of armed conflict."
When asked if that meant no, "because targeting a cultural site is a war
crime?", he responded: "That's the laws of armed conflict."
THIRTY KILLED IN NORTHEAST NIGERIA BOMB BLAST ON CROWDED BRIDGE
At least 30 people were killed in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno
after an improvised explosive device detonated on a bridge, sources told
Reuters on Monday.
The bomb detonated at roughly 5 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) on a crowded
bridge in the market town of Gamboru that leads into neighboring Cameroon.
Witnesses in the market town said more than 35 injured people were taken to
the local hospital following the attack.
"It is an unfortunate day for us to witness this frustrating and devastating
incident in our community," eyewitness Modu Ali Said told Reuters. "I just
heard a loud sound of explosions, before I realized I saw many of our
friends and colleagues were killed," Said added.
A military spokesman said he would provide comment later in the evening.
Two sources with the Civilian Joint Task Force, a group of citizens formed
to fight Boko Haram, confirmed the attack and the early death toll
estimates. No group immediately took responsibility. Both Boko Haram and the
regional offshoot of Islamic State, known as ISWAP, are active in the area.
UNESCO SAYS U.S. SIGNED TREATIES NOT TO HARM CULTURAL HERITAGE
UNESCO said on Monday that the United States has signed treaties committing
it not to harm cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday stood by his threat to go after
Iranian cultural sites, warning of a "major retaliation" if Iran strikes
back for the killing of one of its top military commanders.
The U.N. cultural body said that under provisions of the 1954 and 1972
conventions - which have been ratified by both the United States and Iran -
signatory states undertake not to take any deliberate measures which might
damage cultural and natural heritage on the territory of other states party
to those conventions.
CHINA'S PLA BEGINS MAJOR MILITARY EXERCISES IN TIBET
The Chinese army has begun major military exercises in the high-altitude
Tibet bordering India, deploying latest weapons including the Type 15 light
battle tank and the new 155-MM vehicle-mounted howitzer, a media report said
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) Tibet Military Command started its New
Year exercises in which it has deployed helicopters, armoured vehicles,
heavy artillery and anti-aircraft missiles across the region from Lhasa,
capital of Tibet, to the border defence front lines with elevations of more
than 4,000 metres, state-run Global Times reported.
India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) covered 3,488 kilometres, including
the border along Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet.
Both the tank and howitzer, which were revealed to the public on the
National Day military parade on October 1 last year, are specifically
designed with advantages for plateau regions and can play important roles in
safeguarding border areas, the report said.
Their deployment in the Tibet Military Command will enhance PLA combat
capability in the plateau regions, it quoted a military expert as saying.
Both were equipped with powerful engines, enabling them to manoeuvre
efficiently in Tibet's terrains, a military expert was quoted as saying in
OZ FIRES: PM ANNOUNCES $2 BN RELIEF
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday announced an additional 2
billion dollars over two years to a new agency to coordinate a national
response to rebuild communities and livelihoods following the deadly
The National Bushfire Recovery Agency, headed by former federal police chief
Andrew Colvin, will help bushfire affected communities recover.
The agency would be funded with an initial 2 billion Australian dollars (USD
1.38 billion) to ensure the families, farmers and business owners hit by the
unprecedented bushfires would get the support they needed as they recover,
the Prime Minister said.
THE WORLD'S OLDEST WOMAN CELEBRATES HER 117TH BIRTHDAY
A Japanese woman has extended her own record for being the world's oldest
living person by celebrating her 117th birthday at a nursing home in
Kane Tanaka, who turned 117 on January 2 celebrated her new milestone with a
party thrown by her friends and staff at her nursing home. A local
television channel was also in attendance for her party.
According to the Guinness World Records, Tanaka was confirmed as the oldest
living person 116 years last year. As per the organisation, Tanaka was born
prematurely in 1903 and married Hideo Tanaka in 1922.
News agency Reuters described Tanala's milestone as symbolic of Japan's
fast-ageing population. The country deals with falling birthrate as the
number of babies born in Japan fell an estimate of 5.9 per cent last year.