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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. 
defence officials. 
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 
Monday. 
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 
U.S. 

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 
#severerevenge. 
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 
Republic. 


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 
question". 
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 
on Sunday. 
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 
the report. 


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 
bushfire crisis. 
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 
Fukuoka. 
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. 

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