Much of the world reacted with alarm on Friday after top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US strike in Baghdad, with many governments appealing for restraint.
The attack was praised by US President Donald Trump’s Republicans and close ally Israel, but elsewhere there were sharp warnings it could inflame regional tensions.
UK officials were said to be irked that they were not warned by the US ahead of the airstrike. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reportedly not forewarned, even though there are hundreds of British soldiers stationed in the region.
British officials were caught “by surprise” and angered by the airstrike, The Telegraph reported.
There are some 500 UK soldiers stationed 40 miles from where the airstrike happened in the area of Taji. Another US airstrike near Taji overnight Friday-Saturday targeted an Iran-backed militia group.
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the move a “US assassination” and an “extremely serious and dangerous escalation.”
I've written to Boris Johnson requesting an urgent Privy Council briefing and answers to questions following the US assassination of Qassem Suleimani. pic.twitter.com/kOw36b6Ex2
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) January 3, 2020
Corbyn called for the UK to “stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the United States.” He requested an urgent meeting of the government’s privy council to discuss the attack’s ramifications and asked what the UK was doing to protect its citizens.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said London had “always recognized the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
Other world leaders expressed alarm at the killing of Soleimani.
Russia characterized the killing as “fraught with serious consequences.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said there were no legal grounds for the strike and suggested that Trump ordered it with one eye on his re-election campaign.
“This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to a Kremlin readout of a phone conversation with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of the need to avoid war in the Gulf.
“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed the UN chief saying, “A further escalation that sets the whole region on fire needs to be prevented.” Maas also noted that the assault “followed a series of dangerous Iranian provocations.”
German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer described the strike as “a reaction to a whole series of military provocations.” She pointed to attacks on tankers and a Saudi oil facility, among other events.
“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”
He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the US strike, which also killed an Iraqi commander, would “spark a devastating war.”
“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” he said.
It was a “flagrant violation of the conditions authorizing the presence of US troops” on Iraqi soil, he added.
“The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped before it spirals out of control,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
“The EU calls on all the actors involved and on those partners who can have an influence to exercise maximum restraint and show responsibility in this crucial moment.”
Italy also warned that increased tensions “risk being fertile terrain for terrorism and violent extremism.” But right-wing Italian opposition leader Matteo Salvini praised Trump for eliminating “one of the most dangerous and pitiless men in the world, an Islamic terrorist, an enemy of the West, of Israel, of rights and of freedoms.”
The Syrian regime condemned the killing and heaped praise on the Iranian general.
The Syrian people “will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite terrorist group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a statement.
“We will carry a flag on all battlefields and all fronts and we will step up the victories of the axis of resistance with the blessing of his pure blood.”
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia cautioned against “anything that could aggravate the situation” while the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Qatar also called for “restraint.”
In the United Arab Emirates, which sits across the Gulf from Iran, the minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, called in a tweet for rational engagement and a “calm approach, free of emotion.”
The Jordanian foreign ministry also called for efforts to be made to avoid an escalation.
“Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said. “Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity are the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, which should be adhered to. It is also important to avoid unilateral actions and use of force.”
The foreign ministry in neighboring India said: “We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world.”
Turkey’s foreign ministry said: “It is manifest that the operation carried out by the US will increase insecurity and instability in the region… Turkey has always been against any foreign intervention in the region, assassinations and sectarian conflicts.”
Former Afghan President Hamed Karzai said the airstrike violated international laws and risked regional peace and stability. He offered condolences to the Iranian government, as did Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Soleimani’s “aggressive actions” had “a destabilizing effect in the region and beyond.”
French President Emmanuel Macron urged restraint. In his telephone call with Putin, Macron said there should be no “new dangerous escalation of tensions” and “called on all the parties to act with restraint.”