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Qassem Soleimani: US says UN report on killing is false, reiterates 'self-defence' claim

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says report did not take into account Iran's 'escalating series of armed attacks' in months prior to assassination
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on "Evaluating the Trump Administration's Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force" (AFP/File photo)
Pompeo testifies on 28 February before House Foreign Affairs Committee on Trump administration's policies on Iran, Iraq and use of force (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected a United Nations assessment that Washington's deadly strike against top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January violated international law. 

Earlier this week, the UN released a report on the drone strike that killed nine other people, including Kataeb Hezbollah Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as well as Soleimani.

The report concluded that the strike violated international law, in part because the US failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing, or imminent, attack against its interests to justify the strike. 

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In a statement released late Thursday, Pompeo accused the UN of drawing false conclusions and referred to the assessment as "spurious". 

"The strike that killed General Soleimani was in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on US forces and interests in the Middle East region," Pompeo said.

"It was conducted to deter Iran from launching or supporting further attacks against the United States or US interests, and to degrade the capabilities of the Qods Force." 

Pompeo went on to say that the US had been "transparent regarding the international law basis for the strike". 

'Self-defense '

Days after the strike, which took place at a Baghdad airport, the US sent a letter to the UN Security Council explaining that its actions were in "self-defense", but following an investigation into the incident, the UN has found that there is insufficient evidence to support that claim. 

"Major General Soleimani was in charge of Iran military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful," Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, wrote in the report.

The 3 January drone strike was the first known incident in which a country invoked self-defence as a justification for an attack against a state actor in the territory of a third country, Callamard added.

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Callamard also called for greater accountability and regulations to be implemented against weaponised drones.

"The world is at a critical time, and possible tipping point, when it comes to the use of drones... The Security Council is missing in action; the international community, willingly or not, stands largely silent," Callamard told Reuters.

Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, was a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran's campaign to drive US forces out of Iraq, and built up Tehran's network of proxy armies across the Middle East. 

Washington had long accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on US forces in the region.

Following Soleimani's assassination, Iran retaliated with a missile attack on an Iraqi airbase where US forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran, killing all on board.

Iran has issued an arrest warrant for US President Donald Trump and 35 others over Soleimani's killing and asked Interpol for help, Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said last month, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.