US drone strike on Iran's Qassem Suleimani 'unlawful', UN investigator says

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The January US drone strike in Iraq that killed top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and nine other people represented a violation of international law, a UN human rights investigator said on Monday.

The United States has failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing or imminent attack against its interests to justify the strike on Soleimani's convoy as it left Baghdad airport, said Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The attack violated the UN Charter, Ms Callamard wrote in a report calling for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones and for greater regulation of the weapons.

"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," Ms Callamard, an independent investigator, told Reuters.

Ms Callamard is due on Thursday to present her findings to the Human Rights Council, giving member states a chance to debate what action to pursue. The United States is not a member of the forum, having quit two years ago.

Ms 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 Iran's network of proxy armies across the Middle East. Washington had accused Suleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on US forces in the region.

"Major General Suleimani 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," Ms Callamard wrote in the report.

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

Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where US forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran.

Iran has issued an arrest warrant for US President Donald and 35 others over Suleimani's killing and has asked Interpol for help, Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said on June 29, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

A burning vehicle near Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Security Media Cell / EPA

A burning vehicle near Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Security Media Cell / EPA

A burning vehicle near Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Security Media Cell / EPA

Qassem Suleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations branch, the Quds Force, was killed in a US rocket strike at Baghdad International Airport. AFP

Suleimani, centre, began to rise in stature during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Getty Images

Suleimani and Hadi Al Amiri, head of Iraqi Badr organisation, in Iraq during the fight against ISIS.

Suleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force, drinking tea in Tikrit in 2015.

Suleimani and Iraqi Shiite cleric, politician, and militia leader Moqtada Al Sadr in Tehran. AFP

Suleimani during a meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, centre, and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in Tehran in 2019. AFP

Suleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province in 2015. Reuters

Suleimani walks near an armoured vehicle in Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province. Reuters

Suleimani stands at the frontline in Tal Ksaiba. Reuters

Suleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, in Tehran in 2016. AP Photo

Suleimani was one of the Revolutionary Guard officers sent to Lebanon to organise the formation of Shiite militia groups during the Lebanese Civil War. Out of his efforts rose the now regionally dominant Hezbollah. AP

Suleimani became close to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah while assisting the rise of the group. AFP

Together, the pair planned countless Hezbollah actions inside and outside of Lebanon.

Suleimani was close to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seated.

Under Suleimani, the Quds Force helped Iraqi militias carry out a deadly attacks on American and coalition troops following the US-led invasion in 2003. AFP

In Syria, Suleimani served as commander-in-chief of Iran’s operations in support of Bashar Al Assad’s regime. AFP

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Suleimani in 2015. AFP

Updated: July 7, 2020 07:58 AM

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