News briefs: Iran promises 'harsh retaliation' for killing of general

Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.

The killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.

The United States urged its U.S. citizens to leave Iraq "immediately." The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and other protesters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended. 

Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq, where they mainly train Iraqi forces and help to combat Islamic State militants.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a "harsh retaliation is waiting" for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the "international face of resistance." Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general's death, and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's deputy, to replace him as head of the elite Quds force.

"A more dangerous world:" Iran killing triggers global alarm

PARIS (AP) — Global powers are warning that the world has become a more dangerous place after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the targeted killing of Iran's top general and are urging restraint on all sides.

China, Russia and France, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, took a dim view of the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport early Friday that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani. 

"We are waking up in a more dangerous world. Military escalation is always dangerous," France's deputy minister for foreign affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, said on RTL radio. "When such actions, such operations, take place, we see that escalation is underway."

Russia's Foreign Ministry, via an unnamed diplomat quoted by the state-run TASS news agency, condemned the killing as "an adventurist step that would lead to growing tensions throughout the entire region."

China described itself as "highly concerned."

Indonesia capital floods leave 43 dead, 397,000 displaced

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The death toll from floods in Indonesia's capital rose to 43 of Friday as rescuers found more bodies amid receding floodwaters, disaster officials said. 

Monsoon rains and rising rivers submerged at least 182 neighborhoods in greater Jakarta and caused landslides in the Bogor and Depok districts on the city's outskirts as well as in neighboring Lebak, which buried a dozen people. 

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said the fatalities also included those who had drowned or been electrocuted since rivers broke their banks Wednesday after extreme torrential rains throughout New Year's Eve. Three elderly people died of hypothermia.

It was the worst flooding since 2013, when 57 people were killed after Jakarta was inundated by monsoon rains.

Floodwaters started receded in some parts of the city on Thursday evening, enabling residents to return to their homes. 

'Millions of sparks': Weather raises Australia's fire danger

SYDNEY (AP) — One of the largest evacuations in Australia's history was underway Friday ahead of hot weather and strong winds that are forecast to worsen devastating wildfires raging across the country.

More than 200 fires were burning, and warnings of extreme danger to come Saturday prompted mass evacuations. Traffic was gridlocked as people fled and firefighters escorted convoys of evacuees as fires threatened to close roads. Navy ships were called in to pluck hundreds of people stranded on beaches.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews declared a disaster across much of the eastern part of the state, allowing the government to order evacuations in an area with as many as 140,000 permanent residents and tens of thousands more vacationers. 

"If you can leave, you must leave," Andrews said. 

In South Australia state, fire officials said the weather conditions were cause for concern because fires were still burning or smoldering. 

What's known and not known about Ghosn's case after escape

TOKYO (AP) — Former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn fled Japan this week while awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges and appeared in Lebanon. A look at the unfolding case of the fallen superstar of the auto industry:

WHERE HE IS

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, arrived in Lebanon Monday using a private plane via Turkey. Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan told The Associated Press that Ghosn entered the country with a legal passport. Ghosn, who has not appeared in public, issued a statement saying he left to avoid a "rigged Japanese justice system." He later denied his family members' role in the escape, stressing he did it alone. He said he will talk to reporters next week. Serhan said Lebanese prosecutors will question Ghosn, but there are no charges pending against him in Lebanon. 

HOW HE GOT OUT

Little is known about how Ghosn was able to leave Japan. He picked a time where security lapses are more likely — government offices are closed all week for New Year holidays. But his whereabouts were closely monitored, including by 24-hour security camera coverage, and his lawyers supposedly had all his passports. He was able to use the internet only in his lawyer's office, and he was forbidden from seeing his wife, Carole Ghosn. They were recently allowed video calls, but only in the presence of his lawyer. His chief lawyer Junichiro Hironaka said he had no knowledge of the escape and was stunned by it. The dramatic disappearance has set off wild speculation he was carted off inside a musical instrument case. 

Castro's exit is latest blow to diversity of 2020 field

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The 2020 Democratic presidential primary initially featured the most racially diverse field in history. Now, with one month until voting begins, the top tier of candidates is all white. 

Candidates of color have rapidly seen their fortunes fall over the past month. On Thursday, Julián Castro, the only Latino in the race, called it quits. Sen. Kamala Harris, a black woman, exited the race in December. Sen. Cory Booker, another black candidate, failed to qualify for the last debate, and both he and Andrew Yang, an Asian American entrepreneur, are at risk of missing out on the next forum. 

The trajectory has frustrated and confounded Democrats, a party that counts on broad support from minority voters in presidential elections. It's also raised concerns that issues facing minority voters could be marginalized during the White House race.

"When the field becomes less diverse, there's going to be a shift from poor folks and voters of color and the need to engage them and get them excited about the Democratic ticket," said Sonja Diaz, founding director of UCLA's Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. "It leaves a gap in the party's capacity to meaningfully address the policy issues that are relevant to voters of color."

Castro, 45, ran as an unabashed liberal who courted the party's ascendant left wing, and he was one of the most vocal candidates when addressing issues affecting the nation's poor. He pushed his rivals to embrace decriminalizing border crossings, and the former Obama housing secretary was the first to call for President Donald Trump's impeachment. 

3 crashes, 3 deaths raise questions about Tesla's Autopilot

DETROIT (AP) — Three crashes involving Teslas that killed three people have increased scrutiny of the company's Autopilot driving system just months before CEO Elon Musk has planned to put fully self-driving cars on the streets.

On Sunday, a Tesla Model S sedan left a freeway in Gardena, California, at a high speed, ran a red light and struck a Honda Civic, killing two people inside, police said. 

On the same day, a Tesla Model 3 hit a parked firetruck on an Indiana freeway, killing a passenger in the Tesla. 

And on Dec. 7, yet another Model 3 struck a police cruiser on a Connecticut highway, though no one was hurt.

The special crash investigation unit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into the California crash. The agency hasn't decided whether its special-crash unit will review the crash that occurred Sunday near Terre Haute, Indiana. In both cases, authorities have yet to determine whether Tesla's Autopilot system was being used. 

Oil price jumps on fear of Iranian retaliation against US

LONDON (AP) — The price of oil surged Friday as global investors were gripped with uncertainty over the potential repercussions after the United States killed Iran's top general.

News that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed in an air attack at the Baghdad international airport prompted expectations of Iranian retaliation against U.S. and Israeli targets.

In previous flare-ups in tensions with the U.S., Iran has threatened the supply of oil that travels from the Persian Gulf to the rest of the world. About 20% of oil traded worldwide goes through the Strait of Hormuz, where the shipping lane is only 3 kilometers (2 miles) wide and tankers have come under attack this year.

The international benchmark for crude oil jumped 4.1%, or $2.70, to $68.95 a barrel in London trading.

"Revenge will come, maybe not overnight but it will come and until then we need to increase the geopolitical risk premium," said Olivier Jakob, head of consultancy Petromatrix, in a note to investors.

AP Explains: Rising Iran, US tension after general's killing

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. airstrike that killed a prominent Iranian general in Baghdad raises tensions even higher between Tehran and Washington, after months of trading attacks and threats across the wider Middle East. 

How Iran will respond remains in question as well, though its supreme leader warned that a "harsh retaliation is waiting" for those who killed Revolutionary Guard Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani early Friday morning. That could include anything, from challenging U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, firing ballistic missiles or deploying the asymmetrical proxy forces Iran has cultivated to cover for its long-sanctioned conventional forces. 

Soleimani's death is the latest in a series of escalating incidents traces back to President Donald Trump's decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw America from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. However, overall enmity between Iran and the U.S. date back to its 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as a 1953 U.S.-backed coup in Tehran that cemented the power of its ruling shah over an elected prime minister. 

Here's where things stand now:

THE GENERAL'S KILLING

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Soleimani, a general who became Iran icon by targeting US

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — For Iranians whose icons since the Islamic Revolution have been stern-faced clergy, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani widely represented a figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of U.S. pressure.

For the U.S. and Israel, he was a shadowy figure in command of Iran's proxy forces, responsible for fighters in Syria backing President Bashar Assad and for the deaths of American troops in Iraq. 

Solemani survived the horror of Iran's long war in the 1980s with Iraq to take control of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic's foreign campaigns. 

Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Soleimani's popularity and mystique grew after American officials called for his killing. A decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran's most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership. 

"The warfront is mankind's lost paradise," Soleimani recounted in a 2009 interview. "One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. ... The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed."

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