Iran’s highest political and religious authority went after Donald Trump on the president’s favourite medium Twitter on Wednesday, hurling insults as Washington and Tehran squared off over the storming of the American embassy in Baghdad.
“That guy has tweeted that we see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad and we will respond to Iran,” said Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s English-language Twitter account, translating similar statements posted to his Persian-language account, as he retweeted Mr Trump’s accusations.
“First: You can’t do anything,” he continued. “Second: If you were logical —which you’re not— you’d see that your crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan have made nations hate you.”
It appeared to be the first time Mr Khamenei or the account operated in his name retweeted anything by Mr Trump, and a rare instance when he directly addressed the American president.
It came as members and supporters of the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq began to withdraw from the site of the US embassy in Baghdad after attempting to storm it twice in two days in response to US airstrikes on Sunday which killed 25 members of the group and injured at least 50 at its bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
The airstrikes angered Iraqi officials and much of the public; though the militia is considered a terrorist group by the US, many Iraqis regard the group as heroes for fighting Isis, or are at least sympathetic to the young mostly poor militiamen who join the group. The US launched the attacks in response to a barrage of rockets that landed on a base in northern Iraq on Friday that killed an American military contractor and injured US soldiers.
Washington claimed Iran was behind the attack but has provided no evidence and has yet to disclose why it believes Kataib Hezbollah, which is among a number of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias hostile to Washington, was responsible. Independent security experts have argued that pro-Iranian Iraqi militias were likely behind the missile strikes, among a long-running series of attacks on bases throughout Iraq where Americans are quartered.
Funeral processions for the slain militiamen on Tuesday turned into angry marches that evolved into a rowdy demonstration at the US embassy compound in Baghdad, where protesters managed to make their way into the entrance and set fires. They eventually were convinced and coerced into leaving, but were setting up a protest encampment outside the fortress-like facility, the largest and most expensive US diplomatic mission in the world.
Clashes erupted again Wednesday morning, with reports that some protesters were injured by teargas before being convinced to leave by the leadership of the Popular Mobilisation Units, the government umbrella organisation under which Iraqi militias borne out of the war against Isis operate.
The US has begun to bolster security at the compound, reportedly deploying hundreds more troops to Iraq, including Marines that landed at the facility in helicopters on Wednesday.
In the tweet that provoked Mr Khamenei’s ire, Mr Trump said “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities.”
He added, “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
Bizarrely, Mr Trump ended the tweet with, “Happy New Year!”
Mr Khamenei, in a tweet on Wednesday, wrote that “if Iran wants to fight a country, it will do so openly,” a statement which appears to contradict four decades of Iranian security strategies which emphasise asymmetric and clandestine action.
“We are committed to the interests and dignity of our people and we will confront whoever threatens that without any consideration and hurt them,” Mr Khamenei wrote in his tweet.