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BORIS Johnson was accused today of being “too craven and cowardly” to stand up to US President Donald Trump and of putting trade before the stability of the Middle East.
He faced a robust challenge from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons as the pair faced off for the first time since last week’s assassination of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani.
Mr Johnson had been criticised for “disappearing” over his failure to make a statement in the days after General Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds force, was killed in a US drone attack in Baghdad in the early hours of Friday.
He faced a grilling during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) as Mr Corbyn pointed out that extrajudicial killings are illegal under international law and condemned the government for being “sympathetic to the assassination.”
Mr Trump has faced widespread condemnation for the killing, with even the Pentagon saying that the order for the drone attack took it by surprise.
Iran carried out reprisal attacks early this morning, firing an estimated 15 missiles at Iraq’s al-Asad airbase, which houses US troops, and US and coalition forces at Erbil in the north of the country.
The impact of the strikes was not immediately clear, but there were unconfirmed reports of Iraqi civilian casualties.
Speaking in a televised address, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country’s forces had given the US “a slap in the face last night.”
Mr Trump, in his own televised address, accused Iran of being the “leading supporter of terrorism” and Gen Soleimani of having hands “drenched in blood.”
He promised tougher sanctions against Tehran but claimed that Tehran appears now to be “standing down” after Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran had “concluded” its response to the murder of Gen Soleimani.
However, this was contradicted by Mr Khamenei, who said: “These military actions are not sufficient [for revenge]. What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”
Mr Trump called for Nato to play a greater role in the Middle East and urged European countries to abandon support for the so-called nuclear deal with Iran.
He ended his speech by claiming that the US wishes to “embrace peace with all who seek it.”
Earlier, Mr Corbyn had pressed the Prime Minister to explain what evidence the government had that Gen Soleimani’s assassination “was not an illegal act.”
Mr Johnson replied: “The strict issue of legality is not for the UK to determine as it was not our operation. Most reasonable people would believe that the US has right to protect its bases and personnel.
“Soleimani had the blood of British troops on his hands,” he added, without offering any evidence for this assertion.
Mr Corbyn hit back, saying: “If we stand by international law, as I’m sure the government does and would want to, then surely killing somebody in a foreign territory is an illegal act and should be condemned as such.
“If we believe in international law, that should be the solution to the problems in the world.”
Mr Corbyn also accused Mr Johnson of being in the US president’s pocket and showing more concern for his relationship with Mr Trump than for the security of Britain and the Middle East.
He asked: "Isn’t the truth, Mr Speaker, that this Prime Minister is unable to stand up to President Trump because he has hitched his wagon to a trade deal with the United States and that [is prioritised over] everything else that he ought to be considering?”
Mr Johnson dismissed that suggestion as “absolute fiction,” and claimed that the government will “continue to work for de-escalation in the region.”
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition told the Star: “The US has to accept that it can’t go around illegally killing generals.”
She described the Soleimani murder as “unprecedented” because previous US assassinations had happened during war.
She also condemned Mr Johnson for the “abuse” he directed at Mr Corbyn during PMQs, suggesting it shows that he is “terrified” of the possible consequences of what Mr Trump has done while at the same time scared of upsetting the president.
“The British government is very much in a double bind – they don’t want war at all but are too craven and cowardly to stand up to Trump,” Ms German said.
The Stop the War Coalition has called a demonstration in London at the weekend which Ms German urged people to join.
She said: “It’s very important that we stand up to a possible war with Iran and the sanctions that have hit Iranian people very very hard. Even if the situation de-escalates over the coming days, it certainly won’t be the end of the story."
Saturday’s protest will start outside the BBC headquarters at noon and end in a rally at Trafalgar Square.
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