Washington/Tehran: Gen Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was killed in a US attack ordered by President Donald Trump, the Pentagon said in a statement.
“At the direction of the (US) President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani,” Efe news reported citing the statement as saying on Friday.
“The strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans… The US will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world,” it added.
Following the development, President Trump posted a picture of an American flag on his Twitter account, without any comment.
In a statement issued on Friday, the IRGC said that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of the Hashd Shaabi or the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was also killed along with Soleimani in the strike that targeted their vehicle on the Baghdad International Airport road, the Tehran-based Press TV reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the US attack as “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation”.
“The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting and assassinating General Soleimani, the most effective force fighting IS, Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda, is extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation.
“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” he said in a series of tweets.
Meanwhile, the PMF has also confirmed the incident, adding that its public relations director Mohammed Reza al-Jaberi and four other members were also killed after three Katyusha rockets struck a military base next to the Baghdad airport earlier on Friday.
It described the attack as a “cowardly US bombing”.
Since 1998, Maj Gen Soleimani led Iran’s Quds Force – the IRGC’s elite unit which handles clandestine operations abroad, said the BBC.
In that position Gen Soleimani played a key role bolstering Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian-supported government in the Syrian Civil War, and in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq.
He was a hugely significant figure in the Iranian regime. His Quds Force reported directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He first came to prominence in his country serving in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
Friday’s targeted strike took place amid increased tensions between Washington and Tehran after hundreds of protesters stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, where they managed to breach the main gate and enter some rooms, lighting fires.
The siege was in response to an American attack on the positions of some Iraqi militia battalions in western Iraq on December 29 in which, 25 of militiamen died and more than 50 were injured according to the PMF.
The Pentagon said at the time that it had launched “defensive attacks” against Kataib Hizbollah, which operates under the umbrella of the PMF and is allegedly responsible for launching projectiles and rockets at US interests on Iraqi soil.
Earlier on Thursday, Pentagon chief Mark Esper asked Iran to stop its attacks against the US in the Middle East and said “attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing”.
Choose wisely – go organic this Holi
With Holi -the festival of colours coming up — everyone is busy buying colours, ‘pichkaris’, and balloons but with increasing environment pollution and severe allergic reactions to synthetic colours, there is a growing awareness among people to opt for organic variants.
“In an approximately Rs 4,500-crore unorganised Holi colour market, the share of the organic variety is miniscule, but growing,” said Madhumita Puri, Founder and Executive Director of Avacayam Naturals, a Delhi-based manufacturer of organic colours.
The adverse effects of synthetic colours was observed in a study titled ‘The Holi Dermatoses’, published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology.
It found a spate in skin diseases following the spring festival in India.
In the study conducted on 42 patients in Kolkata, 11 patients suffered due to activities related to preparation of colors and 12 reported aggravation of pre-existing dermatoses.
Nearly 60 per cent patients reported itching, while others reported to have suffered from a burning sensation, scaling, redness and watering of the eyes, as per the study.
Treading on a eco-friendly and skin-friendly path, Avacayam Naturals employed differently-abled persons to make organic colours by using waste and used flowers and leaves.
This solves three purposes at one go – generates employment for the disabled, manufactures harmless eco-friendly colours, and there is optimal usage of waste flowers.
Speaking to IANS, Puri said: “For making the colours, we collect used flowers — roses, marigolds, and others — and leaves from temples, weddings, and hotels.”
Avacayam Naturals, one of the programs that Puri started under her “Trash to Cash” scheme, makes four colours: Pink from roses, yellow from yellow marigolds, orange from orange marigolds, and green from leaves.
On being asked if the colours are harmless, she said: “Rather than damaging the environment, they are beneficial as each packet of colour is made from waste flowers which otherwise would dirty the place.”
How are the colours made?
“After the flowers are collected, the workers sort them in different baskets according to their colour. Then, the petals and seed pods are separated and cut. These are then spread out to dry in a well ventilated space for all the moisture to evaporate.
“After that, they are ground and processed — without adding any chemicals — to be made into colours for people to enjoy,” Puri said, adding that the process of collection, drying, and grinding continues throughout the year but it is only before festivals that they process them into the final product.
“In a year, we manufacture around 20 tonne of pure organic colour, some of which is sold to Walmart India. One kilo of colour is sold between Rs 600 and Rs 1,000.”
When asked about the expiry date of these colours, Puri said: “The product is a dry one and completely natural. We have been testing them since five years now and have not found any deterioration in the quality, fungal infestations, or weevils. So there is no ‘expiry date’ to them.”
Another such manufacturer is Jaipur-based Red Earth which makes colours “exclusively from edible materials and scent them with pure, traditional attars”.
Speaking to IANS, Himanshu Verma, Director-Owner of Red Earth, said: “Every 2-3 years, we change our colour palette… this year we have four colours — Sunahra Dhamaal, Shvet Abeer, Neem Sanrachna, and Gulabi Nagariya — that are inspired by local materials.”
“The colours are curated on the basis of availability of local materials. We use items like camphor, neem, mehendi, multani-mitti, geru powder, arrowroot, flour, and others,” Verma said, adding that 50-60 per cent materials used are edible so that even if someone ingests them by mistake, they will not be as harmful.