The repercussions of the US killing of a top Iranian general mounted Sunday, as Iran announced it will no longer abide by the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iraq’s parliament also called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.
The twin developments could bring Iran closer to building an atomic bomb and enable the so-called Islamic State group to make a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.
Iranian state television cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country would not observe the deal’s restrictions on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations,” a state TV broadcaster said.
In Iraq, meanwhile, MPs voted in favour of a resolution calling for an end to the foreign military presence in the country, including the estimated 5,200 US troops stationed to help fight IS extremists.
The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.
In yet another sign of rising tensions and threats of retaliation over the deadly air strike, the US-led military coalition in Iraq said it is putting the battle against IS on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases.
The string of developments capped a day of mass mourning over Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in the cities of Ahvaz and Mashhad to walk alongside the coffin of Soleimani, who was the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Middle East and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in suicide bombings and other attacks.
The US State Department had no immediate comment on Iran’s announcement.
As for the troop-withdrawal vote in Iraq, State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said the US is awaiting clarification on its legal meaning but was “disappointed” by the move and strongly urged Iraq to reconsider.
“We believe it is in the shared interests of the United States and Iraq to continue fighting Isis together,” Ms Ortagus said.
Iran insisted that it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear programme. and it did not back off from earlier promises that it would not seek a nuclear weapon.
However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.
It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.
Iran did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its programme. Tehran has already broken some of the deal’s limits as part of a step-by-step pressure campaign to get sanctions relief.
It has increased its production, begun enriching uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility.
While it does not possess uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the estimated one-year “breakout time” needed for it to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.
Iran said that its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency “will continue as before”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi earlier told journalists that Soleimani’s killing would prompt Iranian officials to take a bigger step away from the nuclear deal.
“In the world of politics, all developments are interconnected,” Mr Mousavi said.
In Iraq, where the air strike has been denounced as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that the government has two choices – end the presence of foreign troops or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. He called for the first option.
The majority of about 180 MPs present in Parliament voted in favour of the troop-removal resolution. It was backed by most Shiite members of Parliament, who hold a majority of seats.
Soleimani’s killing has escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of back-and-forth attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge.
Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the US attack, while Mr Trump has vowed on Twitter that the US will strike back at 52 targets “very fast and very hard”.
The US embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks”.
In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made US military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks.
A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and centres like Tel Aviv could be targeted should the US attack Iran.
Iranian state TV estimated that millions of mourners came out in Ahvaz and Mashhad to pay their respects to Soleimani.
The coffin moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait.
These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020
Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally symbolise both the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and a call for vengeance.
The processions marked the first time Iran honoured a single man with a multi-city ceremony.
Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional following his death in 1989.
Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.
Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions. He will be buried in his hometown of Kerman.