President Donald Trump has given a measured response, so far, after the Iranian missile attacks on Wednesday, on an Iraqi airbase where US forces are based. The President tweeted late US hours that: All is Well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties and damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well-equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning (Wednesday morning US time).
Iranian state media initially claimed that 80 people were killed and many more casualties. Although subsequently, these numbers disappeared from Iranian TV and seem as if made for domestic consumption. They also reported that the government is threatening “more crushing responses” if Washington carried out further strikes. It said the missiles were in response to a US strike last week that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi top commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
After Tehran's airstrikes in Iraq, Iran's foreign minister says, "We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression." Meantime, President Trump tweets: "All is well!" and "So far, so good" regarding casualties. https://t.co/xl7mIF1h6K
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 8, 2020
Trump did not go on evening television to address the nation — something of an informal presidential tradition in times of foreign policy crises. However, according to the White House, US President Donald Trump was “monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.” Republican party members have already started saying it is the presidential prerogative to go to war. Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator, appeared on Fox News saying that the Iranian attack on the Iraqi base where US military personnel stay was “an act of war” and that President Donald Trump had all the authority needed to retaliate.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to indicate that the missile strikes were over for now.
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
“Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense” targeting a base from which a “cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials” was launched, he said on Twitter.
The attack came in three waves just after midnight. Iran swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, with state TV saying it had launched “tens of missiles” on the base and promised “more crushing responses” if the US carried out further strikes.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sat down with ABC News' Martha Raddatz pic.twitter.com/XI0tJJ65Mc
— Julia Fello TMJ4 (@JuliaFello) January 8, 2020
The Pentagon said Iran had fired more than a dozen missiles against Ain al-Asad and another installation hosting US and coalition forces near Arbil.
The Pentagon said it was still “working on initial battle damage assessments” after “Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq.”
“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel” at Ain al-Asad and Arbil, the Pentagon said.
There were no immediate reports on casualties. The Pentagon said the facilities had been on “high alert” after days of steadily mounting tension and exchanges of threats of war.
The attack came after pro-Tehran factions in Iraq had vowed to join forces to “respond” to the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis last week.
Soleimani was seen as the “godfather” of Tehran’s proxy network across the region and Muhandis, one of his top advisors, was the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network.
Many factions within the Hashed, which has been incorporated into the Iraqi state, have ties to Tehran.
On Tuesday, a hardline Hashed faction issued its fiercest threat yet to retaliate.
Oil prices immediately jumped on the news, with the benchmark WTI spiking more than 4.5 percent to $65.54 a barrel before receding slightly
“The US Marines must immediately return to their dens to make their coffins,” said Akram al-Kaabi, head of the Harakat al-Nujaba group.
“The International Resistance Regiments have been formed in order to execute a harsh, deliberate response to the American terrorist forces,” Kaabi added.
His deputy had earlier called for an urgent meeting to unite anti-American forces across Iraq.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards announced that the Ain al-Asad base was hit with dozens of missiles, warning a US counter-attack would be met with an even “more crushing response” and threatening to strike Israel and America’s “allied governments.”
“We advise the American people to recall US troops (deployed in the) region in order to avoid further losses and not to allow the lives of its soldiers to be further threatened by the ever-growing hatred of the regime,” the IGRC said in a statement.
The brazenness of the strike was highly unusual for Iran, which has tended to disguise attacks on US interests or troops through the use of proxy Shiite forces. This time, conventional, rather than guerrilla-style weapons were used and responsibility was rapidly claimed.
“It is a major escalation. Ballistic missiles openly launched from Iran onto American targets is a new phase,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias.
I want "to make sure that we don't end up… in another unending war," says Navy veteran Rep. Mikie Sherrill on Iran launching missile strikes into Iraqi bases holding US troops.
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) January 8, 2020
Oil prices immediately jumped on the news, with the benchmark WTI spiking more than 4.5 percent to $65.54 a barrel before receding slightly.
In the US, the aviation regulator banned civil flights over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf, citing the potential for “misidentification” of aircraft.
Trump, however, did walk back earlier threats to bomb Iranian cultural sites in the event of conflict — something that could be a war crime
The slide into open confrontation followed days of sabre rattling between Washington and Tehran, coupled with growing confusion over the future of US troops in Iraq, where many are outraged at the drone strike.
At Soleimani’s funeral in Iran on Tuesday, top Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami vowed “revenge.”
Earlier, Trump warned that “if Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly.”
He called Soleimani — for years the mastermind of Iran’s regional network of official and covert military and anti-US alliances — “a monster.”
Trump, however, did walk back earlier threats to bomb Iranian cultural sites in the event of conflict — something that could be a war crime.
At Soleimani’s funeral in the Iranian city of Kerman, tragedy was added to the geopolitical tensions, when 56 people died and 213 were injured in a stampede as the vast crowd of mourners got out of control, local media reported.
Despite Washington’s assurances, several allies started to leave, raising questions over the future of a US-led mission to help the Iraqis fight the jihadist Islamic State group
Iran’s Fars news agency reported that the commander was interred on Tuesday night.
Foreign troops waver
Hours before Iran struck, Trump tried to end confusion over his plans for the approximately US 5,200 troops in Iraq, saying they should stay despite calls by the Iraqi parliament for their expulsion.
“At some point we want to get out, but this isn’t the right point,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
— CP24 (@CP24) January 7, 2020
Despite Washington’s assurances, several allies started to leave, raising questions over the future of a US-led mission to help the Iraqis fight the jihadist Islamic State group.
Canada announced that some of its estimated 500 troops will withdraw to Kuwait and NATO said it also was temporarily “repositioning” some personnel to locations inside and outside Iraq.
Several other countries, including Germany and Romania, announced plans to move forces. France and Italy said they had no intention of withdrawing troops from Iraq.
GVS news desk with additions from news agencies