Iran has launched more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops, declaring the strikes to be retaliation for the killing last week of top general Qassem Suleimani.
Al-Asad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province, which hosts a US contingent, was hit at least six times, the US military confirmed. The Pentagon said at least one other base in the northern city of Erbil was targeted in the attack, which began at about 1.30am local time on Wednesday (10.30pm GMT).
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks and both sides showed signs they were keen not to escalate further.
A clearly relieved Donald Trump struck an upbeat tone in the immediate wake of the attacks. “All is well!” he declared on Twitter. He said casualty assessments were under way but “so far, so good”. There had been reports he had planned a televised address to the nation, but as it emerged there were no reported casualties, he delayed making a statement until the morning.
The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, characterised the missile strikes as “proportionate measures in self-defence”.
It is unclear whether the limited missile salvo will mark a complete end to Iranian reprisals for the death of Suleimani, the head of the elite al-Quds Force, an external operations wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or whether the leadership intend further retribution at a later date.
It was the IRGC which announced the start of the missile strike in a statement saying: “The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on the al-Asad military base in the name of martyr General Qassem Suleimani.”
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported a second wave of strikes against the al-Asad base took place at around 3.20am. Iranian state media outlets said the country had launched fighter jets but their mission appeared to have been defensive, to protect Iran’s air space.
The US said it was working on initial assessments of the damage and said both bases had been on high alert in recent days in anticipation of an Iranian response to the Suleimani’s assassination.
After launch missiles from west of the country, Iran signaled that if the US did not retaliate, the attacks would stop. Zarif tweeted around 5.30am local time that Iran had taken “and concluded” what he characterised as a proportional response taken in self-defence within the boundaries of what was permitted by international law.
The sprawling al-Asad air base, about 60km west of Baghdad, has been used by American and coalition forces since its capture during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and has been visited by Donald Trump and vice-president Mike Pence in the past 18 months. It is estimated to host around 1,500 foreign troops.
IRGC officials were quoted in state media outlets warning the US against retaliating for the missile strikes and warned that Israel could be attacked if it did.
The al-Asad base has previously been a target of an Iranian-backed Shia militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose attacks on US and coalition troops triggered tit-for-tat strikes that culminated in the drone strike.Advertisement
Earlier in the day, the secretary of Iran’s national security council, Ali Shamkhani, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered in the wake of the assassination and that even the most limited options would be a “historic nightmare” for the US.
Shamkhani told the Tasnim news agency: “The 27 US bases that are closest to Iran’s border are already on high alert; they know that the response is likely to include medium-range and long-range missiles.”
Trump responded to Iranian threats in remarks to the press at the White House. “We’re totally prepared. And likewise, we’re prepared to attack if we have to,” he said. But he appeared to draw back from his earlier threats to target Iranian cultural sites, a potential war crime.
US allies had already begun leaving Baghdad, which was buzzing as night fell on Tuesday with helicopters flying in and out of the city’s fortified diplomatic district, known as the Green Zone. Canada, which currently leads the Nato training mission, said it was pulling out some of its 500 troops, and Germany said its presence in Iraq would be “temporarily thinned out”. Most of the Nato troops withdrawing were reported to be heading for Kuwait.
“We have temporarily suspended our training on the ground, and we are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people,” a Nato spokesperson said. “This includes the temporary repositioning of some personnel to different locations both inside and outside of Iraq.”
The US-led coalition to counter Isis is also repositioning its forces to lessen their vulnerability to attack. Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said that non-essential personnel were being moved from Baghdad to Taji, about 19 miles (30km) to the north.
Responding to the strikes, Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Secretary, said: “We condemn this attack on Iraqi military bases hosting Coalition – including British – forces.
“We are concerned by reports of casualties and use of ballistic missiles. We urge Iran not to repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks, and instead to pursue urgent de-escalation.
“A war in the Middle East would only benefit Daesh and other terrorist groups.”
Source: The Guardian