BAGHDAD, Iraq (4th UPDATE) – Iran fired a volley of missiles on Wednesday, January 8, at Iraqi bases housing US and other foreign troops, the Islamic republic’s first act in its promised revenge for the US killing of a top Iranian general.
Launched for the first time by forces inside Iran instead of a proxy, the attack marked a new turn in the intensifying confrontation between Washington and Tehran and sent world oil prices soaring.
“Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq,” the Pentagon said.
“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel.”
The missiles targeted the sprawling Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq and a base in Arbil, both housing American and other foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group.
Iran’s supreme leader, who has the final say in all matters of state, said it was a “slap in the face” for the United States but that revenge was yet to come.
The Pentagon said the facilities had been on “high alert” after days of steadily mounting tension.
The office of Iraq’s premier said it had received “an official verbal message” from Iran informing it that a missile attack on US forces was imminent.
The statement by Adel Abdel Mahdi’s spokesman said his office was simultaneously contacted by Washington as the missiles rained down.
“Iraq rejects any violation of its sovereignty and attacks on its territory,” the statement said, without specifically condemning the missile strikes.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh denounced the attack and said it rejected attempts to turn Iraq into a “battlefield for warring sides.”
Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbusi took a tougher line, slamming the strikes as an “Iranian violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” stressing Iraq should not be used to “settle scores.”
Iraq’s military said it sustained no casualties in 22 missile strikes, most of them hitting Ain Al-Asad.
US President Donald Trump said initial casualty assessments indicated “all is well.”
‘We don’t retreat’
The strikes sparked worldwide condemnation and calls for de-escalation, including from NATO, Germany, France and the UK.
France said its forces deployed in Iraq sustained no casualties while the UK was concerned about “reports” of victims as British troops are stationed there.
The Norwegian military said coalition troops were warned of the attack in advance through intelligence channels.
Claiming the attack, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said it hit Ain al-Asad with dozens of missiles in response to the January 3 US drone strike in Baghdad that killed senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
It warned any US counter-attack would be met with an even “more crushing response” and threatened to strike Israel and America’s “allied governments.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a “slap in the face” had been delivered to the US but hinted more could come.
“An important incident has happened. The question of revenge is another issue,” Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
“Military actions in this form are not sufficient for that issue.
“What is important is that America’s corrupt presence must come to an end in this region.”
“We don’t retreat in the face of America,” pledged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, adding: “If they (US) are wise, they won’t take any other action at this juncture.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to indicate the missile strikes were over for now.
“Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” Zarif said on Twitter.
He said the strikes targeted a base from which a “cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials” was launched.
Iraq factions vow response
The attack emboldened Iran’s allies in Iraq, who ramped up threats to avenge top Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed with Soleimani.
Muhandis was the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network incorporated into the Iraqi state whose factions are backed by Tehran.
Paramilitary chief Qais al-Khazali – blacklisted as a “terrorist” by the US – said Iraq was preparing its own response for Muhandis’s death.
“That response will be no less than the size of the Iranian response. That is a promise,” Khazali threatened.
The brazenness of the strike was highly unusual for Iran, which has tended to disguise attacks on US interests or troops through its 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.
Oil prices jumped on the news, with the benchmark WTI spiking more than 4.5% to $65.54 a barrel before receding slightly.
Separately, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crashed just outside Tehran after taking off bound for Kiev, killing all 176 people on board.
There was no immediate suggestion of any link with the Iranian strikes but carriers including Air France, Royal Dutch Airlines and Lufthansa announced they were suspending flying though Iranian and Iraqi airspace as a precaution.
The US’s aviation regulator banned civil flights over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf, citing the potential for “misidentification” of aircraft.
The slide into open confrontation followed days of saber 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.
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.
Despite Washington’s assurances, several allies started to leave, raising questions over the future of the US-led mission to help Iraqis fight jihadists. – Rappler.com