No casualties reported, as Tehran defends strike as a proportionate response to assassination of Qassem Soleimani
Iranian forces on Tuesday launched missiles at several Iraqi military installations housing U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, saying it was “revenge” for the assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
Iraq said around 22 cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles targeted Ayn al-Asad Air Base and other sites in Kurdistan’s Erbil. No casualties have been reported so far.
Claiming responsibility, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it was retaliation for the U.S. drone strike last week near Baghdad International Airport that killed Soleimani. The U.S. has claimed the storied Iranian military figure had “plans to attack” U.S. personnel in the region, but officials have yet to release evidence of such claims.
“At approximately 5:30 p.m. (EST) on Jan. 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. 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 U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “We are working on initial battle damage assessments,” he added.
“We are aware of the reports of attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.” U.S. President Donald Trump later tweeted: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & 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.”
Soleimani was killed alongside Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces militia deputy leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and several others. Their deaths have dramatically exacerbated already simmering U.S.-Iran tensions. Massive crowds in Iran and Iraq mourned Soleimani for days.
The United States has designated the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. The Revolutionary Guards have called for the Pentagon to leave the region and warned regional powers not to get involved.
“In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners. These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region,” Hoffman said. “As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region,” he added.
Once the dust settled on Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of U.N. Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.” Article 51 grants nations “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
The foreign minister, who has not yet been granted a U.S. visa to attend an upcoming U.N. Security Council session in New York added that Tehran did not want war. “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote.
Trump has warned of retaliation should Iran strike U.S. personnel or interests, saying on Monday the U.S. has “targeted 52 Iranian sites—some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” He later denied he would hit cultural sites, and promised to obey international law.
Iraq’s parliament, meanwhile, voted on Sunday to oust U.S. forces who acted unilaterally in their strikes on Iraqi militias and in the operation to kill Soleimani. Trump refused to withdraw troops, threatening sanctions against Baghdad and warning the Pentagon would not pull out unless the Iraqi government paid “billions” for the Ayn al-Asad Air Base that was struck on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the government should take “urgent measures” to facilitate such a pullout of foreign forces. The U.S. sent his office a letter on Monday that appeared to announce the beginning of a withdrawal, but later called it a draft sent by mistake. Abdul-Mahdi, however, said on Tuesday he would treat the document as official as the NATO Western military alliance announced a suspension of its training program in the country.