BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON. — Iran launched missiles at US-led forces in Iraq early on Wednesday, retaliating for the US drone strike on an Iranian commander whose killing last week stoked fears of a new Middle East war.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the missile attack was a “slap on the face” of the United States and that US troops should leave the region. He was addressing a gathering of Iranians who chanted “Death to America.”
Iranian state television said Iran had fired 15 missiles at US targets. The US military said at least two Iraqi facilities hosting US-led coalition personnel were targeted at about 1:30 a.m. Iraq time (2230 GMT on Tuesday).
Iraq said 22 missiles were fired.
Iranian officials said Tehran did not want a war and its strikes “concluded” its response to Friday’s killing of Qassem Soleimani, a powerful general whose burial after days of mourning was completed around the time of the missile launches. Iranian television showed mourners celebrating the attack.
US President Donald Trump said an assessment of casualties and damage from the strikes was under way and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning.
“All is well!” Trump, who visited one of the targeted sites in Iraq, Ain al-Asad air base, in December 2018, said on Twitter.
One source said early indications were of no US casualties, while other US officials declined to comment.
Iranian state television said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed and US helicopters and military equipment damaged. It did not provide evidence of how it obtained that information.
Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt. Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action. Iraq said its forces did not suffer casualties.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the bases targeted were al-Asad air base and another facility in Erbil, Iraq.
“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend US personnel, partners, and allies in the region,” Hoffman said.
More than 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq along with other foreign forces in a coalition that has trained and backed Iraqi forces against the threat of Islamic State militants.
Iran, which has long said US forces should leave the Middle East, told Washington after the attacks to withdraw its troops to prevent more deaths and warned US allies including Israel not to allow attacks from their territories.
Soleimani, a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran’s campaign to drive US forces out of Iraq, was responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.
‘SLAP ON THE FACE’
Khamenei, in a televised speech after describing the missile strikes as a “slap on the face” for Washington, said, “Military action like this is not sufficient. What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region.”
“This region will not accept the presence of America,” he said, renewing Tehran’s long-standing demand for Washington to withdraw its forces.
Khamenei also ruled out any resumption of talks with Washington on a 2015 nuclear deal.
“Talks and sitting for negotiations are the beginning of (US) intervention,” he said.
The United States withdrew from the pact between Tehran and world powers in 2018 and has since imposed tough new sanctions, driving down Iran’s oil exports and hammering its economy.
Iran has been scaling back its commitments to the nuclear pact.
Khamenei also said the United States was trying to remove Lebanon’s Iranian-aligned movement Hezbollah in an effort to help Israel.
Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader’s office as saying the missile attacks were the “weakest” of several retaliation scenarios. It quoted another source as saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was expected to speak later on Wednesday, state television reported.
Hours before the Iranian strikes, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States should anticipate a response from Iran for the killing of Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards.
“I think we should expect that they will retaliate in some way, shape or form,” he told a briefing at the Pentagon.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran “took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.”
“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote in a post on Twitter.
‘WORLD CAN’T AFFORD WAR’
Democrats in the US Congress and some of the party’s presidential contenders warned on Tuesday about escalating conflict in the Middle East.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was handed a note about the attack during a meeting of Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives. She left soon thereafter, according to people present.
“Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting US troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war,” Pelosi said on Twitter.
Trump ordered the attack on Soleimani on the grounds that the Iranian general was planning to attack Americans, without providing evidence.
Democrats have been critical of the decision, saying it would escalate tensions with Iran.
They have called for Trump to seek approval from Congress before taking further military action, although the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to support any measure that would tie the president’s hands.
“At this moment, my heart and my prayers are with our military and their families in Iraq and around the world,” Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren said at an event in New York.
“But this is a reminder why we need to de-escalate tension in the Middle East. The American people do not want a war with Iran,” she added.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, another candidate for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in November’s presidential election, said at an event outside Philadelphia that the attack was predictable and faulted Trump’s handling of the situation.
“I just pray to God as he goes through what’s happening, as we speak, that he’s listening to his military commanders for the first time because so far that has not been the case,” he added. — Reuters