Washington – Iran struck back at the United States early Wednesday, firing a series of ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing American troops in the first act of the Islamic republic’s promised revenge for the US killing of a top Iranian general.
Iran’s Supreme Leader called the strikes a “slap in the face” of America.
Shortly after the strikes, Iranian officials advised US commanders against embarking on any new military action, warning that a more crushing response will be awaiting them.
It was Iran’s most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the US Embassy in Tehran, and Iranian state TV said at least 80 US soldiers were killed in the strikes. Admitting the strikes, the Pentagon however said it was working on initial battle damage assessments.
The missiles were launched shortly before the burial of General Qassem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman, which came in the wake of days of enormous funeral processions held in several cities across Iran and neighboring Iraq.
“The brave soldiers of the IRGC Aerospace Force in a successful operation in the name of martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani … launched tens of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles” on the Ain Al Assad base occupied by the “terrorist and aggressive US army,” a statement issued by IRGC said.
Some 5,000 US soldiers remain in Iraq and are housed in various bases. The Iraqi military in a statement said a total of 22 missiles hit two bases housing US troops, but there were no victims among the Iraqi forces.
IRGC said none of its missiles were intercepted during the overnight strike, adding shelling “is merely the beginning of a series of revenge attacks with no deadline for when it ends.”
The IRGC further urged the American people to call for the return of US forces from the region in order to prevent further losses and not to allow the Washington government to put the lives of American troops at risk any more.
‘Slap’ on ‘American faces’
Hours after the attack, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an address to the nation said: “A slap was delivered last night, but what is important is that the seditious presence of America in the region should be ended.”
In a live televised speech, leader highlighted the need for the US military presence — “the source of all corruption and wars in the region” — to come to an end.
Iran’s supreme leader also invoked the virtues of the slain commander, Gen Soleimani, saying he was a “great, brave warrior” and dear friend to us.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani too addressed the nation after the attacks and said that the US may have “cut off Soleimani’s arm” but Iran will respond by “cutting off your leg” in the region, Fars news agency reported.
Israel under threat
Shortly after the strikes, IRGC warned the United States against any military response to Iranian missile attacks on American bases in Iraq, saying it would respond painfully and harshly to any retaliatory US attack on Iran.
“We warn the Great Satan, the bloodthirsty and arrogant regime of the US, that any new wicked act or more moves and aggressions (against Iran) will bring about more painful and crushing responses,” the IRGC said.
“We warn US allies providing bases for the [American] terrorist army… that any country serving as the origin of bellicose and aggressive attacks in any form against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be targeted,” read the IRGC statement.
State TV, citing sources in Revolutionary Guards, also said Iran had 100 other targets in the region in its sights if Washington took any retaliatory measures.
IRGC statement also said that Tehran sees no difference between the “Zionist regime” – meaning Israel – and the US when it comes to the “crime” of assassinating Soleimani. This was presumably in reaction to reports that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to disassociate from the strike, calling it a purely American affair.
US officials declined to release any information about the damage to their bases or casualties inflicted by the missile strikes.
The White House canceled a formal address to the Americans Tuesday night while after days of dire threats, Trump’s tone shifted in the wake of Iranian retaliation
Reacting to the attack in a Twitter post, President Donald Trump claimed “All is well.” He said an assessment of casualties and damage from the strikes was underway and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning.
The brazenness of the strike was highly unusual for Iran, experts say. 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 Middle East expert Phillip Smyth.
“This is probably not the only response that is going to come…. This is just a big, public one in terms of sending a signal.”
Trump did not go on evening television to address the nation — something of an informal presidential tradition in times of foreign policy crises — in the immediate hours following Iran’s missile strikes.
In a bizarre tweet however, Donald Trump said: “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.”
Oil prices jumped up after the attack. US crude was up 1.2 per cent to more than $63 a barrel, coming down slightly from a 4 per cent spike earlier. Gold reached a six-year high as worried investors headed for safe-haven assets.
Stock markets in Hong Kong and China also fell on opening.
In the US, the 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 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.
Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport early Friday.
His death marked a dramatic escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which have often been at a fever pitch since President Donald Trump chose in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw Washington from a 2015 nuclear pact world powers struck with Tehran.