TEHRAN : Iran launched missile strikes aimed at US troops in Iraq in what it said was retaliation for the killing last week of the top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The Pentagon confirmed that al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s Anbar province, and Erbil base in northern Iraq, which both host a US contingent, had been hit by a salvo of more than a dozen missiles launched from Iran.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), of which Suleimani was a member, issued a statement saying: “The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on Al Assad military base in the name of martyr General Qassem Suleimani.”
The White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said: “We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq. The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.”
“At approximately 5.30pm [Washington time, 1.30am in Iraq] on January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq,” a Pentagon statement 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 at Al Asad and [Erbil].”
The statement said the bases had been on high alert and that all “appropriate measures” had been taken to safeguard US troops and partners, and that the Pentagon was still working on “initial battle damage assessments”.
“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.
“Due to the dynamic nature of the situation, we will continue to provide updates as they become available.”
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
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 of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force, and that even the most limited options would be a “historic nightmare” for the US.
Ali 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 & 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.
“If that’s what the law is, I like to obey the law,” he said, but he added: “They kill our people, they blow up our people and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I’m OK with it … I will say this, if Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly.”
Trump said his long-term intention was withdraw the 5,200 US troops currently in Iraq, but not right away as the Iraqi government and parliament have demanded.
“I think we’ve done a fantastic job but eventually, we want to be able to let Iraq run its own affairs,” he said. “We want to get out. But this isn’t the right point.”
When the US did leave, the president insisted, Iraq would have to reimburse Washington for the infrastructure investments Washington has made over a nearly 17-year presence.