–Trump says ‘people and leaders’ of Tehran should work together for ‘shared priorities’
–Iran fires 20 missiles on US bases in Iraq, claims to have killed 80 US personnel; US says no casualties suffered
WASHINGTON/TEHRAN: Hours after Iran showered missiles on United States bases in Iraq though failing to inflict any damage, President Donald Trump has announced more “punishing” economic sanctions” on the country while extending an olive branch to the “people and leaders” of Iran to work together for “shared priorities”.
In a televised address in response to the attack, the US president said that the US would be imposing additional sanctions on Iran but made no mention of possible retaliation to Tuesday’s missile attacks — seen by experts as a measured first response by Iran.
The US president acknowledged Iran “appears to be standing down”.
The much-awaited address, which began almost half an hour after its scheduled time, began with Trump saying, “As long as I am president, Iran will not be allowed to hold nuclear weapons.”
Trump was flanked by US Vice President Mark Pence, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as several military officials.
He said there were no American casualties in the Iranian strikes on military bases housing US troops in Iraq. “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties,” Trump said. “Our great American forces are prepared for anything.”
Following the attack, the international community had sounded alarm and concern, urging both sides to de-escalate.
IRAN STRIKES BACK:
Iraq’s military said 22 missiles were launched on the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Anbar province and a base in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil, causing no casualties among Iraqi forces. The attack was dubbed a slap on the US’s face by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
According to Iran’s state television Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), 80 “American terrorists” were killed in the missile attack, adding that none of the missiles were intercepted. However, US allies have refuted reports of human loss.
In his televised address from the city of Qom, Khamenei said incremental military actions against the United States alone were “not sufficient.”
“What matters is that the presence of America, which is a source of corruption in this region, should come to an end,” he said to a hall filled with imams and others.
Khamenei said “sitting at the negotiating table” with American envoys opens the door to greater American intervention in the region and such negotiations, therefore, must “come to an end.”
“This region,” he said, “does not accept the US presence.”
IRIB, citing a senior Revolutionary Guards source, also said Iran had 100 other targets in the region in its sights if Washington took any retaliatory measures. It also said US helicopters and military equipment were “severely damaged”.
It was Iran’s most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the US Embassy in Tehran. US and Iraqi officials said there were no immediate reports of casualties, though buildings were still being searched.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran is not seeking escalation or war, adding that Tehran would defend itself against any aggression.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps confirmed they fired the missiles to retaliate for last week’s killing of Qasem Soleimani, according to a statement on state TV.
The statement advised the United States to withdraw its troops from the region to prevent more deaths and warned US allies including Israel not to allow attacks from their territories.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that the bases targeted were al-Asad airbase 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.”
Trump, who visited the al-Asad airbase in December 2018, was briefed on reports of the attack and was monitoring the situation, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
Democrats in the US Congress and some of the party’s presidential contenders warned about the escalating conflict.
“Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting US troops in Iraq,” US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter.
‘WE WILL TAKE REVENGE ‘:
A senior Iranian official said on Tuesday that Tehran was considering several scenarios to avenge Soleimani’s death. Other senior figures have said the Islamic Republic would match the scale of the killing when it responds, but that it would choose the time and place.
“We will take revenge, hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told throngs who crowded the streets for Soleimani’s funeral on Tuesday in Kerman, his hometown in southeastern Iran.
Soleimani’s burial went ahead after several hours of delay following a stampede that killed at least 56 people and injured more than 210, according to an emergency official quoted by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
Soleimani’s body had been taken to holy Shia cities in Iraq and Iran, as well as the Iranian capital, Tehran, before arriving to be buried in the city cemetery’s “martyrs section”, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA.
In each place, huge numbers of people filled thoroughfares, chanting: “Death to America” and weeping with emotion. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wept as he led prayers in Tehran.
Prompted by the strong public backlash over Soleimani’s killing on Iraqi soil, lawmakers in Iraq voted on Sunday to demand the removal of all foreign forces from the country.
More than 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq along with other foreign forces as part of a coalition that has trained and backed up Iraqi security forces against the threat of Islamic State militants.
A Nato official told Reuters it would move some of its several hundred trainers out of Iraq. Canada said on Tuesday some of its 500 Iraq-based forces would be temporarily moved to Kuwait for safety reasons.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a phone call on Tuesday to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, urged Tehran to avoid any actions that could worsen regional tensions.
US officials have said Soleimani was killed because of solid intelligence indicating forces under his command planned attacks on US targets in the region, although they have provided no evidence.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered, Fars news agency reported. Even the weakest option would prove “a historic nightmare for the Americans”, he said.
DELIBERATELY MISSED US FORCES?
Meanwhile, Iran is believed to have deliberately avoided US military casualties during retaliatory missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, following the US killing of an Iranian general, according to US and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the Iranians were thought to have targeted the attacks to miss US forces to prevent the crisis from escalating out of control while still signalling Iranian resolve in response to the US killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week.
A source in Washington said overnight that early indications were that there were no US casualties following the strikes on the al-Asad airbase and another facility in Erbil. Other US officials declined to comment.
Iran was believed to have tried to hit certain parts of the bases to minimise casualties and especially to avoid US fatalities, three sources said. This assessment included some intelligence from inside Iran confirming the nature of the attack plan, they said.
“They wanted to respond but almost certainly not to escalate,” one of the US sources said.