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 in the face” of the United States and US troops should leave the region. He was addressing Iranians who chanted “Death to America”.
Iranian state television said Iran fired 15 missiles at US targets. The US military said at least two Iraqi facilities hosting US-led coalition personnel were targeted. Iraq said 22 missiles were fired.
Iranian officials said Tehran did not want 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 he would make a statement.
“All is well!” Trump said on Twitter. He visited one targeted site in Iraq, Ain al-Asad air base, in December 2018, said on Twitter.
A source said early indications were no US casualties, while other US officials declined to comment.
Iranian state television said 80 “American terrorists” were killed and US helicopters and military equipment damaged. It did not provide evidence of how it obtained the information.
Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt. Britain, which 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.
“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 trains and backs Iraqi forces against Islamic State militants.
Iran, which has long said US forces should leave the Middle East, told Washington 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 from Iraq, was responsible for building up Iran’s proxy army network across the Middle East.
Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader’s office saying the missile attacks were the “weakest” retaliation scenario. It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.
Hours before the Iranian strikes, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the United States should anticipate response from Iran for killing Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards.
“I think we should expect they will retaliate in some way, shape or form,” he told a Pentagon briefing.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran “took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defence 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.