Iranian missile attacks on two Iraqi military bases housing American troops early Wednesday morning was a “slap on the face” to the U.S., Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech several hours after the strike. But “such military actions are not enough,” Khamenei said on Twitter shortly thereafter, suggesting further acts of revenge for the U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Khamenei went on to describe the U.S. presence as a source of corruption in the Middle East and demanded that U.S. troops leave the region. He named Iran’s enemies as the U.S., Israel and the “arrogant system” in an apparent reference to the West. Washington and Tehran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.
They were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough. #AlAssadBase
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 8, 2020
Battle damage assessments of the overnight attack — which saw more than a dozen ballistic missiles hit Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s western Anbar province and a base in Erbil in the country’s north — are ongoing. Iraq and the U.K. have announced no casualties from their countries, while the U.S. has not yet made a formal announcement. Al-Asad airbase also houses British forces, and was the second-largest U.S. military airbase used in the country during the Iraq War.
The missile barrage follows three days of mourning over the U.S. assassination of Soleimani, longtime leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ elite extraterritorial Quds Force and the architect behind Iran’s expansion of influence and proxy networks around the Middle East. The general, who was highly revered as a hero in Iran, was killed along with colleagues and the leader of Iraqi Shiite militia Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by drone strike at Baghdad airport early Friday morning.
Trump: ‘All is well’
Iran has vowed “severe revenge on the U.S. as experts warn of Iranian-led attacks on U.S. military bases and energy facilities in the region, cyberattacks, and potential attacks via Iran’s numerous proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. The fact that Iran took open credit for the strike, owning it rather than operating through proxies — as has been the case in many past regional aggressions — has taken many regional analysts by surprise.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also took to Twitter to say that his country “took and concluded proportionate measures” against the killing of Soleimani and acted in “self defense,” adding that “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
Leaders from both countries have insisted they do not want war, but kinetic responses from both sides to each other’s escalatory moves are pushing the two adversaries dangerously close to all-out conflict. Markets tumbled on news of the missile strikes, with the Dow Jones plunging 400 points and Brent crude spiking as high as 4%.
Soleimani’s killing came after Iraqi Shiite militia members backed by Tehran — believed to be at the general’s direction — stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The attempted raid and damage to the embassy, one of the most heavily-guarded in the world, followed U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 militia members from the Iraqi Shiite group Kataeb Hezbollah in retaliation for its rocket attacks on an Iraqi base in late December that killed one U.S. contractor.
The assassination marks the most dramatic escalation and a likely historic turning point amid simmering tensions between Washington and Tehran. Security experts have equated the significance of Soleimani’s death to that of a state taking out the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff or director of the CIA.
The last year was marked by increased geopolitical turbulence including multiple attacks on tankers and oil infrastructure blamed on Tehran, the Iranian downing of a U.S. drone, increasingly heavy U.S. sanctions laid down on the Islamic Republic and its rolling back of commitments to the Iranian nuclear deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018.