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Iran missile strikes a ‘slap in the face’ for US, says Khamenei

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is calling for an end to American presence in the Middle East

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has described last night’s missile strikes against US bases in neighbouring Iraq as a “slap in the face” for the US hegemon, calling for an end to American presence in the Middle East. The attacks, which appear to be part of the “hard revenge” campaign, occurred at 02:00 local time (22:30 GMT Tuesday) whilst Major General Qassem Soleimani had not yet been buried in his native Kemran. The military operation was named after Soleimani and was a response to his assassination last week. It is believed to have been timed to coincide with the same time that the general was killed in US drone strikes last Friday morning.

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Khamenei’s televised address came hours after “dozens” of missiles were fired from Iran at the Ain Al-Assad military base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar and a facility in the northern Kurdish city of Erbil. Up to five rockets are believed to have struck Taji military base, north of Baghdad.

It has also been reported that the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq took part in retaliatory attacks of their own. US air strikes have hit their camps on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, and their deputy commander, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, was killed alongside Soleimani.

Officials from the Pentagon and the Iraqi government have denied that there were any casualties in the Iranian strikes. According to Iranian media, though, there were between 30 and 80 American fatalities.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, also warned US allies in the region that if any new American air strikes originate from bases within their territory, then they will also be attacked. This is largely understood to refer to the Gulf Arab states and Israel. The state-run IRNA news agency reported an IRGC statement that, “Any country serving as the origin of bellicose and aggressive attacks in any form against the Islamic Republic of Iran” will be targeted. The IRGC also stated that Iran does not view the “Zionist regime” as separate from the “criminal US regime”.

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Although US President Donald Trump failed to make an address to the nation last night, he did post a tweet claiming that “All is well!” before saying that he intends to make a statement later. Trump’s tone was markedly different from previous tweets, which suggested that America will target Iranian cultural sites if Iran responded to the Soleimani assassination.

Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif who has been denied a visa by the US to attend a UN meeting in New York, also took to social media to describe Washington’s decision as a violation of the UN HQ Agreement. The Iranian missile strikes, he added, were “proportionate measures in self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter.”

The strikes on the bases in Iraq have been interpreted as a face-saving move for the Iranian government, which is under public pressure to seek revenge. However, Tehran appears to be cautious about further escalations by attacking bases that were empty so as to avoid US casualties at this stage, as well as providing a demonstration of what Iran is capable of doing militarily. The Iranian parliament has passed a bill designating all US military forces as “terrorists”. Washington would have expected some retaliation, after reports in Iranian media of communications coming in from America via the Swiss envoy in Iran that the US has asked for a “proportionate” response.

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