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.
Btw #Soleimani has just been buried in Iran. Symbolism:
– The Iranian missile attack started at the same time as the killing of Soleimani.
– Soleimani buried now just after finish of attack. @akhbar
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) January 8, 2020
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.
📹A video showing parts of exploded missiles, which fell in empty fields pic.twitter.com/sf7c6aVr29
— EHA News (@eha_news) January 8, 2020
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".
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.
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
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."
#Iran downed an unmanned stealth drone last summer—a downing that shocked the Pentagon.
If there are no US casualties in these 2 US bases tonight, then that was intentional. It does not speak to Iran's lack of capability. It's a message.
Leave it at that, @realDonaldTrump.
— Pouya Alimagham پويا عالي مقام (@iPouya) January 8, 2020
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.