Iran struck back at the United States for the killing of a top Iranian general early Wednesday, firing a series of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops and warning the United States and its allies in the region not to retaliate.
The strikes by Iran were a major escalation of tensions that have been rising steadily across the Mideast following months of threats and attacks after President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Iranian state TV said the attack was in revenge for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose funeral procession Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman prompted angry calls to avenge his death.
Soleimani’s killing and Iran’s missile strikes also marked the first time in recent years that Washington and Tehran have attacked each other directly rather than through proxies in the region. It raised the chances of open conflict erupting between the two nations, which have been foes since the days immediately following Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
U.S. officials confirmed both strikes, though Iran only initially acknowledged targeting one base. There was no immediate word on injuries.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned the U.S. and its regional allies against retaliating over the missile attack against the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The Guard issued the warning via a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.
“We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” The Guard said. It also threatened Israel.
After the strikes, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator posted a picture of the Islamic Republic’s flag on Twitter, appearing to mimic Trump who posted an American flag following the killing of Soleimani and others Friday in a drone strike in Baghdad.
Ain al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces.
The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack on a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.
Wednesday’s revenge attack came a mere few hours after crowds in Iran mourned Soleimani and as the U.S. continued to reinforce its own positions in the region and warned of an unspecified threat to shipping from Iran in the region’s waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies. U.S. embassies and consulates from Asia to Africa and Europe issued security alerts for Americans. The U.S. Air Force launched a drill with 52 fighter jets in Utah, just days after Trump threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.
Soleimani’s slaying already has led Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge.
In Iraq, pro-Iranian factions in parliament have pushed to oust American troops from Iraqi soil following Soleimani’s killing. Germany and Canada announced plans to move some of their soldiers in Iraq to neighboring countries.
According to a report on Tuesday by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans to avenge Soleimani’s death. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even the weakest among them would be a “historic nightmare” for the U.S. He declined to elaborate,
“If the U.S. troops do not leave our region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies horizontally out,” Shamkhani said.
The state-run IRNA news agency later published a statement from the Supreme National Security Council denying Shamkhani made the comment.