Iran missile attacks target U.S. forces in Iraq

An explosion is seen following missiles landing at what is believed to be Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq, in this still image taken from a video shot on January 8, 2020. Iran Press/Handout via REUTERS

Iran has launched a major ballistic missile attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, potentially triggering a new round of escalation in the confrontation between the United States and Tehran.

The U.S. military said an assessment was underway to determine damage and any casualties at al-Asad airbase in Iraq, which hosted President Donald Trump in December of 2018, as well as at another facility in Erbil. 

In a statement, the U.S. military said Iran launched the attack at about 1:30 am local time, firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in statement.

“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet late on Tuesday that an assessment of casualties and damage from the strikes was under way and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning.

The attack came just hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States should expect Iran to retaliate over the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike on Friday. 

Esper declined to detail any intelligence driving that assessment or comment on Iranian military activities that could signal Tehran’s intentions. 

Reuters has reported that Iranian missile forces have been put on a heightened state of alert.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it would ban U.S. carriers from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Singapore Airlines <SIAL.SI> had already diverted all flight routes from Iranian airspace. 

Democrats in the U.S. Congress and some of the party’s presidential contenders warned about the escalating conflict. 

“Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq,” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter. “We must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war.”

Soleimani, a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran’s long-standing campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq, was also responsible for building up Tehran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.

He was a national hero to many Iranians but viewed as a dangerous villain by Western governments opposed to Iran’s arc of influence running across the Levant and into the Gulf region.

A senior Iranian official said on Tuesday that Tehran was considering several scenarios to avenge Soleimani’s death. Other senior figures have said the Islamic Republic would match the scale of the killing when it responds, but that it would choose the time and place.

“We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told throngs who crowded the streets for Soleimani’s funeral on Tuesday in Kerman, his hometown in southeastern Iran.

Soleimani’s burial went ahead after several hours of delay following a stampede that killed at least 56 people and injured more than 210, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.

Iran TV reported Soleimani was buried after the missile attacks. “His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace,” it said.

The missiles were launched on Wednesday at the same time that he was killed last on Friday.