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Iran attacks US forces in Iraq in retaliation for killing of Soleimani

THIS still image from an Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting video shot yesterday allegedly shows rockets launched from Iran against the US military base in Ein-al Asad in Iraq. (AFP)

THIS still image from an Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting video shot yesterday allegedly shows rockets launched from Iran against the US military base in Ein-al Asad in Iraq. (AFP)

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran launched a missile attack on US-led forces in Iraq early yesterday in retaliation for the US drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani whose killing has raised fears of a wider war in the Middle East.

Tehran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles from Iranian territory against at least two Iraqi facilities hosting US-led coalition personnel at about 1:30 a.m. local time (6 a.m. Manila time), the US military said Tuesday.

US 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 yesterday morning Washington D.C. time.

“All is well!” Trump said in the Twitter post.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps confirmed they fired the missiles to retaliate for last week’s killing of Soleimani, according to a statement on state TV.

The statement advised the United States to withdraw its troops from the region to prevent more deaths and warned US allies, including Israel, not to allow attacks from their territories.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that the bases targeted were al-Asad air base and another facility in Erbil, Iraq.

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

Trump, who visited the al-Asad air base in December 2018, was briefed on reports of the attack and was monitoring the situation, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived at the White House following news of the attack. It was unclear what response, if any, the United States was planning.

Hours earlier Tuesday, Esper said the United States should anticipate retaliation from Iran over Friday’s killing in Iraq of Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force.

“I think we should expect that they will retaliate in some way, shape or form,” he told a news briefing at the Pentagon, adding that such retaliation could be through Iran-backed proxy groups outside of Iran or “by their own hand.”

“We’re prepared for any contingency. And then we will respond appropriately to whatever they do.”

Stock markets in Asia fell sharply on news of the rocket attack, while investor safe havens, including the Japanese yen and gold, shot higher. US crude prices surged almost five percent on worries any conflict could cut oil supplies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran took “proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter,” targeting the bases where the attack against its citizens and senior officials was launched.

“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote in a post on Twitter.

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

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

“Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting US troops in Iraq,” US 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 US 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, Gen. 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.

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