0712 GMT February 25, 2020
Trump threatens additional sanctions, calls for cooperation with Iran
Iran struck back at the United States early on Wednesday for assassinating its most prominent military commander, firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house American troops in what the Iranian Leader described as a “slap” against America’s military presence in the region.
The missiles targeted the sprawling Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq and a base in Erbil, both housing American and other foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said Ain al-Asad was hit with dozens of missiles in response to Friday’s US drone strike in which Lt. General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, was assassinated near Baghdad International Airport.
The IRGC warned any US counter-attack would be met with an even “more crushing response” and threatened to strike Israel and America's “allied governments.”
“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,” it said.
‘Slap in the face’
Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said a “slap in the face” had been delivered to the US but hinted more could come.
“An important incident has happened. The question of revenge is another issue,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on Iranian television.
“Military actions in this form are not sufficient for that issue. What is important is that America’s corrupt presence must come to an end in this region.”
Ayatollah Khamenei, in his speech on Wednesday, ruled out any resumption of talks with the US on the 2015 nuclear pact from which Washington withdrew in May 2018.
President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s missile strike showed “we don’t retreat in the face of America.”
“If they [US officials] are wise, they won’t take any other action at this juncture,” Rouhani said.
“They cut off the arm of our dear Soleimani. The revenge for him is to cut off America’s leg from this region,” he said.
“If America’s leg is cut off from this region, and its arm of aggression is severed for good, this is the real and final response of the nations of the region to America,” he added.
‘Proportionate measures concluded’
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated the missile strikes were over for now.
“Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” Zarif said on Twitter, adding that Tehran did “not seek escalation” but would defend itself against further aggression.
Later in the day, Zarif said Iran’s missile attack was an act of “legitimate self-defense” against “legitimate targets” under international law.
“We communicated a message to Americans immediately after the operation via the country’s interests section in Iran,” he said.
Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami said Iran’s next response will be proportionate to what Washington will do.
Hatami said Iran will pursue demands for the expulsion from the region of American forces that have brought about nothing but war, misery and terror for the nations.
Iranian television said the IRGC fired 15 ballistic missiles from its territory at US targets.
National TV said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed and US helicopters and military equipment damaged.
State media also showed footage of what it said were the missiles being fired into the night sky. It also showed images of the blasts where they struck.
The Pentagon said: "Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq.
"It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel."
The Pentagon said the facilities had been on "high alert" after days of steadily mounting tension.
The office of Iraq's premier said it had received "an official verbal message" from Iran informing it that a missile attack on US forces was imminent.
The statement by Adel Abdel Mahdi's spokesman said his office was simultaneously contacted by Washington as the missiles rained down.
Iraq's military said it sustained no casualties in 22 missile strikes, most of them hitting Ain al-Asad.
Two Iraqi security officials said a missile appeared to have struck a plane at Ain al-Asad, igniting a fire.
Trump backs away from further military conflict with Iran
President Donald Trump backed away from further military confrontation with Iran on Wednesday after a barrage of missiles fired at American troops killed no one in what Tehran said was “in revenge for assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.”
“Iran appears to be standing down which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said in a televised statement from the Grand Foyer of the White House, flanked by his vice president, cabinet secretaries and senior military officers in their uniforms, nytimes.com reported.
The president vowed again not to let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon and warned it against future destabilizing actions in the region, but otherwise avoided the threats of additional use of force that had characterized his public remarks in recent days.
Instead, he said he would impose more economic sanctions on Iran and called on NATO allies to become more involved in the Middle East.
“The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” he said.
Iraq to take its own revenge
The attack emboldened Iran's allies in Iraq, who ramped up threats to avenge top Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was assassinated with Gen. Soleimani.
Muhandis was the deputy head of Iraq's Hashd al-Sha’abi, a military network incorporated into the Iraqi state.
Military commander in chief, Qais al-Khazali, said Iraq was preparing its own response for Muhandis’s assassination.
“That response will be no less than the size of the Iranian response. That is a promise,” Khazali threatened.
The brazenness of the strike was highly unusual for Iran using conventional weapons and rapidly claiming responsibility.
Financial markets have been on edge about possible US-Iranian conflict and disruption of oil supplies since last week’s US assassination of Gen. Soleimani.
Oil prices jumped on the news, with the benchmark WTI spiking more than 4.5 percent to $65.54 a barrel before receding slightly.
Hours before Iran struck, Trump tried to end confusion over his plans for the approximately 5,200 US troops in Iraq, saying they should stay despite calls by the Iraqi parliament for their expulsion.
“At some point we want to get out, but this isn’t the right point,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Despite Washington’s assurances, several allies started to leave, raising questions over the future of the US-led mission in Iraq.
The US has been deploying more troops in the region. US Persian Gulf allies that host thousands of American troops are concerned about an outbreak of direct conflict, while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have called for de-escalation.
“The situation is not currently a war situation,” UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei told reporters on Wednesday, stressing that Iran is a neighbor and the last thing the country wants is more tension in the region.
AFP, AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.