Iran’s Strike Was Meant to Avoid Casualties
(January 8, 2020) — US officials have confirmed that they were given advance notice Tuesday night before Iranian missile strikes against bases hosting US troops, part of what is seen as a concerted effort to avoid casualties.
Iranian FM Javad Zarif said the advance notice was provided to the Iraqi government, citing respect for Iraqi sovereignty. Iraq told the US, giving time to get people out of the way of the attack.
In addition, there are reports that the Iranians were directly communicating with the US through multiple sources, including the Swiss Embassy in Iran, to assure them that the attacks were the extent of their retaliation and that they are done.
President Trump confirmed that Iran is “standing down” after the attack, though his comments were mostly boilerplate about the Iran nuclear deal, and he accused President Obama of providing the funds Iran used to buy the missiles fired on Tuesday.
Trump and Zarif had both pointed to deescalation on Tuesday night in Tweets, with the takeaway that Iran considered what they did proportionate, and that the US could live with that since there were no casualties.
Other analysts suggested that some Iranian missiles were deliberate duds “designed to miss,” giving Iran a chance to play up the attack domestically, in reaction to calls for revenge after the death of Qassem Soleimani, without doing anything so serious that it would escalate the fight any further. This was supported by photos of unexploded ballistic missiles inside Iraq.
This restored some Iran deterrent capability, and provided the US with an off-ramp to avoid further tit-for-tat escalation. It seems the US is taking that, even if Trump is calling for more NATO involvement and more sanctions. That rhetoric returns the US to mostly an ex ante state, however, and so the US can also be said to be standing down, even if it is in Trump’s usual, bellicose manner.
Zarif: Iran Informed Iraqi Govt. of Missile Attack on US Bases
(January 8, 2020) — Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran informed the Iraqi government of its retaliatory attack on US bases, reaffirming Tehran’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Arab country.
This measure was carried out with the information passed to the Iraqi government and armed forces as confirmed by the Baghdad government, Zarif said Wednesday.
“We attach high significance to Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and we believe security should be [provided] based on mutual respect and [safeguarding] territorial integrity of all regional countries by all,” he added.
The remarks came hours after Iran responded to the US assassination of prominent anti-terror Iranian commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and his companions, including Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, with a barrage of missiles that hit two US bases in Iraq.
In the early hours of Wednesday, Iran launched tens of missiles at two bases housing US troops in Iraq’s western Anbar Province and Kurdistan regional capital, Erbil, in revenge for the assassination of General Soleimani.
Zarif’s remarks came after Iraq’s President Barham Saleh and the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammed al-Halbusi, said the attack violated the sovereignty of the Arab country.
However, earlier on Wednesday, the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the premier had received word from Iran that its response to the US assassination of its top general was either imminent or under way.
“Shortly after midnight on Wednesday we received a verbal message from the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Iranian response to the assassination of martyr Qassem Soleimani had started or was about to start,” Reuters quoted the spokesman as saying.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif said Iran’s missile attack was a military revenge for the top commander, stressing, however, that there is no retaliation proportionate to the assassination of General Soleimani other than the expulsion of US forces from the region.
As declared by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Zarif said, the true revenge for General Soleimani’s blood is that the US folly has marked the end of its presence in the region.
“The end of the US presence in the region, which will definitely happen, will herald glad tidings for the region and the generations to come, because the US presence in the region has brought about nothing but destruction and mischief,” he noted.
Iraq to Summon Iranian Envoy over Missile Attack
Meanwhile, Iraq’s foreign ministry said Wednesday it would summon Iran’s ambassador over Tehran’s ballistic missile attack on bases housing American and US-led coalition troops, for “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”
“We will not allow Iraq to be an arena of conflict, a corridor to carry out attacks or a base to hurt neighboring countries,” the ministry said.
The ministry earlier summoned the US ambassador over the American drone strike last week that killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders and prompted Wednesday’s missile strikes.
US Knew Iranian Missiles Were Coming Ahead of Strike; Trump Announces New Sanctions
John Bacon and Tom Vanden Brook / USA TODAY
(January 8, 2020) — The US military had advance warning of Iran’s missile assault on two Iraqi bases housing US forces, attacks that prompted a vow of new economic sanctions Wednesday from President Donald Trump.
Trump, addressing the nation, said no deaths or injuries resulted from the attacks. He said Iran appeared to be “standing down” and announced no military reprisal for the missile attack, but said “powerful sanctions” would be imposed until Iran changed its ways.
“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism,” he said.
Iran fired more than a dozen missiles Tuesday in retaliation of a US drone strike days earlier that killed one of Tehran’s most powerful military leaders, Qasem Soleimani. The missiles targeted al Assad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and another base in Erbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The extent of damage to the bases was not immediately clear, but early-warning defense systems gave US forces advance knowledge that missiles had been launched, according to a US official speaking to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, added that a hangar was damaged at al Assad, a sprawling complex 100 miles west of Baghdad that houses about 1,500 coalition forces.
But the warnings allowed troops and other personnel to scramble into hardened bunkers for safety. US and coalition personnel in Iraq on the mission to combat ISIS have been practicing drills for missile attacks for some time, the official said.
“The early-warning system worked,” the official said.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also credited the system for preventing casualties, telling reporters the missiles were sent with the intent of doing serious harm, not merely to create the illusion Iran was retaliating.
“I believe based on what I saw and what I know that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel,” Milley said.
Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s UN Ambassador, said in a letter to that body that his country simply exercised its right to self-defense by taking proportionate measures and “does not seek escalation or war.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said in a statement Wednesday that Iran notified Iraq the attack “had begun or would begin shortly,” on unspecified US military locations. The US military reported the attack at the same time, he said.
CNN, citing an Arab diplomatic source, reported that Iran notified Iraq in advance and that Iraqi officials then tipped US troops before the attack began. A US defense official also told CNN that Iraqis were told by Iran to stay away from certain bases.
The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they also received information about an imminent attack and had time to take shelter or leave the base.
Iranian state TV aired video of what commentators described as the missiles being launched. Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later said his country had “concluded proportionate measures” in response to a “cowardly armed attack against our citizens.”
Fahim Masoud, Middle East intelligence manager for the risk assessment firm WorldAware, warned that Zarif’s statement does not mean Iran will stop using its proxies and cyberwarfare capabilities to attack US troops, interests and assets.
“Soleimani’s killing was the most consequential event in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq,” he told USA TODAY in an email. “Its consequences will reverberate through the region for several years.”
Still, conventional war with Iran is not likely due to its outdated weaponry and an economy that is on the verge of collapse, he said.
“The Iranian regime wants to survive,” he said.
Trump said he would not let Iran become a nuclear power, blasting the previous nuclear deal with Iran from which the US controversially withdrew. He said a better deal has to be arranged and the civilized world must send a message that “your campaign of terrorism will not be tolerated anymore.”
James Piazza, a Penn State professor specializing in Middle East issues, told USA TODAY that Trump failed to provide “any reassuring information” on how he would keep Iran from developing nuclear capability. Nor did Trump indicate how he might build international support for more Iran sanctions, Piazza said.
“The president has so thoroughly alienated traditional US allies, I am not very optimistic that he will be able to put more pressure on Iran with allied help and support,” Piazza said.
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his nation’s position that the US must exit Iraq — and the Middle East.
“They were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough,” he said. “This region won’t accept the US presence.”
Meanwhile, NATO has temporarily suspended training of counter-ISIS forces in Iraq, a NATO official who was not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY. Some of the military personnel have been moved to new positions in and outside of Iraq, the official said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the missile attack.
“NATO calls on Iran to refrain from further violence,” he said. “Allies continue to consult and remain committed to our training mission in Iraq.”
• Assassination or Legitimate Act?: Legal Debate Rages as Iran Retaliates
• ‘This Was an Act of War’: Lawmakers React to Iran’s Missile Strike on US Military Bases
• Timeline: How Tensions Escalated with Iran
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