In retaliation for the US killing of General Qasem Soleimani, Iran has carried out a ballistic missile attack on air bases housing US forces in Iraq.
More than a dozen missiles launched from Iran struck two air bases in Irbil and Al Asad, west of Baghdad.
At this moment, it is unclear if there have been any casualties.
The initial response from Washington has been muted.
President Donald Trump tweeted: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”
Two Iraqi bases housing US and coalition troops were targeted, one at Al Asad and one in Irbil, at about 02:00 local time on January 8. It came just hours after the burial of Qasem Soleimani, who controlled Iran’s proxy forces across the Middle East.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said the attack was “a slap in the face” for the US and called for an end to their presence in the Middle East.
Echoing him, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s “final answer” to Qasem Soleimani’s assassination would be to “kick all US forces out of the region”.
Iraq’s PM Adel Abdul Mahdi said Iran warned him that an attack was imminent and only areas with US troops would be targeted. There were no reports of Iraqi casualties, he said.
Just hours after the missile strikes a Ukrainian airliner crashed in Iran shortly after take-off. There is no evidence that the two incidents are linked.
Several airlines have announced they are avoiding both Iranian and Iraqi airspace amid the rising tension.
This is the most direct assault by Iran on the US since the seizing of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said the attack was in retaliation for the death of Qasem Soleimani on Friday – killed in a missile strike outside Baghdad airport on the orders of President Trump – and warned US allies that their bases could also be targeted.
Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami said his country’s response to any US retaliation would be proportional to the US action.
However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the attack was self-defense and denied seeking to escalate the situation into war.
He tweeted: “Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
President Donald Trump has threatened Iraq with severe sanctions after its parliament called on US troops to leave the country.
The president told reporters: “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
Tensions are high after the US assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.
Meanwhile, Iran has vowed “severe revenge”.
The 62-year-old general spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East and was regarded as a terrorist by the US.
Qasem Soleimani’s remains have now returned to Iran, where mourners packed the streets of Tehran on January 6.
Esmail Qaani, the new head of Iran’s Quds force – which Qasem Soleimani led – has vowed to expel the US from the Middle East.
Iran’s state radio quoted Esmail Qaani as saying: “We promise to continue martyr Soleimani’s path with the same force… and the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region.”
The air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani also claimed the life of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a top Iraqi military figure who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group.
Speaking from the presidential plane, President Trump said that if Iraq asked US forces to depart on an unfriendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame”.
Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the ISIS group.
On January 5, the coalition paused its operations against ISIS in Iraq, and Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave.
The resolution was pushed through by the parliament’s Shia Muslim bloc – which is close to Iran.
Meanwhile, Iran has announced it will no longer abide by restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, under which it agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
President Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, saying he wanted to force Iran to negotiate a new deal that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear program and also halt its development of ballistic missiles.
However, Iran refused and had since been gradually rolling back its commitments under the deal.
In a statement, Iran said it would no longer observe limitations on its capacity for enrichment, the level of enrichment, the stock of enriched material, or research and development.
European leaders, from Germany, France and the UK – which were all signatories to the 2015 deal, alongside China and Russia – responded with a joint statement urging Iran to refrain from “further violent action or proliferation”.
Thousands of Iranians have gathered in the city of Ahvaz, southwest of Iran, on January 5 to receive the remains of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad.
The mourners beat their chests and chanted “death to America”.
Qasem Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s sphere of influence across the Middle East and he was considered to be the country’s second most powerful man.
The assassination of the top military commander marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had a close personal relationship with Qasem Soleimani, warned of “severe revenge” for the attack.
President Donald Trump, who authorized the attack on Qasem Soleimani on January 3 – an option refused by both Presidents Bush and Obama as too risky – said in a tweet that the US was ready to strike 52 sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.
In a series of tweets likely to raise concerns about a path to war between the two countries, President Trump said the US would strike Iran “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran targeted American bases or troops.
He said the 52 targets identified by the US represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran.
President Trump warned: “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!”
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying that the killing of Qasem Soleimani was a breach of international law and that any targeting of cultural sites would be constitute a war crime.
Thousands of black-clad mourners gathered early on Sunday morning in the streets in Ahvaz, where Qasem Soleimani’s body had arrived before dawn.
The Irib state news agency showed footage of Qasem Soleimani’s casket, wrapped in an Iranian flag, being unloaded from a plane as a military band played, before it was flown on to Ahvaz.
The channel showed crowds gathered in the city’s Mollavi Square, waving flags and holding aloft portraits of Qasem Soleimani, who is seen by many in Iran as a hero because of his role as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and his closeness to the supreme leader.
In the capital Tehran, members of parliament chanted “death to America” for a few minutes during a session of the house, the ISNA news agency reported.