Iran fired a number of missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops Wednesday local time in retaliation for the American strike that killed a top Iranian general last week — presenting President Donald Trump with the biggest test of his presidency to date.
Trump will deliver a statement on Iran from the White House at 9 a.m. MTN on Wednesday morning, the administration announced. We will carry it here and on air.
The US has “100% accountability” of all its forces in Iraq, with no US casualties, according to a US defense official familiar with the latest assessment on Wednesday morning. The official added that there has been “no major damage” at either base.
There is a growing belief among administration officials that Iran deliberately missed areas populated by Americans, multiple administration officials told CNN on Wednesday.
These officials floated the notion that Iran could have directed their missiles to hit areas that are populated by Americans, but intentionally did not. Iraq did receive advance warning that the strike was coming and were able to take “necessary precautions,” according to a statement from Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi.
Iraq’s joint military command said there were no casualties among Iraqi military forces either.
Iran targeted the al-Asad airbase, which houses US troops, and American and coalition forces in Erbil, according to Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesperson.
White House aides had initially made plans for a possible address to the nation by Trump on Tuesday night, according to two officials. Trump tweeted later in the night that he would make a statement Wednesday morning.
“All is well!” Trump tweeted. “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.”
The administration officials who discussed Iran’s targeting suggested that Tehran’s leaders may have intended to send a message rather than take significant enough action to trigger a US military response, a possible indication that the White House is looking for a rationale to calm tensions.
The attack comes days after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The administration had sought to cast that strike as an attempt to de-escalate tensions with Iran, but Tehran has described it as an “act of war” and “state terrorism.” Soleimani had been the second most powerful official in the country.
In a televised address to Iran Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the missile attacks and said Iran had given the US “a slap in the face last night.”
He added that America had cast Soleimani as a “terrorist,” which was “unjust and unfair.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an elite wing of the Iranian military, said in a statement that the attacks on Iraqi bases were “hard revenge” for Soleimani’s death. The IRGC said any country housing US troops could be subject to “hostile and aggressive acts” and called on American citizens to demand the administration remove US troops from the region.
It warned the US: “If you repeat your wickedness or take any additional movements or make additional aggression, we will respond with more painful and crushing responses.”
Iran sent Iraq “an official verbal message” about the missile attack shortly before midnight on Wednesday, according to a statement from Mahdi.
He said that Iraq was told that: “The strike would be limited to the whereabouts of the US military in Iraq, without giving the exact location.” Once they received the warning, Iraqi military leaders were warned “to take the necessary precautions.”
“No casualties so far from the Iraqi side, and we have not officially received information on the losses from the coalition forces,” the Prime Minister added.
In recent days, US bases have “been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region,” said Pentagon spokesperson Hoffman.
“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,” he added.
Another US military official told CNN the military had enough warning of the launches that they had time to sound alarms. People in harm’s way were able to get to safety, according to the official.
In Erbil, at least two ballistic missiles hit separate areas, two Kurdish security officials tell CNN. One missile landed inside the perimeter of Erbil International Airport without exploding, the second hit an area roughly 20 miles west of Erbil without causing casualties.
Trump had visited the base in December 2018 after Christmas. Vice President Mike Pence also visited the base in November 2019.
Iran warns the US
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the response was meant to be proportionate to the American attack that killed Soleimani, framing Iran’s attack within international law. The top diplomat also said Iran had “concluded” its widely anticipated response Soleimani’s killing.
“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,” Zarif tweeted. “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
Amid renewed Iranian threats to hit Israeli cities as well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his own warning to Iran Wednesday. “Anyone who tries to attack us will suffer the most devastating blow,” he told a press conference in Jerusalem.
Attack are a direct challenge to Trump
The rockets pose a direct challenge to Trump, who threatened Iran on Tuesday, just hours before the attacks began. “If Iran does anything that it shouldn’t be doing, they will be suffering the consequences and very strongly,” the President said.
In the immediate aftermath of Soleimani’s killing, Trump repeatedly stressed that the deadly drone strike was meant to reduce violence. “We took action last night to stop a war,” he told reporters a day after the attack. “We did not take action to start a war.”
Trump warned later of a “disproportionate” response to any Iranian move that could include targeting Iran’s cultural sites, a war crime.
After the strikes Tuesday evening, Trump met in the Situation Room at the White House with members of his national security team including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, and press secretary Stephanie Grisham. CIA Director Gina Haspel attended the meeting remotely.
Iran’s decision to attack is a “huge gamble,” said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor and Iran expert at the University of Ottawa who said that leaders in Tehran have included Trump’s domestic political concerns in their calculations. The President ran on a platform of ending US involvement in the messy Middle East entanglements.
“Iran assesses Trump does not want to get bogged down in a large scale war in the Middle East, and that this gives it more margin to maneuver,” Juneau wrote on Twitter. “Needless to say, this is a HUGE gamble given how unpredictable Trump is.”
Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said Iran’s attack was a foregone conclusion after the Ayatollah announced there would be retaliation. Further escalation will depend on Trump’s ability to absorb the attack and whatever casualties result, she said.
European Union leaders have urged calm. “The current crisis affects not only the region, but all of us,” said European Commission President Ursula con der Leyen during a press conference Wednesday.
“The use of weapons must stop now to give space to dialogue.”
In the US, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was discussing the situation in Iran when she was handed a note with news of the attack, lawmakers who attended the meeting said.
Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, said she paused the discussion to tell the members of the Steering Committee of the news.
“Pray,” Pelosi told members, according to Rep. Debbie Dingell.
This story has been updated with additional breaking news developments.