The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the elite military unit of Iranian armed forces, launched at least a dozen missiles on two United States (US) army bases in Iraq, the IRGC and US defence authorities confirmed. The attack took place in the early hours of Wednesday, in the latest sign of growing friction between both the powers in the Middle-East, with the rhetoric between the two countries being even more aggressive after the US killed a top Iranian military general Qasim Soleimani on January 3 in an aerial strike. The strikes were launched on Erbil in Iraqi-Kurdish territory, in a base with US-led coalition forces in Iraq, and on the US military base Ain Al-Asad in the Anbar province.
This action comes as no surprise, as Iran vowed "harsh revenge" following Soleimani's assassination.
According to local news agency Tasnim, the IRGC released a statement where they promised further aggression against any more moves undertaken by the US. The Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammed Javad Zarif, later tweeted that Iran targeted those bases from where the strike on "citizens and senior officials were launched."
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.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
In an address, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran called the strike a success, and warned of a more crushing response if the US were to retaliate.
Different Countries, Different Casualty Figures
Reports coming in from American, Iraqi and Iranian sources do not present a united pictures on the number of exact casualties due to the missile strike.
In a confirmation of the strike, US President Donald Trump tweeted "All Is Well!", and maintained that the US was assessing its casualties and damages, and that he would be making a statement.
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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020
However, an administration official said that there were zero casualties at the moment, but is was "too early" to give a figure.
The Iranian maintain a figure to the contrary. 80 "American terrorists" have been killed in the strikes, according to state media, further stating the none of the missile were intercepted, and that military helicopters and equipment was severely damaged. This figure has not been verified from a secondary source.
Iraqi security sources too said that there were Iraqi casualties, but Iraqi security authorities later told CNN that there were no military casualties.
The fifth incident in a chain of events
The missile strike is the fifth major incident in a chain of tit-for-tat events between Iran and the US, with the first nudge to start the domino effect starting in Iraq on December 27. A civilian American contractor was killed in a rocket attack near Kirkuk, Iraq, with reported US and Iraqi military injuries too. The US suspected an Iranian-backed militia, the Kataib Hezbollah (not linked to the Hezbollah in Lebanon).
In the second incident, American vengeance on the Kataib Hezbollah came but two days later on December 29, when the US conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, killing at least two dozen members of the militia.
The third incident was retaliation to the airstrikes where Iranian-backed demonstrators took to the streets of Baghdad, and protested outside the US embassy against the strikes on December 31 right after the funeral of the slain militia members. A leader of the Kataib Hezbollah, Mahdi-Al-Muhandis, along with several other militia members and paramilitary leaders marched towards the embassy. The demonstrations got violent, with fires being lit and pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian slogans being chanted, only for the demonstrators to storm the compound of the embassy. The US issued an advisory to its citizens to leave Iraq immediately, and not to approach the embassy for assistance, and threatened to hold Iran responsible for any damage to life and property.
....Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
The demonstrators withdrew from the compound on January 1.
The catalyst to the missile strike was Solemani's killing, who was the heads of the Quds Force, the operation and foreign wing of the IRGC, and was often considered to the be the second most powerful man in Iran. At the orders of Trump, a US Reaper drone strike was conducted on a automobile convoy in which Soleimani and Muhandis were killed, along with 10 other Iranian and Iraqi personnel. Following the strike, the Iranian government went into mourning, with Iran declaring three-days of the mourning, and pictures available of thousands thronging to the streets of Iran to witness the funeral of Soleimani, who was termed a martyr by Khamenei.
How has the world reacted to the missile strikes?
Countries around the world have called for all parties involved in the conflict to de-escalate tensions.
The US have prohibited their airlines from using Iranian and Iraqi airspace, and from using the airspace over the Gulf of Oman. Airlines such as Malaysian Airlines, Air India and Emirates too have said that they will not use Iranian and Iraqi airspace for passenger safety.
On Wednesday, India issued a travel advisory against all non-essential travel to Iraq. The United Kingdom reiterated de-escalation, with an advisory against non-essential travel being issued after the death of Soleimani on January 4. Several other countries, including New Zealand, Australia and Denmark, who have military personnel in Iraq as part of a coalition have confirmed that none of their forces have been affected.
Brent crude rose 1.4% to $69.21 per barrel, with stock indices in China, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan and Australia closing in the red on Wednesday.
Fake news around Soleimani's death
Fake news around the aerial strike on Soleimani has already surfaced, with BOOM finding footage from a video game being shared as the strike on Soleimani.