- Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US military and coalition forces in Iraq on Tuesday.
- It marks a significant shift in strategy for Iran in its tense standoff with the US.
- Typically, Iran operates via proxy forces, denying involvement in attacks on American troops. This is different.
- Since President Donald Trump ordered the death of Iran’s revered general Qassem Soleimani, the rules of the US-Iran confrontation are being rewritten.
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Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US military and coalition forces in Iraq on Tuesday, marking a dramatic next step in its tense standoff with the US, and a major shift in strategy.
“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Iran also publicly claimed responsibility for the attacks,the Associated Press reported, citing Iranian state TV. Tehran said the strikes are revenge for the attack which killed its most important military leader, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
It was Iran’s first retaliatory action following President Donald Trump’s order to kill Soleimani.
The fact that it is openly admitting to attacking US forces is a significant difference to how it usually operates, and shows how Soleimani’s death has reshaped and escalated the confrontation.
Until this point, Iran typically created problems for the US and its allies via proxy forces, such as the late-December rocket attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, that killed an American contractor and injured several US service members.
That attack, combined with a series of prior escalations, set off a spiral of events that led Trump to order a deadly strike on Soleimani.
Though Iran was widely blamed, including by the US, it denied responsibility for attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region over the summer. It also denied any role in attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Denial was not an iron-clad rule, even before. Iran did claim responsibility for the downing of a sophisticated US surveillance drone in June, arguing that it had entered its airspace.
But the stakes here were lower, since drones are unmanned. Trump considered a retaliatory strike, but decided against it, partly on the grounds that nobody had died.
Openly targeting a base where US forces are stationed like this is totally different.
It could also result in a significant response from the US, given that the Soleimani strike was partly motivated by the death of a US contractor. There were no initial reports of US casualties from the strike, CNN reported, which could be crucial in terms of how Trump will respond.
On Saturday, Trump warned Iran via Twitter that if it targeted the US or its assets then he would respond by striking 52 unspecified Iranian targets “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
After Tuesday’s missile attack, 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.”
Meanwhile, Iran appeared to offer a ramp to deescalation, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeting that Iran “took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defence” and does “not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
- Read more:
- Iran’s ‘forceful revenge’ against the US is likely to include cyberwarfare, and experts warn that the attacks could be devastating
- Trump has no clear strategy if Iran makes good on its vow to avenge the killing of a top general, experts say
- This map shows where US-Iran tensions have flared in Iraq, which culminated in the strike killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani
- How the Trump administration got into a showdown with Iran that could lead to war