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UK, France and Nato condemn 'reckless' missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US troops

While condemning Iran’s attack, Boris Johnson said that slain general Qasem Soleimani “had the blood of British troops on his hands.”

President Donald Trump speaks at a hanger rally at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, one of those targeted overnight.
President Donald Trump speaks at a hanger rally at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, one of those targeted overnight.
Image: Andrew Harnik

Updated Jan 8th 2020, 1:15 PM

WESTERN POWERS HAVE condemned Iran’s missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US and other foreign troops, urging an end to the escalating crisis between the US and Iran.

Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles in the early hours of Wednesday, officials in Washington and Tehran said.

Iran said it was responding to the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week in a US drone attack outside a Baghdad airport.

Ahead of a statement from US President Donald Trump today, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard warning it would hit back even harder if Washington responded, while Iran’s Foreign Minister said “Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defence”.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament: “Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks but should instead pursue urgent de-escalation.”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson also said that “Qasem Soleimani was responsible for arming the Houthis with missiles, arming Hezbollah to attack innocents, sustaining the Assad regime, and supplying improvised explosive devices to terrorists that killed and maimed British troops.

“That man had the blood of British troops on his hands.”

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned that another war in the Middle East would only benefit “Daesh and other terrorist groups”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement: “The priority is more than ever for a de-escalation.

France remains determined to work to ease tensions and is in contact with all the parties to encourage restraint and responsibility.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “The use of weapons must stop NOW to give space for dialogue. We are called upon to do everything possible to rekindle talks. There cannot be enough of that.”

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said: “I condemn the Iranian missile attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. Nato calls on Iran to refrain from further violence.”

A Nato official said none of its troops in Iraq had been hurt in the strikes.

Damage

conflict-iran-usa-missile-attack-in-iraq The remains of one of the vehicles hit by missiles outside Baghdad airport on 3 January 2020. Source: DPA/PA Images

The Pentagon said it was still “working on initial battle damage assessments” after “Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq.”

“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 Ain al-Asad and Arbil, the Pentagon said.

There were no Iraqi casualties, the Iraqi military said after the overnight attack. Coalition forces were also housed in those airbases, including British forces.

There were no immediate reports on US casualties. The Pentagon said the facilities had been on “high alert” after days of steadily mounting tension and exchanges of threats of war.

Trump, who visited al-Asad with First Lady Melania Trump in December 2018, his first trip to US troops deployed in a war zone, said initial casualty assessments indicated “all is well”.

He tweeted that “assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!”

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

He said to expect a statement early today.

Oil prices have surged in response to the missile attack, with the benchmark WTI spiking more than 4.5% to $65.54 a barrel before receding slightly.

Iranian state television and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said that last night’s attack was in response to the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, one of the most important figures in the country.

A top Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the US drone strike just outside Baghdad international airport last Friday.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards announced that the Ain al-Asad base was hit with dozens of missiles, warning a US counter-attack would be met with an even “more crushing response” and threatening to strike Israel and America’s “allied governments.”

“We advise the American people to recall US troops (deployed in the) region in order to avoid further losses and not to allow the lives of its soldiers to be further threatened by the ever-growing hatred of the regime,” the IGRC said in a statement.

But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to indicate that the missile strikes were over for now.

“Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defence” targeting a base from which a “cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials” was launched, he said on Twitter.

iraq-us-airstrikes Mourners carry the coffins of Iran-backed popular mobilization fighters killed in a US airstrike in Qaim, during their funeral in Najaf. Source: AP/PA Images

Mysterious letter

Hours before Iran struck, Trump said the approximate 5,200 US troops in Iraq should stay despite calls by the Iraqi parliament for their expulsion.”At some point we want to get out, but this isn’t the right point,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of expelling US troops in response to Soleimani’s killing. On Monday, a letter emerged from the head of Task Force-Iraq, US Brigadier General William Seely, that appeared to announce just such an exit.

Back in Washington, US officials scrambled to deny the idea, calling the letter a mistakenly released draft or, as Trump suggested, a fake.”I don’t know anything about that letter,” Trump told reporters.

I understand it was an unsigned letter. I don’t know if that letter was a hoax, or was it unsigned or what.

Iraq’s prime minister, however, insisted yesterday that the letter had been taken seriously.”It’s not a piece of paper that fell off the printer or reached us by coincidence,” Abdel Mahdi told a televised cabinet meeting.

- with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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