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Iran tensions

Iran fires ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops

Khamenei calls strike 'a slap on the face' of America as White House gauges damage

Iran's state-controlled media said the attack was revenge for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a Jan. 3 drone strike. (Nikkei montage/AP)

WASHINGTON/DUBAI -- Iran fired missiles at bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq in the early hours of Wednesday, Iraqi time, retaliating for the killing of top military commander Qassem Soleimani in an American drone strike near Baghdad's airport last Friday.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that Iran launched "more than a dozen ballistic missiles" from its own territory, targeting American and coalition personnel stationed at Ain Al-Asad and Irbil. Iran's state broadcaster also announced the attacks, which came after three days of mourning for Soleimani, whose remains were taken to his hometown of Kerman for burial.

The strikes, named "Operation Martyr Soleimani," heightened fears that the confrontation between Tehran and Washington would spiral into a full-on war.

U.S. President Donald Trump had earlier hinted he would hit back if Iran attacked U.S. interests over the Soleimani killing. Iran, meanwhile, on Wednesday warned of a far broader escalation if the U.S. does respond to the missile strikes.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took responsibility for the missiles and reportedly threatened to hit Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Haifa in Israel if U.S. forces counterattack on Iranian soil. The IRGC also warned that U.S. allies that lend their bases to the American military will be targeted.

Meanwhile, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech to the nation that the missile strikes were "a slap on the face" of the U.S., and specified Iran's enemies as the U.S., Israel and the "Arrogant system," referring to the West, according to Reuters. He also ruled out any resumption of talks with Washington over the nuclear deal.

The Pentagon said it was still assessing the damage of the missile barrage and gave no indication of casualties. Earlier, unconfirmed media reports suggested that no Americans were hurt but that there were Iraqi casualties.

The Pentagon statement said the bases had been on high alert. "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."

Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert of Iraq on Dec. 29, 2019.    © AP

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Trump at the White House, according to U.S. media. "The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted.

Reports that Trump was set to address the nation from the Oval Office -- seen as a sign that war might be imminent -- were later dismissed. The president tweeted that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning U.S. time.

"All is well!" Trump said in his tweet. "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!"

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, later took to Twitter and said Iran had finished its operations. "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," he wrote.

"We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression," Zarif added, bringing a measure of relief to anxious markets.

Previously, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, had reportedly warned that Iran was considering 13 "revenge scenarios."

The al-Asad air base that was targeted has been used by U.S.-led coalition forces since it was captured in the Iraq War in 2003, serving as a jumping-off point for fighting the Islamic State group. Around 1,500 military personnel are stationed there, according to the Associated Press.

The AP said around 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have suspended their mission of training local forces to focus on defending against Iranian action. Since the end of December, the Middle East has seen a gradual buildup of American firepower.

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