Iran says it does ‘not seek escalation or war.’
Iran has “concluded” its attacks on American forces and does “not seek escalation or war,” the country’s foreign minister said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Moments later, President Trump said in a tweet that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning about the conflict, and suggested that damages and casualties sustained by American forces were minimal. But he also said the assessment of the attacks was ongoing.
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
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s tweet followed two missile attacks on bases in Iraq housing American forces in response to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“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,” Mr. Zarif said.
“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he added.
Tensions between the United States and Iran came to a head in recent weeks when an American military contractor was killed, Iranian-backed militias stormed the United States Embassy compound in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve and General Suleimani was killed in an American drone strike last Friday.
Iran swore vengeance for the general’s death leading to concerns of full-scale war in the region. On Tuesday, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed.
“All is well!,” President Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!”
Two bases are attacked in Iraq.
Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Asad and Erbil,” Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said in a statement.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In a briefing in Washington, an official said that the Pentagon “had no confirmation” that any Americans had been killed.
Iranian officials said the attacks were the start of a promised retaliation for the killing of a top Revolutionary Guards commander. “The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guards has begun,” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement on a Telegram channel.
Iranian news media reported the attacks hours after the remains of the commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, were returned to his hometown in Iran for burial.
Hossein Soleimani, the editor in chief of Mashregh, the main Revolutionary Guards news website, said that more than 30 ballistic missiles had been fired at the base at Asad, in Anbar Province, in western Iraq.
A base in Erbil, in northern Iraq, was also attacked.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards statement on state television said: “If America responds to these attacks there will be bigger attacks on the way. This is not a threat, it’s a warning.”
Some Iranian officials tweeted images of Iranian flags in a pointed rejoinder to President Trump, who tweeted an American flag after General Suleimani was killed.
In a statement, the White House said, “The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.”
Throughout the day, reports from American intelligence agencies of an imminent attack from Iran had intensified, and senior officials said they were bracing for some kind of attack against American bases in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East.
As tensions mounted, Mr. Trump’s top national security advisers met Tuesday afternoon in the White House Situation Room, where they were joined by the president after his meeting with the Greek prime minister.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was meeting with senior Democrats Tuesday evening in her Capitol office suite, discussing Mr. Trump’s impeachment, when she was handed a note about the Iranian attack.
“We’ve got to pray,” she said, according to Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who was at the meeting.
Ms. Pelosi said she was “closely monitoring the situation.”
“We must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence,” she said in a tweet. “America & world cannot afford war.”
Drew Hammill, Ms. Pelosi’s spokesman, said she returned a call shortly thereafter from Vice President Mike Pence, who briefed her on the strikes.
Mr. Pence also briefed Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.
In December 2018, Mr. Trump visited American military forces at Al Asad. It was his first trip to troops stationed in a combat zone.
The base at Asad is an Iraqi base that has long been a hub for American military operations in western Iraq. Danish troops have also been stationed there in recent years.
In 2017, as the American-led coalition built up the base for its campaign against the Islamic State, roughly 500 American military and civilian personnel were located there. Some troops departed after the defeat of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in 2019, but the base maintains a robust presence of coalition troops.
The American base in Erbil has been a Special Operations hub, home to hundreds of troops, logistics personnel, and intelligence specialists. Transport aircraft, gunships, and reconnaissance planes have used the airport as an anchor point for operations in both northern Iraq and deep into Syria.
Oil prices soar on news of attacks.
Oil prices jumped and markets slumped in Asia early on Wednesday, as investors tried to parse reports of missile attacks on military bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed.
Prices for Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, jumped above $70 a barrel in futures markets, a nearly 4 percent rise from Tuesday. West Texas Intermediate, the American oil price benchmark, jumped more than 3 percent to about $65 a barrel.
Stock markets also dropped sharply. Shares in Japan opened 2.4 percent lower, while markets in Hong Kong and South Korea fell more than 1 percent on their opening.
Investors were also predicting a tough day on Wall Street. Futures contracts representing bets on the American stock market indicated a drop of more than 1 percent in New York’s morning.
‘He was clearly on the battlefield.’
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Tuesday that General Suleimani had been planning attacks to occur within days, laying out the administration’s legal justification for killing the Iranian commander in a drone strike.
Americans officials have been pressed over their claims that they targeted General Suleimani to forestall imminent attacks against U.S. interests.
At a Pentagon news conference Tuesday, Mr. Esper was asked whether attacks had been expected in days or weeks. “I think it’s more fair to say days,” the defense secretary said.
He declined to offer more details, nor to describe the intelligence underpinning that assessment.
Mr. Esper said General Suleimani, who was killed Friday in Iraq, “was in Baghdad to coordinate additional attacks.”
“He’s been conducting terrorist activities against us and our coalition partners for over 20 years,” Mr. Esper said. “He has the blood of hundreds of Americans, soldiers, on his hands and wounded thousands more. And then we could talk about all of the mayhem he’s caused against the Syrian people, the people of Lebanon. Even his own people in Iran.”
He added: “To somehow suggest that he wasn’t a legitimate target, I think, is fanciful. He was clearly on the battlefield.”
Mr. Esper also said that despite an unsigned draft letter from the American military command in Baghdad on troop withdrawal and a unanimous vote by the Iraqi Parliament, the United States does not plan to pull its troops out of Iraq right now.
The Pentagon has made preparations in anticipation of Iranian retaliation, Mr. Esper said, and American troops in the Middle East are on a heightened state of alert.
“I think we should expect that they will retaliate in some way, shape or form,” Mr. Esper told a news conference at the Pentagon. “We’re prepared for any contingency and then we’ll respond appropriately to whatever they do.”
President Trump walked back his threat to strike Iranian cultural targets.
President Trump on Tuesday told reporters he would avoid targeting cultural sites in military attacks, walking back a threat he made against Iran days earlier.
Following a bipartisan and international uproar, Mr. Trump conceded that striking such sites would amount to a war crime. “If that’s what the law is, I like to obey the law,” he said in the Oval Office as he hosted the visiting prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
His remarks to reporters came a day after Mark T. Esper, the secretary of defense, said striking Iranian cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime. That appeared to put him at odds with his boss.
“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” the defense secretary said at a news briefing at the Pentagon on Monday when asked if cultural sites would be targeted.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump declared that the United States had identified 52 potential targets in Iran, some “important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”
None of them qualified as cultural sites, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified.
But the president’s threats and his initial refusal to back down in the face of criticism generated condemnation at home and abroad while deeply discomfiting American military leaders.
Some NATO troops are leaving Iraq.
NATO is removing some of the trainers who have been working with Iraqi soldiers battling the Islamic State, in the wake of the American killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
On Monday, the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, announced that training had been temporarily suspended.
Describing security of NATO personnel, the organization said in a statement that it would be taking precautions — including “the temporary repositioning of some personnel to different locations both inside and outside Iraq.’’
NATO “maintains a presence in Iraq’’ and remains committed “to fighting international terrorism,” an official said, but refused to provide “operational details’’ about troop movements.
NATO has had roughly 500 soldiers doing the training.
Some NATO countries, like Canada, Germany and Croatia, have announced that they are moving troops out of Iraq altogether, at least temporarily, because of security concerns.
Canada is temporarily moving to Kuwait some of its 500 military personnel based in Iraq, the country’s top military official, Gen. Jonathan Vance, said in a letter posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
Thirty of the 120 German soldiers in Iraq will be sent to Jordan and Kuwait, while others will remain positioned in the less volatile Kurdistan region, the German defense and foreign ministries said in a joint letter to the German parliament, the Bundestag.
“When the training is able to resume, the military personnel can be reinstated,” the letter said.
Croatia has also moved its small contingent of soldiers — 14 — from Iraq, with seven bound for Kuwait and the rest headed home, the Croatian Defense Ministry said. Slovakia has also removed its seven soldiers.
Some NATO troops began leaving Baghdad’s Green Zone in helicopters Monday night. The NATO training mission began in 2018 at Iraq’s request.
Oil prices have risen only modestly since the U.S. attack.
The killing of General Suleimani initially jolted oil markets, but the surge in prices has eased. On Tuesday afternoon, the Brent crude oil benchmark was down about 1.5 percent, to about $67.87 a barrel.
Analysts attribute the modesty of the increase to market skepticism that Iran will seek to hobble oil trading by, for example, closing the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel that many oil tankers have to pass through when they leave the Persian Gulf.
Oil flows have not been disrupted, so far, and the markets are “pricing in just a low probability of something happening,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil market research at Rystad Energy, a research firm.
Deadly stampede at funeral in Suleimani’s hometown.
Iranian state-run news outlets reported a deadly stampede during the funeral procession for General Suleimani in his hometown, Kerman, in southeastern Iran, on Tuesday.
Millions were reported to have flooded the town’s streets to witness the procession for the general, who was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad last week. His death has fanned smoldering tensions between the United States and Iran, and fueled fears of a broader conflict.
The crowding and subsequent stampede in Kerman led to General Suleimani’s burial being postponed, state news media reported. He was buried around midnight, as Iran prepared to launch missile attacks against American forces in retaliation for his death, said Hossein Soleimani, the editor in chief of the main Revolutionary Guards news website.
Photographs of the procession showed an elaborately decorated truck carrying General Suleimani’s coffin through streets packed densely with mourners, many wearing black and carrying pictures of the dead commander.
“Unfortunately, as a result of a stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions,” Pirhossein Koulivand, head of the Iranian emergency medical services, told the news agency IRIB.
Fifty-six people died and 213 were injured, the broadcaster IRIB reported on its website.
Images and videos posted on social media showed the aftermath of the crush, with emergency workers and bystanders attempting to resuscitate people lying on the ground. The lifeless bodies of other victims, jackets covering their faces, could be seen nearby.
The general’s body had been flown to Kerman after a funeral in Tehran on Monday that had brought even bigger crowds into the streets of the Iranian capital.
Iran issued new threats before the funeral procession.
In a fiery speech made in General Suleimani’s hometown on Tuesday, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps vowed to “set ablaze” places where Americans and their allies live.
“We will take revenge — a revenge that will be tough, strong, decisive and finishing and will make them regret,” the corps’s leader, Hossein Salami, said on Tuesday in a front of a crowd of mourners. “We will set ablaze the place they like, and they know where it is.”
“Today, the seeds of hatred for the U.S. have been sown in the hearts of Muslims,” he added, according to Fars, an Iranian news agency associated with the Revolutionary Guards.
The pledge to seek vengeance echoed the rhetoric of many of the country’s leaders since General Suleimani’s killing on Friday. “Death to Israel,” the crowd chanted back, according to news reports. Israel, a close ally of the United States, has long been an enemy of Iran.
Thousands of mourners, dressed in black and carrying photos of General Suleimani, crowded the central square of Kerman, where the general’s body was taken for burial after a funeral procession on Monday in Tehran, the capital.
Before arriving in Kerman, the general’s remains were taken to the holy city of Qom, where thousands of residents came out, hoping for a chance to touch the coffin of a man the state has declared a martyr.
On Monday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wept and offered prayers over General Suleimani’s coffin at the enormous state funeral. The ayatollah, Iran’s supreme leader, had a close relationship with the general, who was widely considered to be the country’s second-most powerful man.
General Suleimani’s successor swore revenge during Monday’s ceremony.
“God the almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger,” said Esmail Ghaani, the Iranian general who will succeed General Suleimani as head of the Quds Force, the foreign expeditionary arm of the Revolutionary Guards. “Certainly, actions will be taken,” he added.
As the world focused on Iran, Putin took a bow in Syria.
With the American role in the Middle East in flux, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia flew to Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday for a victory lap of sorts.
Highlighting Russia’s newfound influence in the region, Mr. Putin met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the strongman whose rule was largely rescued by Russian military intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Mr. Putin told Mr. al-Assad that “one can now confidently state that huge strides have been made in restoring Syrian statehood and the territorial integrity of the country,” a Kremlin statement said.
The Kremlin made no mention of Iran in its description of Mr. Putin’s visit, which had not been announced ahead of time. But Tehran was a crucial partner of Moscow in propping up Mr. al-Assad against Syrian rebels, including those backed by the United States.
Russia has called the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran illegal and expressed condolences to Tehran. On Wednesday, Mr. Putin is scheduled to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Istanbul, with Syria and Libya on the agenda, according to the Kremlin.
France’s president urged calm in a call with his Iranian counterpart.
President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke with the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, by phone on Tuesday afternoon to plead for calm and de-escalation.
Mr. Macron called on Iran to “refrain from any step that might aggravate the escalation already underway,” according to a statement from the Élysée Palace, the seat of the French presidency.
France has tried to play the role of mediator between the Iranians and Americans for months, but in vain.
The French president also called on Iran to respect the 2015 nuclear accord, and to release two French academics, Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal, who are being held there, a major source of tension between the two countries.
Iran’s foreign minister says he was denied visa for U.N.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said on Tuesday that he had been rejected for a visa to attend a Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York, confirming reports from American news outlets that he would be barred.
Mr. Zarif, in an interview with the Iranian news outlet Press TV, said that his office had requested a visa weeks ago to participate in the meeting on Thursday, rejecting claims by American officials that they had not had time to process the application.
“The Americans are trying to create the impression that our request to attend the meeting was put forth following the assassination of General Suleimani,” Mr. Zarif said, according to the news outlet, adding, “The question everyone needs to be asking this lawbreaking administration is: What are they so scared of?”
Mr. Zarif later posted on Twitter about the situation, taking aim at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump.
During a Tuesday morning news conference, Mr. Pompeo was asked about the visa but said he would not comment specifically on visa matters. He added that the United States would “comply with our obligations” under United Nations rules.
Robert C. O’Brien, the American national security adviser, was asked on “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning about the visa.
“I don’t think Secretary Pompeo thought that this was the right time for Mr. Zarif to come to the United States, and whenever he comes to New York, he spreads propaganda,” Mr. O’Brien said.
In August, the United States announced sanctions on Mr. Zarif, a seasoned diplomat who helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.
Embassies warned Americans abroad of potential attacks.
Across the Middle East and the world, United States embassies warned Americans of potential attacks from Iran, as Iranian generals vowed to avenge the senior commander killed in an American drone strike.
In Jerusalem, the embassy told Americans on Monday to watch out for “mortars and rocket fire.” A day earlier, the United States Mission in Saudi Arabia had warned citizens to be prepared for “missile and drone attacks.”
The security alerts follow the targeted killing on Friday of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leading figure in Iran’s foreign-facing intelligence and military operations.
At General Suleimani’s funeral in Tehran on Monday, military commanders promised vengeance. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told advisers that any retaliation against the United States should be direct, proportional and carried out openly by Iran.
That is a startling departure for the Iranian leadership, which has typically cloaked its attacks behind the actions of proxies it has cultivated around the region. But in the fury generated by the killing of General Suleimani, a close ally and personal friend of the supreme leader, the ayatollah was apparently willing to cast aside those traditional cautions.
Warnings to United State citizens were sent by American diplomats not only in the Middle East but also in Asia.
The American Embassy in Beijing, citing “heightened tension in the Middle East,” advised American citizens on Tuesday to keep a low profile, be aware of their surroundings, stay alert in tourist locations, review personal security plans and ensure that their travel documents were updated and accessible. American citizens in South Korea said they had received similar warnings.
American diplomats in the Middle East began sending advisories earlier in the week.
American embassies across the region have been on heightened alert since Dec. 31, when militants, backed by the Iranian government, stormed the embassy in Baghdad. President Trump said the assault was organized by General Suleimani.
Last week, embassies in Baghdad and in Beirut, Lebanon, issued security alerts. Some airlines have halted flights to the Iraqi capital, including EgyptAir, which on Tuesday announced that its flights in and out of the city would stop from Wednesday through Friday.
Iran’s Parliament labeled the Pentagon’s leadership ‘terrorists.’
The Iranian Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill declaring the American military’s top leadership to be “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions, according to news reports in state media.
The bill aimed at the Pentagon’s top brass mirrored a Trump administration policy implemented in April that imposed economic and travel sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as well as organizations, companies and individuals with ties to it.
That policy represented the first time an arm of a sovereign government had been designated a terrorist organization.
The Defense Department said the killing of General Suleimani was justified in part because of the corps’s terrorist designation. General Suleimani led the Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards that conducted intelligence-gathering and attacks outside Iran’s borders.
The Defense Department mistakenly released a letter authorizing troop withdrawal from Iraq.
An official letter from the Defense Department informing Iraq that American troops were “repositioning forces” for “movement out of Iraq” produced headlines around the world saying that an American withdrawal had begun.
But the letter, drafted by the United States military command in Baghdad, was sent out by mistake. The furor it caused prompted Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, to call an urgent news conference to deny the reports.
“It was an honest mistake,” General Milley told reporters at the Pentagon. “That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.”
Reporting was contributed by Megan Specia, Russell Goldman, Farnaz Fassihi, David D. Kirkpatrick, Melissa Eddy, Edward Wong, Lara Jakes, Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Alissa J. Rubin, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler, Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt, Adam Nossiter and Anton Troianovski.