BAGHDAD: US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Iranian missile strikes on bases in Iraq had not harmed any US troops stationed there and damage was minimal, an outcome he claimed showed Tehran wanted to prevent an escalation in the confrontation between the two arch-foes.

Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing US troops in Iraq early on Wednesday, saying it was in retaliation for the killing in a US drone strike of powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan 3.

“All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases,” Trump said. “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.” “The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it,” the US president said in an address, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo besides military officers.

He urged world powers to quit a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that Washington withdrew from in 2018 and work for a new deal, an issue that has been at the heart of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Iran has rejected new talks.

American military bases in Iraq come under attack

There was no immediate reaction from Iranian officials to Trump’s comments. The semi-official Fars news agency described the US president’s remarks as a “big retreat from threats”.

Iranian Supreme Leader Aya­tollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier on Wednesday addressed a gathering of Iranians chanting “Death to America”, said Iran’s attacks were a “slap on the face” of the United States and hinted that Tehran could launch further attacks.

“An important incident has happened. The question of revenge is another issue,” he said in the speech broadcast live on state television.

“Military actions in this form are not sufficient for that issue. What is important is that America’s corrupt presence must come to an end in this region.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, said the strikes had “concluded” Tehran’s response to the killing of Soleimani, who had been responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.

“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian attack had been to say on Twitter that “All is well!” and that Washington was assessing damage.

That early tweet and the comment by Iran’s foreign minister had acted to soothe some initial concerns about a wider war and calmed jittery financial markets. Oil prices slipped back after an early spike.

Some US and European government sources said they believed Iran had deliberately sought to avoid US military casualties in its missile strikes to prevent an escalation.

The US president, who was impeached last month and faces an election this year, had at the weekend threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing.

Iranian state television said Iran had fired 15 ballistic missiles from its territory at US targets in its neighbour Iraq early on Wednesday. The Pentagon said al-Asad airbase and another facility in Erbil in Iraq were struck.

Iranian television had said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed, without saying how it obtained this information.

Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq were hurt. Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action. Iraq said its forces did not suffer casualties.

Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader’s office as saying the missile attacks were the “weakest” of several retaliation scenarios. It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.

State media showed footage of what it said were Iran’s missiles being fired into the night sky. In the background, voices shouted “God is greatest”.

After the Iranian missile attack, state television showed footage of Soleimani’s burial in Kerman, with hundreds of people chanting “God is greatest” when the strikes were announced over loudspeakers.

“His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace,” Iranian television said.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2020