Iran has launched more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting the US and coalition troops overnight, and declaring the strikes to be retaliation for the killing last week of the senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
The Iranian officials initially told state media that at least 80 US personnel had been killed or injured in the strikes, without presenting evidence, but President Donald Trump tweeted that casualty assessments were underway but “so far, so good”. He is expected to make a statement this morning.
The Iraqi prime minister’s office said they had received a verbal message from the Iranians shortly after midnight saying that their “response to the assassination of the martyr Qassem Soleimani had begun or would start shortly” and would be limited to US military stationed in Iraq. At the same time, they were informed by the Americans that strikes had begun against US forces at various locations in the country.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, described the bombings as “a slap in the face” for the US but warned that Tehran still had a wider goal of expelling its enemy from the region. He told an audience in the city of Qom:
We just gave [the US] a slap in the face last night. But that is not equivalent to what they did.
International leaders have called on both sides to refrain from further violence. EU commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said “the use of weapons must stop now to give space for dialogue”.
Meanwhile, a passenger plane bound for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, has crashed a few minutes after taking off from Tehran’s main international airport, killing 176 people. Iran’s Red Crescent said there was no chance of finding survivors, and Pir Hossein Kulivand, an Iranian emergency official, later told state TV all those onboard had been killed. Iran has said it will not hand over the black box of the plane – which contains vital records of how the tragedy occurred – to Boeing.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has condemned Iran’s missile strike against US forces in Iraq, while a Nato official says there were no casualties among the military alliances personnel in the country.
The Iraqi mission consists of several hundred staff from allied nations and non-Nato countries. In a message to the Associated Press, the Nato official who was not authorised to speak publicly said they were “keeping the situation under close review”.
Meanwhile, in a message posted on Twitter, Stoltenberg urged Iran to refrain from further violence.