ran attacked a major base in Iraq that houses American military forces on Wednesday morning local time, Iranian and U.S. officials said.
It launched ballistic missiles at al-Asad airbase in its first move against the U.S. since President Donald Trump ordered an American drone strike to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, dramatically escalating tensions between the two countries.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — the branch of the country’s military in which Soleimani served — directed the assault, it told Iranian and American media.
“The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on Al Assad military base in the name of martyr Gen. [Qassem] Soleimani,” read an IRGC statement sent to New York Times reporter Farnaz Fassihi.
Trump was monitoring the situation, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
More than 5,000 American troops are in Iraq as part of the effort to fight the self-described Islamic State. The country shares a long border with Iran, and Tehran has broad influence there through a network of allied militias and politicians. Soleimani’s killing made an Iranian response inevitable and put U.S. citizens and interests at risk, the Trump administration and analysts said. U.S. and Iraqi officials said this week that they were preparing for the movement of American forces out of Iraq ― a prospect that achieves one of Iran’s top goals and is a boon for ISIS as it attempts to regroup.
How the Wednesday attack affects the chances of further U.S.-Iran confrontation isn’t immediately clear.
“This may be a big deal or it may be a symbolic way to launch some [initial] retaliatory strikes that are easy to execute without that much damage,” Ilan Goldenberg, a former State and Defense Department official now with the Center for a New American Security, wrote on Twitter. “We need to wait and see.”
The IRGC said it intends to retaliate against U.S. allies if they allow further American attacks on Iran to be launched from their countries, Fassihi reported. That’s a worrying prospect for a range of nations, including Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and even Turkey. Regional officials, including from Iran’s chief rival Saudi Arabia, have loudly been saying they want to see tensions reduced and are not eager for an outright and broad conflict.
Lawmakers have also urged restraint and plan to soon consider legislation they hope will limit Trump’s ability to strike Iran.