Iran attacks bases housing US troops

By Meg Wagner, Ivana Kottasová, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT) January 9, 2020
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8:15 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Soleimani "had the blood of British troops on his hands," Boris Johnson says

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian military leader who was killed by the US in Baghdad last week, had the “blood of British troops on his hands.”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson defended what he has called the United States' “right to protect” its bases and personnel.

Johnson said:

Qasem Soleimani was responsible for many years – amongst other things – of arming the Houthis with missiles, with which they attacked innocent civilians; arming Hezbollah with missiles, which again they used to attack innocent civilians; sustaining the Assad regime in Syria – one of the most brutal and barbaric regimes in the world; and, of course, supplying improvised explosive devices to terrorists who, I’m afraid, killed and maimed British troops.

“That man had the blood of British troops on his hands,” the prime minister added.

Johnson asserted that the issue of legality “is not for the UK to determine,” but added that the US “has the right to protect its bases and its personnel” in the region.

8:14 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Iran's strikes may be a smart diplomatic move

Analysis by Nic Robertson in Riyadh

Iran’s choice of target is significant. If it wanted to kill lots of American soldiers in Iraq there were easier bases to strike.

I’ve been to al-Asad airbase – it’s vast and it’s remote. Strikes there could find plenty of dead ground away from troop bunkers and would have little risk of civilian collateral killings.

Iraqi military commanders had been warned by Iran to stay away from US bases and US officials confirm their troops, too, had adequate warning to shelter from the attack.

Iran is trying to have its cake and eat it. Create the impression of a fearsome strike for domestic consumption without actually risking escalation.

So far, it’s working — soon after the ballistic missiles slammed into the base, President Trump tweeted “all is well,” “so far, so good.”

(File photo) Iranian lawmakers vote during a parliamentary session in Tehran.
(File photo) Iranian lawmakers vote during a parliamentary session in Tehran. Photo: ICANA NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images

There is one message for the international community and another for the Iranians who flocked to the streets for Qasem Soleimani’s funeral.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, called the strike “proportional,” while the theocracy’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told cheering crowds in Tehran it was a “crushing” blow.

Other Iranian officials speaking for international consumption say there is no need for further strikes unless the US escalates the situation. Meanwhile, some Iranian news outlets are ramping up propaganda, claiming the killing of many US troops when every reliable source says no US troops were killed.

A full US battle damage assessment has begun, and Trump is expected to speak later Wednesday, but every indication so far points toward a military off-ramp moment.

How diplomacy picks up is hard to say. In many ways the situation is back to where it was in the minutes before Soleimani’s killing.

The question will be — and this was always the gamble in killing the architect and inspiration of Iran’s overseas aggression — will the ayatollahs now decide they can’t get away with the attacks as they did, or do they believe their own domestic hype, and that it is for the US to back down on sanctions and pull out of the region.

Regardless of what they or the White House believe, the door to de-escalation has opened a crack — diplomacy might just slip into the room.

8:07 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Germany: "We call on Iran to refrain from any steps that could lead to further escalation"

From Samantha Tapfumaneyi

The German Foreign Ministry condemned the Iranian strikes on military bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said today on Twitter:

We condemn the Iranian missile attack on Iraqi military bases where coalition forces are also stationed. We call on Iran to refrain from any steps that could lead to further escalation. We have been in contact with all sides for the past few days and are working to help de-escalate the situation. We call on all sides to exercise calm and restraint.”

Germany has announced earlier it would temporarily withdraw some troops from Iraq. The German Defense Ministry told CNN yesterday that about 35 soldiers from Baghdad and Taji have been moved to Kuwait and Jordan.

Other German troops remain, for example in Erbil, in a training fashion, the spokesman said.

8:03 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Here's why Iran's strikes may have intentionally avoided US casualties

Analysis by CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut

Iran's missile strikes against bases in Iraq housing American troops were not an act designed to kill the most Americans possible.

Iran would have known that US troops are normally asleep in the early hours of the morning, and the chances of inflicting casualties are lower.

It will also have known the US has a strong air defense that would likely have been on high alert. Tehran should have a grasp of how well its missiles would fare against such technology.

The missile attacks don't make sense if Iran's goal was to really hurt US troops in large numbers — as some had been pledging to do.

They do make sense, however, as the execution of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's order to strike back openly against US military targets in response to the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Khamenei's instruction was confusing when first reported, as the US would be bound to prevail in a straight military-to-military conflict. Was the Supreme Leader ordering an empty show of force?

The Iranian strikes targeted bases in Iraq that house US troops.
The Iranian strikes targeted bases in Iraq that house US troops. Map: CNN

Read the full analysis here.

8:00 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Iranian news claims Americans were killed, without providing any evidence

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Without providing any evidence to support their claim, Iranian media are reporting that “80 US military personnel have been killed” and more than “200 US military personnel were injured” in the missile attack on two Iraqi military bases.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence source told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency today, that "early estimates indicate heavy US casualties in Iran's missile attack," again without showing any evidence. 

Remember: There has been no official statement from the Pentagon or any US officials, but a US official has told CNN that there are no reports of US casualties at this time. An assessment is still underway. Iraqi security officials also say there are no casualties among Iraqi security forces.

About Fars News: It is a semi-official news agency. Unlike press TV it is not state run, but it is known to have close ties to the IRGC and frequently reports stories that Tehran would approve of. Fars is known for its triumphant propaganda, often portraying the strength of the Iranian military in a favorable light.

7:57 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

NATO calls on Iran to stop further violence

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has joined the ranks of high-profile officials condemning the Iranian attack.

Posting on his Twitter account, he called on Iran to refrain from further violence.

7:56 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

The ball is in Trump's court now

Analysis by CNN's Christiane Amanpour

Again, we're slightly on a knife edge and we will have to wait what the US President Donald Trump says about this — although his initial tweet implies that this is the kind of response that they expected. 

Whether the United States will now decide that enough is enough for this moment and whether there's some other diplomatic, political or any kind of engagement going forward. 

First and foremost we wait because the ball is again in the Trump administration's court. 

It's very important to note that Javad Zarif, Iran's Foreign Minister, posted a tweet that is very, very clear: he has said Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under article 51 of the UN Charter.

He went on, saying: "We do not seek escalation or war but will defend ourselves against any aggression." 

This is a very clear comment, and it matches what he said in interviews with CNN in the days immediately after the killing of Soleimani.

7:52 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

British prime minister Boris Johnson condemns Iran's strikes

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London, England on Wednesday.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London, England on Wednesday. House of Commons/

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned Iran’s missile strikes on Iraqi military bases and called for “urgent de-escalation.”

Speaking in Parliament today, Johnson said:

We of course condemn the attack on Iraqi military base hosting coalition forces. Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks.” 

Johnson confirmed there were no British personnel casualties and added that the government is doing everything in its power, “of course to protect UK interests in the region.”

“We’ve relocated non-essential personal from Bagdad to Taji and we will do everything we can to prevent an escalation,” the prime minister added.

8:17 a.m. ET, January 8, 2020

Some in the Trump administration think Iran intentionally missed areas with Americans

From CNN's Kylie Atwood, Pamela Brown, Kaitlan Collins and Jim Sciutto

There is a growing belief among some administration officials that Iran’s missiles intentionally missed areas populated by Americans during attacks on Tuesday, multiple administration officials said. 

These officials floated the notion that Iran could have directed their missiles to hit areas that are populated by Americans — but specifically did not.

They suggested Iran may have chosen to send a message rather than take significant enough action to engender a substantial US military response, a possible signal the administration was looking for rationale to calm the tensions.

Missiles also hit close to the US consulate in Erbil, but didn’t go for the consulate itself, though the expectation is that they could have. Officials have said there were no US casualties as a result of the attacks.

The Pentagon is assessing whether this was the limit of Iran’s response and calibrated to ensure it didn’t cause significant damage, according to one source with knowledge. There are also questions about Iran’s targeting capabilities, which could have impacted the areas that were hit. 

“We could have done it and we didn’t do it,” is the message Iranians appeared to be sending, a State Department official said. 

What happens next: This interpretation will be presented to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a briefing today, and Pompeo is expected to brief the President at some point later in the day. 

The US gave Iran the “opportunity to do what they needed to do and not escalate by killing Americans,” the official said, suggesting how the administration could frame the retaliation. This was “a smart move” by the Iranians who demonstrated that they had “more to lose” if they killed Americans.

Now, the major question is if Iranian proxies follow suit, the official explained. 

Pompeo is “pragmatic” right now and the general sentiment last night was “let’s take a breath.”

There were no additional moves taken overnight to add any more protection to US diplomatic facilities abroad.