Five days after Major General Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force chief, was killed in a U.S. air strike outside Baghdad airport, Iran on 8 January 2020 launched ballistic missile attacks at American troops in two military bases in Iraq. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has said that the attacks on the Erbil and Al-Asad bases were a retaliation for the killing of the General, who was one of the top military leaders of the country and the main architect of Iran’s foreign security and intelligence operations.
- Initial reports suggest that there are no American casualties, though damage and military assessments are still under way. Whether there were American casualties or not, this is a pivotal moment in the U.S.-Iran tensions as this is the first time Iran is launching a direct attack at the U.S. troops and owning it up.
- Practically, these are acts of war, though there’s no formal war declaration. First, the U.S. took out an Iranian military leader in a third country and now Iran has struck U.S. troops.
- Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self defence under Article 51 of [the] UN Charter targeting base from which [the] cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched.
- The Iranian response was expected. The call for revenge was reverberating throughout the procession rallies of Soleimani.
- A mosque in the Shia holy city of Qom in Iran had unfurled a red flag indicating that war was coming. Kataib Hezbollah, a unit in the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the umbrella organisation of Iraqi Shia militias that Soleimani helped build, had asked Iraqi forces to stay away from the bases that house American soldiers, indicating that U.S. troops in Iraq could be targeted.
- Iran has launched a calculated, limited strike that doesn’t cause much damage to the Americans but yet makes good on its pledge for revenge. It is an escalating step, but not yet an all-out war.
- By hitting the U.S. base in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran may also be sending a message to Washington.
- Erbil houses not just American soldiers but also a large American consulate. The U.S. has deep ties with the Iraqi Kurdistan and it would like to keep some U.S. troops in the autonomous region even if its forces are forced to pull back from the rest of Iraq.
- It’s to be noted that most Kurdish lawmakers had boycotted Iraqi Parliament session in which lawmakers passed a resolution to expel American troops from the country.
- For the U.S., some troops in Iraq are necessary to retain its presence in Syria. So Iran’s message was that, ‘you’re not safe in Erbil’.