President Donald Trump on Wednesday tempered days of angry rhetoric and suggested Iran was “standing down” after it fired missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq overnight, as both sides looked to defuse a crisis over the U.S. killing of an Iranian general.
Trump said the United States did not necessarily have to hit back at Iran’s attack on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, itself an act of retaliation for the Jan. 3 U.S. strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.
Trump said no Americans were hurt in the overnight attacks. The Pentagon said Iran had launched 16 short-range ballistic missiles, at least 11 of which hit Iraq’s al-Asad air base and one that hit a facility in Erbil but caused no major damage.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressing a gathering of Iranians chanting: “Death to America,” said the missile attacks were a “slap on the face” of the United States and said U.S. troops should leave the region.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said the strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response to the killing of Soleimani, who built up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. He was buried in his hometown, Kerman, after days of national mourning.
Influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who casts himself as a nationalist rejecting both U.S. and Iranian interference in Iraq, also said the crisis Iraq was experiencing was over and he urged militia groups not to carry out attacks.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News in an interview that the United States was receiving “encouraging intelligence that Iran is sending messages” to its allied militias not to attack U.S. targets.
But Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he and others in the military “fully expect” Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq, backed by Iran, to carry out attacks against U.S. and U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Syria.
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