Trump pulls back from war with Iran
US President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, January 8, 2020. President Donald Trump said Wednesday Iran appeared to be "standing down" after missile strikes on US troop bases in Iraq that resulted in no American or Iraqi deaths."All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. Our great American forces are prepared for anything," he said in an address to the nation from the White House.
AFP/Eric Baradat
Trump pulls back from war with Iran
Sebastian Smith (Agence France-Presse) - January 9, 2020 - 8:57am

WASHINGTON, United States — President Donald Trump pulled back from the brink of war with Iran on Wednesday, saying that Tehran appeared to be "standing down" after firing missiles — without causing casualties — at US troops based in Iraq.

In a televised address to the nation from the White House, Trump emphasized there were "no Americans harmed" in the ballistic missile salvo aimed at two bases.

While he promised to immediately impose "punishing" new economic sanctions on Tehran, Trump welcomed signs the Islamic republic "appears to be standing down" in the tit-for-tat confrontation.

The comments cooled what threatened to become an uncontrolled boiling over of tensions after Trump ordered the killing last Friday of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani.

In New York, the Nasdaq stock market index surged to a record high of 9,129.24.

However, the US president, facing both an impeachment trial in Congress and a tough reelection in November, defended his targeting of a man seen by many as Iran's second most influential official.

Soleimani, a national hero at home, was "the world's top terrorist" and "should have been terminated long ago," Trump said.

And although Trump ended his remarks with a call for peace, he opened by stating that he would never allow Iran to procure a nuclear weapon.

He then urged European allies and other world powers to follow America's lead in abandoning an international agreement on managing the country's nuclear ambitions.

It was Trump's 2018 withdrawal from that agreement and the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions against Iran which began an intensification of tensions between the two countries.

Missiles blast bases

Iran's missiles targeted the sprawling Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq and a base in Arbil, both housing American and other foreign troops from a US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State jihadist group. 

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier promised "revenge" for Soleimani, called the missiles a "slap in the face" against the United States.

He indicated there was more to come.

"The question of revenge is another issue," Khamenei said in a televised speech.

Iraq's military said it also sustained no casualties. But the strike highlighted the difficult position of Iraq, caught in an ever-deepening conflict between Trump and Iran.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh rejected Iraq being a "battlefield for warring sides."

Iran has powerful militia allies in Iraq and they said they intended to take revenge for Friday's US drone attack, in which top Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis died alongside Soleimani.

Muhandis was the deputy head of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network incorporated into the Iraqi state whose factions are backed by Tehran.

Late Wednesday two rockets, fired by unidentified forces, landed in the supposedly high-security Green Zone, where US and other embassies are located, security sources said. AFP correspondents heard two loud detonations.

Unusual brazenness

The brazenness of Iran's ballistic missile strike was unusual.

But as the dust settled, it appeared that Iran's attack — coming soon after the burial of Soleimani at a funeral in front of vast crowds — might have been more symbolic than anything.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated Iran was satisfied for now.

"Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense," Zarif said on Twitter.

Iraq analyst Ramzy Mardini told AFP "it's clear that Iran's intent wasn't to inflict pain or cause justification for the US to retaliate in a major way. It was meant to send a signal."

That signal could either have been a face-saving measure aimed at public opinion or a way of showing Washington that Tehran would not be cowed by Trump's bellicose warnings, Mardini said.

Reflecting deep concerns among Trump's domestic opponents, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives scheduled a vote for Thursday on limiting the Republican president's ability to wage war against Iran without congressional approval.

US headaches in Iraq

The apparent de-escalation in Iran did not remove pressure from approximately 5,200 US troops stationed across Iraq, where they face pro-Iranian Shiite militias and political opposition.

Paramilitary chief Qais al-Khazali — blacklisted as a "terrorist" by the US — said his side's response to the United States "will be no less than the size of the Iranian response."

Angered at the US drone strike, the Iraqi parliament has called for expulsion of American troops, sparking embarrassing confusion at the Pentagon over how to respond.

National Security Action, a Washington foreign policy think tank headed by Trump critics, said the killing of Soleimani had alienated Iraqis, united Iranians and weakened the international fight against Islamic State.

"Trump's reckless approach has created a dangerous reality in which the best case scenario is avoiding war with Iran," the group said.

Airliner crash kills 176

Separately, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crashed just outside Tehran after taking off bound for Kiev, killing all 176 people on board shortly after Iran launched its missiles towards Iraq.

There was no immediate suggestion of any link with the strikes but carriers including Air France, Royal Dutch Airlines and Lufthansa announced they were suspending flying though Iranian and Iraqi airspace as a precaution. 

The US aviation regulator banned civil flights over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf, citing the potential for "misidentification" of aircraft. — with Maya Gebeily in Baghdad and Marc Jourdier in Tehran

DONALD TRUMP IRAN UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 2, 2020 - 8:13am

Saudi Arabia reveals extensive damage to key oil facilities following weekend aerial strikes that were blamed on Iran, but vows to quickly restore full production even as regional tensions soar.

Yemen's Tehran-linked Huthi rebels, who announced a sudden halt to attacks on Saudi Arabia, claims the strikes on state giant Aramco's facilities in Khurais and the world's largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq.

But Washington has pointed the finger at Tehran, condemning an "act of war" which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia's oil production and on Friday prompted US President Donald Trump to sketch out the latest in a series of economic sanctions against Iran. — AFP

March 2, 2020 - 8:13am

Two rockets crashes overnight near the US embassy in the Iraqi capital's Green Zone, a security source said, in the 20th attack against US assets in the country in four months. 

None of the multiple attacks since October targeting either the Baghdad embassy or the roughly 5,200 US troops stationed across Iraq has been claimed.

But the US has pointed the finger at Iran-backed groups within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network officially incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces. — AFP

February 2, 2020 - 2:39pm

Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell is expected in Tehran Monday, Iran's foreign ministry announces a day ahead of the visit, amid new tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue.

Borrell "will visit Iran tomorrow for the first time since taking office (in early December). He is set to meet the foreign minister (Mohammad Javad Zarif) and other Iranian senior officials for consultations," foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Moussavi says in a statement. — AFP

January 29, 2020 - 12:33pm

The number of US troops injured by an Iranian missile strike in Iraq this month has risen to 50, according to new figures released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The personnel have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI), Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

The military had said on Friday that 34 troops were injured in the strike on the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on January 8.

US President Donald Trump had initially said no Americans were hurt by the missiles, and Democrats later accused him of trying to downplay the injuries.

Iran fired on Iraqi bases housing US troops in retaliation for an American drone attack that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, raising fears of war. — AFP

January 21, 2020 - 9:09am

Three rockets hit near the US embassy in the Iraqi capital's high-security Green Zone, security sources told AFP, with no immediate reports of casualties. 

Sirens could be heard across the zone immediately after the rockets made impact. 

The US has blamed Iran-backed paramilitary groups for a spate of similar attacks in recent months on the Green Zone, but there has never been a claim of responsibility.

January 18, 2020 - 2:46pm

President Donald Trump warns Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to be "very careful with his words."

"The so-called 'Supreme Leader' of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe," Trump tweets of Khamenei's comments in Tehran.

According to Trump, Khamenei's blistering speech, in which he attacked the "vicious" United States and described Britain, France and Germany as "America's lackey's," is a mistake.

"Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering. He should be very careful with his words!" Trump tweets.

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