Iran fired ‘more than a dozen’ ballistic missiles last night against two airbases in Iraq where US and coalition forces, including British troops, are based.
The series of revenge missile strike were launched on American positions in retaliation for the assassination of revered general, Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on Friday.
Targets in Erbil in northern Iraq and the Ain al-Asad airbase in the country’s west are thought to be in areas of Iraq where UK troops are also based.
Security sources said nine rockets hit the sprawling Ain al-Asad airbase, the largest of the Iraqi military compounds where foreign troops are housed.
Last night Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Britain would do ‘what it has to do’ to defend itself, amid fears of Iranian revenge on UK forces as well as their US allies.
It came as Iran branded the UK a ‘partner in crime’ of the US by Iranian officials who summoned Robert Macaire, Britain’s ambassador to Tehran, to the Iranian foreign ministry yesterday.
Multiple rockets were launched by Iran at Al-Asad airbase in Iraq that is home to US and coalition forces, including British troops
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace speaking in the House of Commons on Middle East security in which he said Britain would do ‘what it has to do’ to defend itself if Iran attacked its personnel
Paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces and local tribal militias participate in the military operations of the Iraqi army Seventh Brigade near the Ain al-Asad airbase in Anbar, Iraq
Wallace told the House of Commons that non-essential British personnel had now been withdrawn from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to a base 40 miles north of the city.
It is thought that Iranian authorities are furious at the UK government for backing the Washington’s right to self-defence when it struck Soleimani’s convey.
They were hoping for the UK to condemn the attack on Iran’s leader of the feared Quds Force.
British diplomat Robert Macaire was told that ‘to the people and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, such positions constitute an alliance with the US terrorist act’, according to the Telegraph.
Wallace also told the Commons military helicopters and ships were currently ‘on standby’, in case British soldiers and civilians needed to be evacuated from the region.
HMS Montrose and HMS Defender will resume their duties escorting British-flagged ships through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
The vital shipping lane became a flash-point for heightened US-Iran tensions when two tankers were attacked and a British-vessel was seized by Revolutionary Guard commandos last July.
Wallace said the assassinated general had not been a ‘friend’ to peace, and added that Tehran’s actions had been stoking problems in the region by coordinating proxy militias.
He repeated Washington’s view that Soleimani had been plotting attacks on US targets when he was killed, adding: ‘The UK has always defended the right of countries to defend themselves.’
But one Iranian diplomat claimed Britain should have condemned the killing, saying: ‘The message was that we expected the British government to condemn the act of terror, and we are not happy that they did not.’
The attack, dubbed operation ‘Martyr Soleimani’ in Iran, came in three waves just after midnight, sources said.
Nine Iranian rockets hit the Ain al-Asad airbase in the west of Iraq, the largest of the Iraqi military compounds where foreign troops are based
Iran swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack on two Iraqi bases and threatened ‘more crushing responses’ if Washington retaliated
Iran swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, with state TV saying it had launched ‘tens of missiles’ on the base and promised ‘more crushing responses’ if the US carried out further strikes.
Iran threatened ‘more crushing responses’ if Washington carried out further strikes, the Islamic Republic’s state media said.
It said the missiles were in response to a US strike last week that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
The Pentagon said Iran had fired more than a dozen missiles against Ain al-Asad and another installation hosting US and coalition forces near Arbil.
It said bases hosting foreign troops had expected an attack and had been on ‘high alert’ for days.
President Donald Trump was ‘monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team’, according to the White House.
The attack came after pro-Tehran factions in Iraq had vowed to join forces to ‘respond’ to the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis last week.
Soleimani was seen as the ‘godfather’ of Tehran’s proxy network across the region and Muhandis, one of his top advisors, was the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network.
An Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting video allegedly showed rockets launched from Iran against the US military base in Ein-al Asad in Iraq
Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded the streets to follow his funeral procession
Many factions within the Hashed, which has been incorporated into the Iraqi state, have ties to Tehran.
On Tuesday, a hardline Hashed faction issued its fiercest threat yet to retaliate.
‘The US Marines must immediately return to their dens to make their coffins,’ said Akram al-Kaabi, head of the Harakat al-Nujaba group.
‘The International Resistance Regiments have been formed in order to execute a harsh, deliberate response to the American terrorist forces,’ Kaabi added.
His deputy had earlier called for an urgent meeting to unite anti-American forces across Iraq.
‘We will wage a war against the American presence in all parts of the region that we can reach,’ said Nasr al-Shammary.
US installations across Iraq had faced some 15 rocket attacks in recent months but none had been claimed.
As a result, the US-led coalition and NATO announced they were temporarily suspending their operations in Iraq.