Iran warns of more attacks on US troops

Iran on Thursday warned the US that the retaliatory missile attacks on two of its bases in Iraq this week over the killing of Iran’s top commander Qasem Soleimani will be followed by major operations to evict American troops from the region, local reports say.

The warning given by Brig Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh, above, commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is a snub to US President Donald Trump who told his nation on Wednesday that Iranian troops seem to have backed off after their missile strikes on US bases.

Gen Hajizadeh’s announcement in Tehran came hours after two rockets exploded near the US embassy in Baghdad. No one was injured in Thursday’s attack in the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone which was targeted earlier this week by an Iranian-backed local militia.

Operation Martyr Soleimani

In the offensive code-named Operation Martyr Soleimani, some 13 missiles hit the targets at US bases in Ein Al-Assad in south-western Iraq and near Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan Region on Tuesday night. Dozens of US soldiers were killed or wounded and transferred to Israel and Jordan on nine sorties of C-130 flights, Gen Hajizadeh said.

Iran would have fired hundreds of missiles had the US retaliated, he said.

Asked why the US did not hit back, the General said they showed restraint after the missile attacks came as a slap in their face.

Trump’s peace offer

In his televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Trump said no US military personnel was harmed by the missile attacks as the early warning systems worked perfectly. He also ruled out any military action against Iran. Without naming that country, he said the US is ready for peace with any nation that seeks it.

Americans welcomed it as the economy was doing well and jobs were rising. Other nations too heaved a sigh of relief amid a global economic slowdown.

Personally, Trump did not want a war days ahead of his impeachment trial in Congress and months before his re-election bid.

The US security team including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and other military leaders must have advised him about the risks involved in starting a war with Iran.

However, Trump announced tougher sanctions on Iran until it changes its behaviour.

Defending his decision to eliminate Soleimani last Friday, Trump said the “top terrorist” should have been killed long ago as he had the blood of US soldiers and fellow Iranians on his hands.

Trump remained silent on the “imminent” threat posed by Soleimani that led to his assassination.

The president reaffirmed that he would never allow Iran to procure a nuclear weapon.

He also urged the five signatories of the Iran nuclear deal — the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China — to abandon it like the US did in 2018.

Trump’s speech indicated that the US is pulling away from an imminent conflict. It also offered Washington and Tehran a window of opportunity for peace talks as Trump said he is expecting an attitudinal shift and not a regime change in Iran.

The “punishing” sanctions Trump hinted at may be just a tactic to bring Iran to the negotiating table. To begin with, the two sides can engage in secret talks respecting the sentiments of millions of Iranians still mourning over Soleimani.

In his speech, Trump also said his country does not need Middle East oil and Nato should take a more active role in the region. It may be a sign that he will order the withdrawal of most soldiers from Syria and Iraq in the months ahead.

The Syrian pull-out plan is still working very slowly. The 5,000-odd US troops in Iraq may be forced to leave after the Iraqi parliament voted for an immediate pull-out.

However, those who want the US troops to stay in Iraq to fight the Islamic State argue that most lawmakers were carried away by sentiments over the killing of Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iranian-backed Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces and others.

Soleimani arrived at Baghdad airport last Friday as a state guest and Muhandis and his team went there to receive him when the US drone attack killed them.  

The pro-US lobby in Iraq also argue that Sunni lawmakers were not present at the House during voting and some other MPs abstained from voting.

Despite Soleimani’s killing, Iran’s political leaders did not personally attack Trump the way Democrats are doing. For instance, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif only said Trump was misguided by his advisers while ordering the assassination.

Iran has several mature leaders like Zarif who can hold talks with Washington to ease the current tensions in the region. Trump should listen to them.