BAGHDAD/TEHERAN • Iran's revenge against the United States began yesterday at 1.20am Iraq time (6.20am Singapore time) - the same time its top military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed by an American drone at Baghdad International Airport just five days ago.
"The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guards has begun," the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement on a Telegram messaging app channel.
Over an intense half-hour, Iran bombed targets in neighbouring Iraq, striking in and around two large military bases that house thousands of Iraqi and American servicemen and women, as well as other US-led coalition troops.
Iran fired 22 missiles - which its Defence Minister said were Iranian-built - on Ain al-Asad airbase in the desert of western Anbar province and a base in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil.
Ain al-Asad has long been a hub for US military operations in western Iraq. Danish troops have also been stationed there in recent years.
The Erbil base has been a special operations hub to hundreds of American and other allied troops, logistics personnel and intelligence specialists throughout the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Iranian state media showed footage of what it said were the missiles being fired into the night sky.
In the background, voices shouted "God is greatest". State media also showed what it said were images of the blasts where the missiles struck.
It was not possible to verify the images' authenticity.
But when the barrage of missiles was over, the damage appeared to be on the bases' infrastructure, not on people.
In a statement released yesterday morning, the joint command in Baghdad, which includes both Iraqi and international representatives, said that neither coalition nor Iraqi forces had "recorded any losses".
RISKING REGIONAL CONFLICT
Nobody has the right to throw the whole region, particularly Iraq, into a new ring of fire.
TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN
ISRAEL READY IF ATTACKED
Whoever tries to attack us will be dealt the strongest blow.
ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU
HOPE FOR DE-ESCALATION
We are hoping the wisdom of both sides will de-escalate the tension.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES ENERGY MINISTER SUHAIL AL MAZROUEI
USE PEACEFUL MEANS
China has always advocated that all parties should properly resolve their conflicts and differences through dialogue, negotiation and other peaceful means.
CHINA'S FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN GENG SHUANG
IRAN MUST STOP ATTACKS
Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks but must instead pursue urgent de-escalation.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Of the 22 missiles, 17 were aimed at Ain al-Asad, two of which fell outside, near the city of Hit, but did not explode, officials said.
The other five missiles were aimed at the Erbil airbase and hit the headquarters building.
Damage assessments were ongoing yesterday.
Iranian state television, however, said 80 "American terrorists" had been killed and US helicopters and military equipment damaged. It did not provide evidence of how it obtained that information.
After the missile assault, some Iranian officials posted images of their country's flag on Twitter, in a pointed rejoinder to US President Donald Trump, who tweeted an American flag after Major-General Soleimani was killed last Friday.
The burial of the powerful commander, seen as a national hero in Iran, was completed around the same time as the missile launches yesterday.
Iranian television showed mourners celebrating the attack. Hundreds of people chanted "God is greatest" when the strikes were announced over loudspeakers.
"His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace," Iranian television said.
In its statement, the IRGC said "Operation Martyr Soleimani" was in response to "the criminal and terrorist operation of the American invaders and to avenge the cowardly assassination and painful martyrdom of the heroic leader" of the elite Quds Force.
It warned that "any territory used in any way as a base for hostile and aggressive acts against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be targeted".
More than 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq, along with other foreign forces, in a coalition that has trained and backed Iraqis against the threat of ISIS militants.
Iran's firing of ballistic missiles from inside its borders - not relying on rockets from Iranian-backed proxies - was a significant escalation of force that threatened to ignite a widening conflict throughout the Middle East.
It was also a stark message from Teheran that it has the will and the ability to strike at US targets in neighbouring Iraq.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the strikes "concluded" Teheran's response to the killing of Maj-Gen Soleimani, who had been responsible for building up Iran's network of proxy armies across the Middle East.
"We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression," Mr Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the attacks as "a slap in the face" for the US and demanded that the US presence in the region come to an end.
Iranian television reported an official in the office of the Supreme Leader as saying that the missile attacks were the "weakest" of several retaliation scenarios.
It quoted another source as saying that Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets.