In a developing situation, Iran has fired ballistic missiles at two US military bases in Iraq. Here’s what we know so far about the attacks, the response, and the impact for NZ forces currently in the country.
Last updated 4.14pm.
What has happened?
Iranian state TV has confirmed that missiles have been fired at US military targets in neighbouring Iraq, and the US government has confirmed that two bases have been hit. They are Ain al-Assad in Western Iraq and Irbil to the north. Both have significant numbers of US and Coalition soldiers stationed there, with casualties and damage still being assessed.
I’ve seen other things being said on Twitter.
At this stage, it is too early to report if other actions or escalations have taken place. Many initial reports will contain falsehoods, misinformation or propaganda, and aren’t necessarily credible. For example, some of the pictures circulating on social media purportedly showing these strikes actually show events from years ago, in completely different countries.
The missile attack follows an airstrike ordered by US president Donald Trump, in which senior Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani was assassinated. The missile attacks, says Tehran, are justified as revenge strikes.
What does Trump say about what has happened?
As yet, he hasn’t tweeted about it, nor has there been an official statement in his name. However, a White House spokesperson said: “the President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.”
UPDATE – 3.52pm: Donald Trump has now tweeted.
All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020
Will there be further retaliation?
That is unclear, however earlier in the week Trump vowed to destroy 52 Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliated to the Soleimani assassination.
UPDATE 3.42pm: The following statement has been made by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
Does New Zealand have troops currently in Iraq?
Yes. There are currently 50 NZDF personnel stationed in Iraq, with 45 of those at Camp Taji. At this stage, we don’t have confirmation about whether the base was targeted, though it was on alert. While there were some initial reports it had been hit, those have since been corrected. The NZ troops are there as part of an anti-ISIS coalition, which arrived on the invitation of the Iraqi government.
Are New Zealand troops leaving?
The deployment is scheduled to end later this year, but at this stage it appears that they will be staying. Radio NZ has reported comments from defence minister Ron Mark, who says there are no plans to withdraw early, and that there had not yet been a formal request from the Iraqi government to do so.
“We will continue to monitor the situation,” he said.
“This is a time for cool heads and calm. There are families back here in New Zealand who I guess can be sensitive to reporting – from our position and Defence’s position it’s about maintaining stringent situational awareness, making calm, cool, collected assessments.”
UPDATE – 4.14pm: Acting PM and foreign minister Winston Peters has just released a statement.
“Now is the time for restraint and de-escalation, and for diplomacy to take over,” Mr Peters said.
“It is important to note that the missile attacks did not target Camp Taji and the Government has been informed that all New Zealand personnel are as safe as they can be in these developing circumstances.
“The Government is working actively with our partners through military and diplomatic channels, and we continue to keep the security situation under close review, including implications for our personnel,” Mr Peters said.
How does Iraq feel about the latest developments?
Not good. After the Soleimani assassination, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling on foreign troops to leave Iraq immediately. It wasn’t a binding resolution, and comes with the additional caveat that many MPs abstained from taking part. However, it is clear that there is a significant amount of anger in the country that they were used as a staging ground for the American airstrike. Iraqi PM Adil Abdul al-Mahdi has also attacked the US government over a recent blunder, in which a draft letter announcing US troop withdrawals was released, and then almost immediately had to be walked back.