This article titled “Congress to vote on curbing president’s war powers – as it happened” was written by Maanvi Singh in San Francisco (now) and Joanna Walters in New York (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 9th January 2020 01.15 UTC
- Congress will vote tomorrow on legislation to curb the president’s war powers. “The Admin must work with the Congress to advance an immediate, effective de-escalatory strategy which prevents further violence,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said, after she and other members of the House disparaged Trump for failing to consult or inform them before ordering the assassination of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
- Rockets reportedly fell on the “Green Zone” around the US embassy and military facilities in Baghdad today, but details have been scarce.
- Trump spoke with Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson on the phone. The leaders discussed working together to ensure that Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon.
Catch up on news and analysis of the US-Iran crisis:
- Trump pulls back for now but game of chicken with Tehran far from over
- The optics of Trump’s announcement: America stands ready to strike
- EU leaders relieved as Trump steps away from Iran conflict
- ‘They took good revenge’: Iranians respond to Iraq strikes
- False claims spread online after Iran missile attack on Iraqi airbases
Updated at 1.15am GMT
Mike Pence said the US isn’t seeking a regime change in Iran, but wants “to see the regime change its behavior” in an interview on CBS.
The vice-president earlier tweeted that the “America is safer and stronger because of President Trump’s decisive action” toward Iran.
Pence’s tone matches that of Trump, vacillating between appearing strong and backing off. As the Guardian’s Tom McCarthy wrote in his analysis, though Trump’s public address this morning, which he delivered while “flanked by cabinet members and backed by eight military officers, communicated a clear subtext: America stood ready to strike” – even as his speech was notably non-provocative.
Updated at 12.48am GMT
Lindsey Graham said that fellow Republican senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul were “overreacting” and that those seeking to limit the president’s war powers were “empowering the enemy”.
Lee told Fox News that it was “wrong” for the Trump administration to insist that there must be “no dissension” in the GOP over warlike actions from the president.
In the aftermath of the Iran missile attacks, there’s been a spread of online disinformation. The Guardian’s Jim Waterson reports:
Iran’s missile attacks on two Iraqi airbases have been accompanied by a spread of online disinformation, falsely labelled images and claims of news sources being hacked, which have added to jitters in the region regarding the attacks.
Iranian state television said on Wednesday that at least 80 “American terrorists” were killed, despite the US making clear that it had not sustained any casualties as a result of rocket attacks on Iraqi military bases hosting American troops. The attacks occurred in retaliation for the US’s assassination of the powerful Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Iran has a long history of running state-backed disinformation campaigns which attempt to influence opinion overseas, with Facebook regularly banning Iranian pages it believes are spreading false and divisive material aimed at audiences in the US and UK.
Twitter suspended an account impersonating the Israeli journalist Jack Khoury, which had been used to promote false claims that hundreds of US soldiers had been injured in the attacks and claimed they had been secretly evacuated to a hospital in Tel Aviv by a military aircraft.
An initial assessment by western intelligence agencies has found that the Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran wasn’t brought down by a missile, according to a Reuters report citing an anonymous Canadian security source.
Earlier today, Tehran said it would not be handing the plane’s black box to Boeing, fueling concerns that the crash, which killed all 176 passengers, was caused by a missile aimed at Iraqi bases used by US forces.
Updated at 12.46am GMT
Top US General: Iran intended to kill Americans
The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Mark Milley, told reporters that Iran’s missile attack had been intended to kill American personnel and cause damage to the al-Asad airbase.
“I believe, based on what I saw and what I know, is that (the strikes) were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” Milley said. “But the analytics is in the hands of professional intelligence analysts. So they’re looking at that.”
The defense secretary, Mark Esper, said the intent has yet to be determined.
Updated at 10.54pm GMT
Hello again, US politics watchers, I take my leave now after a lively day but hand you over to my colleague, Maanvi Singh, in California to take you through the next few hours of US-involved geopolitical events and reaction here in the United States.
Key events so far today:
- The US House will vote tomorrow on new legislation to curb the president’s war powers, after Donald Trump failed to consult or inform Congress before he ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani last week.
- Rockets have been falling in the heavily-fortified “Green Zone” around the US Embassy and military facilities in Baghdad. Details scarce so far.
- Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau spoke on the phone about the US-Iranian crisis and the crash of a Ukrainian flight outside Tehran earlier today in which many Canadian passengers were killed.
- The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are meeting in Washington this hour.
- Donald Trump gave a live televised address at the White House this morning, in which he said “Iran appears to be standing down” after its relatively restrained missile strike on US facilities in Iraq overnight, and pledged more sanctions against Iran, but also appealed to the Islamic republic to explored “shared priorities” with the US, such as Islamic State.
“No evidence of imminent threat” – Booker
Here is some more reaction from both sides of the aisle – but in surprisingly parallel directions, rather than the usual polar opposite.
Booker and other Democrats running for president have had their campaigns rudely interrupted by the rising tension over Iran.
Less prominent 2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard was, seconds ago, on CNN saying more or less the same thing.
Meanwhile, Republican maverick Senators of the day, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Utah’s Mike Lee, are also exasperated.
Lee told Fox News that the congressional briefing was “lame” and that it was “wrong” for the senior Trump administration briefers – the secretary of state, defense secretary, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and director of the CIA – to tell GOP members of congress that there must be “no dissension” in the ranks over any warlike actions from Donald Trump.
It seems the members were given very luke warm, unreassuring assurances over whether Congress would be involved in any near future further actions of aggression towards Iran.
Lee called it the worst briefing he’d ever heard in his nine years in the Senate.
Updated at 10.12pm GMT
No casualties in Green Zone – initial reports
Still very few details about the latest incident in Baghdad. But here are a few more fragments, via Reuters.
Sirens were sounding inside the Green Zone. Police sources told Reuters at least one of the rockets fell 100 metres from the US Embassy.
“Two Katyusha rockets fall inside the Green Zone without causing casualties. Details to follow,” the military said.
Two loud blasts followed by sirens had been heard in Baghdad, Reuters witnesses said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
US House to vote tomorrow on new legislation to limit presidential war powers
US Democrats, who dominate the House of Representatives, are still furious that they were not consulted or even notified before Donald Trump took unilateral action late last week to assassinate senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani as he was being driven away from the Baghdad airport in Iraq.
It may be no more than a democratic gesture (given that the Republicans dominate the Senate and are foursquare behind their president, Trump) but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced the introduction of legislation to curb the president’s war powers, and it will come up for voting tomorrow.
As the Guardian’s senior political reporter, Lauren Gambino, just noted.
Nancy Pelosi tweeted about it earlier.
Here’s a bitter little tit-for-tat on Twitter last weekend.
Meanwhile, my world affairs editor colleague, Julian Borger, analyses the bigger picture on the US and Iran and where things stand this afternoon.
Rockets falling in Baghdad, Iraq
Latest report, with details just trickling in so far, is of three Katyusha rockets, commonly used my militias, have fallen inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone and have started a fire, police sources report, via Reuters.
The US embassy may have been the intended target.
Flights through Middle Eastern airspace to alter routes
Commercial airlines are rerouting flights throughout the Middle East to avoid potential danger during heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
Jumbled schedules could affect as many as 15,000 passengers per day, lengthen flight times by an average of 30 to 90 minutes, and severely bruise the bottom line for airlines, industry analysts said, and The Associated Press reported.
“In a war situation, the first casualty is always air transport,” said Dubai-based aviation consult Mark Martin, pointing to airline bankruptcies during the Persian Gulf and Yugoslav wars.
At least 500 commercial flights travel through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily, Martin said.
A Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after taking off from Iran’s capital early Wednesday killing 167 passengers and nine crew members just hours after Iran’s ballistic missile attack, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.
Air France and Dutch carrier KLM both said Wednesday that they had suspended all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace indefinitely.
German airline Lufthansa and two of its subsidiaries also canceled flights to Iraq.
The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights.”
Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia, route to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice.
Malaysia and Singapore Airlines are re-routing, too.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.
Fresh explosions heard in Baghdad
Initial reports coming in suggest that there were two loud blasts, moments ago, followed by sirens, Reuters witnesses said. The cause was not immediately clear.
Senior Trump administration figures brief members of Congress
The quartet of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the still relatively new defense secretary Mark Esper, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley and the historically-controversial CIA director Gina Haspel strode across Capitol Hill today to brief members of Congress on the Iran issues.
There is some difference of perspective on how effective the briefing was.
Here is a reported take from a Republican member of Congress:
Senior Democrat and chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Eliot Engel, who was deeply involved in the Trump impeachment inquiry, was unimpressed.
Mixed reaction from libertarian Republican Rand Paul:
Democrat Pramila Jayapal said of the administration’s stated justification for assassinating Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in the Baghdad area last week: “There was NO raw evidence presented that this [Suleimani plotting against US] was an imminent threat.”
Johnson and Trudeau talk on phone
British prime minister Boris Johnson and his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, had a telephone call with each other earlier in which they discussed the need for urgent de-escalation on all sides in the US-Iran crisis following Iranian missile attacks on military bases housing US troops in Iraq overnight, a spokesperson for Johnson said.
The leaders also discussed working together, and with international partners, to ensure Iran is prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Johnson also offered condolences for the Canadians who lost their lives in the Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
There are few specifics available in terms of the two leaders’ reactions to Donald Trump announcing this morning the intention for the US to impose further sanctions on Iran, and the US president’s urging of allies to abandon the “remnants” of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the international accord to trade a loosening of sanctions for Iran’s backing off from developing their own nuclear missile capability.
Updated at 8.16pm GMT
Air crash could further imperil US-Iranian relations
The pre-dawn crash of a US-built Boeing airliner in Iran earlier today, with the loss of 176 lives, looks set to strain fragile international protocols on co-operation in air disaster investigations at a time when the United States and Iran are already mired in confrontation.
The relatively new Boeing 737-800NG jet flown by Ukraine International Airlines burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran and crashed on Wednesday, Reuters writes this afternoon.
The results of an investigation and even the way it is set up and coordinated could inflame political differences as mystery surrounds the jet’s sudden nosedive, analysts said.
Iran and the United States are co-signatories of the basic global agreement on modern aviation 75 years ago and sit together at the United Nations’ aviation agency.
The 1944 Chicago Convention gave rise to strict rules about how air accidents should be investigated, marking a blueprint for co-operation that has largely stood the test of time even as member countries shunned other types of diplomatic cooperation.
As the country where the jet was designed and built, the United States has a right to be accredited to the investigation and would normally appoint Boeing, which is bogged down in its own corporate and safety crisis involving its ground 737 Max aircraft type, as its own technical adviser.
But Wednesday’s crash immediately triggered fresh signs of international distrust.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was prepared to offer Ukraine assistance but he did not mention any role for Iran in the ensuing investigation.
It’s been a lively day so far in US-facing international politics. There will be plenty more developments to come, so do read on. Here are the key events so far:
- British foreign secretary Dominic Raab and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo will meet in Washington later today. The event was brought forward and was originally scheduled to happen tomorrow. Earlier, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump talked on the phone, but almost no details have emerged.
- The US has promised full cooperation in investigations following the crash of a Ukrainian passenger flight shortly after take-off from Tehran in the early hours. There is unofficial talk that it was shot down.
- Donald Trump ended his live address at the White House earlier by appealing to Iran to coordinate with the US on “shared priorities” such as shutting off ISIS.
- Trump said in his address that Iran appears to be “standing down” after missile launches from Iran towards US forces in Iraq almost 24 hours ago avoided (perhaps deliberately, according to sources) causing any US casualties. Nevertheless, Trump announced more economic sanctions on Iran and asked NATO to get more involved.
Leading Iraqi signals US-Iran crisis is over – at least for Iraq
Influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said a little earlier today that the crisis Iraq was experiencing in recent days of heightened international tension is now over following de-escalation rhetoric from both Iran and the US. He called on Iranian-backed militia groups not to carry out attacks.
A new, strong Iraqi government able to protect the nation’s sovereignty and independence should be formed in the next 15 days and usher in an early election, the populist cleric said in a statement, Reuters reports.
He added that Iraqis should still seek to expel foreign troops, however.
“I call on the Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions, and to shut down the extremist voices of some rogue elements until all political, parliamentary and international methods have been exhausted,” he said.
The Guardian’s latest view on the US-Iran crisis is that relief from tension and aggression may be short-lived.
British foreign secretary and US secretary of state to meet within hours
Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign secretary, arrived in Washington an hour ago. He had been expected to meet with counterpart Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, tomorrow but the meeting has been brought forward to late this afternoon.
It’s now expected to take place at 4.30pm ET/9.30pm GMT this afternoon. So far, we understand the two will not make public remarks before they disappear into their tête-a-tête but that could always change in the moment.
The two have met before, several times, and this was a pre-planned visit following the Conservative Party victory in December’s UK general election. It’s not an emergency meeting following the eruption of the US-Iran crisis in the last week (which affects NATO, British troops in Iraq, Britain’s participation in the Iran nuclear deal and British interests overall in a stable Middle East).
But there seems little doubt the events of the last six days will now be on the agenda.
Donald Trump urged Britain and others earlier today to join the US in abandoning the Iran nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, a terse read-out from the White House on a phone call earlier today between Donald Trump and British prime minister Boris Johnson. “The two leaders discussed the current situation in the Middle East and agreed to continue close coordination in support of shared national security interests.”
The US did not consult nor notify the UK before it assassinated Iranian general Qassem Suleimani last week.
Updated at 6.39pm GMT
Russia and Turkey urge de-escalation
From Istanbul today: Turkey and Russia called on the US and Iran to prioritize diplomacy and de-escalate tensions, warning that the exchange of attacks by Washington and Tehran could lead to a new cycle of instability in the region.
The joint call was issued in a statement after a meeting between presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin in Turkey, where they were discussing cooperation on a gas pipeline, designed to connect the large gas reserves in Russia to the Turkish gas transportation network and provide energy supplies for Turkey, south and south-east Europe.
In part, the joint statement read: “We are deeply concerned about the escalation of the tension between the US and Iran as well as its negative repercussions on Iraq. We evaluate the targeting..of Qassem Suleimani and his entourage in Baghdad on 3 January as an act undermining security and stability in the region.
“In light of the ballistic missile attacks by Iran against coalition military bases in Iraq on 8 January 2020, we believe that exchange of attacks and use of force by any party do not contribute to finding solutions to the complex problems in the Middle East, but rather would lead to a new cycle of instability and would eventually damage everyone’s interests.”
US promises cooperation after air crash
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said a little earlier that the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner shortly after it took off from Tehran just over 12 hours ago.
In a statement, Pompeo said the US was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.
There is speculation that the plane was shot down, and it appeared to burst into flames in mid-air. There is no confirmation of, or official lines on, causes yet.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said that there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board. The Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew. There were also 10 Swedish passengers, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals, my Guardian colleagues in London and the Middle East report.
Meanwhile, announcing on his Facebook page that Ukraine would send a team of experts to Iran later today, president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said: “Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe.”
Updated at 6.08pm GMT
Highlights of Trump speech
Here are some more detailed quotes of some of the main points made in the US president’s short address from the White House a little earlier.
- Iran seen as standing down. “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”
- Boasting of US strength. “Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast…The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”
- A new Iran deal? Much to US allies’ chagrin, Trump announced in 2018 that the US intended to “exit” the 2013, multi-national Iran nuclear deal aimed at persuading Iran to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons in return for the easing of harsh economic sanctions. Trump said moments ago: “Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA.”
- Further sanctions: “As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.” No details given.
- NATO: “The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward. Today I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process.”
Trump talks of “shared priorities” with Iran, in apparent de-escalation
Donald Trump rounded off his short TV address to the public with what might normally be considered some small-talk or waffle but in the current context and with this president counts as actual diplomatic outreach.
It may be no more than lip service. But given that Trump often opts for bellicose and extremely simplistic rhetoric in denouncing or threatening anyone he regards as a foe, his closing sentences were noteworthy.
In fact, all the signals from the last 19 or so hours are that both Iran and the US have embarked on a hasty de-escalation of their sudden crisis.
But then he swiftly pivoted.
“ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran,” Trump said at the White House. “We should work together on this and other shared priorities. To the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future, and a great future, one that you deserve, of prosperity and harmony.”
He concluded that the US is “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
This might be meaningless chat from the US president but indicates an unusual level-headedness, however brief, communicated via Trump by those advising him and is a clear de-escalation of the rhetoric.
Calls on NATO to become more involved
In his short speech, Donald Trump, who has been scathing and mocking of NATO, called on the alliance to “get more involved in the Middle East”.
He didn’t go into further detail and went on to boast that the USA is now self-sufficient in oil and natural gas, as “the number one producer in the world”, and said: “We do not need Middle East oil.”
Trump then asserted, in warning Iran in characteristic tone, that “our missiles are big and powerful and accurate…and lethal.”
He said he didn’t want to use force, however, and said that “America’s strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”
Trump announces new sanctions on Iran
The US president just declared that he will impose additional economic sanctions on Iran.
He is calling on Europe to “break away from the remnants of the Iran nuclear deal”, which he called a “foolish” deal and had previously announced the US would abandon.
Trump has not given any details about the nature of further sanctions.
Trump: ‘We eliminated the world’s top terrorist’
Donald Trump has described last week’s missile assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani as “decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist”.
“Last week we eliminated the world’s top terrorist,” he said at the White House.
Updated at 4.36pm GMT
Trump says ‘Iran appears to be standing down’
Donald Trump has announced that there were no US casualties in the Iranian missile strikes on US facilities in Iraq last night.
“Iran appears to be standing down,” he said.
Updated at 4.36pm GMT
Trump addresses the public
The president has arrived and is now speaking.
Trump to address the public on TV in moments
The US president is about to arrive at a briefing podium in the White House and will begin speaking shortly on the latest developments in the US-Iran crisis. Watch, live.
Vice president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo just entered.
US Congress in limbo over Trump’s actions against Iran
Senior US House Democrats a little earlier today said there is no set schedule yet for voting on a war powers resolution that would limit Donald Trump’s actions regarding Iran, and that legislation is still being drafted.
Representatives are seeking to put a check on the president’s power after he failed to inform Congress in advance of the US drone strike last week that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani as he was driving away from Baghdad airport in Iraq.
Updated at 5.34pm GMT
Iraqi foreign ministry will summon Iranian ambassador
We are waiting for US president Donald Trump to make a televised address, live. He’s behind schedule by almost 15 minutes so far.
Meanwhile, despite what is being interpreted as relative restraint by Iran in its missile strikes last night, both towards the US and Iraq, the latest from Reuters is that the Iraqi foreign ministry plans to summon the Iranian ambassador in order to lodge an objection to the missile strikes on its soil.
Donald Trump preparing to address the public over the Iran crisis
The White House press pool has been called to gather at the door of the Palm Room at the White House.
They are waiting to enter an area called the grand foyer, in preparation for the president’s address at the top of the hour.
Portraits of Qassem Suleimani have been carried aloft in rallies from Gaza to Yemen, raising the prospect that his violent death will elevate him as an icon of anti-American resistance.
The powerful Iranian commander, who was buried on Wednesday, was hailed as a “living martyr” in the Islamic republic for his military and strategic exploits that included halting the Islamic State group as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria, the AFP agency writes.
After his assassination at the age of 62, in a US drone strike in Baghdad last week, some observers say his martyr status will grow, rendering him a figurehead for the disparate pro-Iranian groups that he guided and fostered.
“The shock factor isn’t so much that Suleimani has died – he was after all in many battles – but the way the US president has taken ownership of this will create that type of zeal and drive and commitment across the Middle East,” said Ellie Geranmayeh from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Suleimani was a polarising figure, even within his own country.
But the so-called Iranian “axis of resistance” stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea will now be “galvanised to focus more on their ultimate goal, which is the US withdrawal from as much of the Middle East as possible,” Geranmayeh told AFP.
Among Muslim Shiite communities, where Suleimani was seen as a champion in the face of Sunni aggression, there were expressions of grief, anger and resolve.
“The blood of the martyrs… is not just Iranian or Iraqi but belongs to the Muslim community and to free men around the world,” said a Huthi official in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital held by the Iran-backed militia.
At a mourning ceremony in the Gaza Strip Suleimani was eulogised by the militant Palestinian movement Islamic Jihad and his image was raised high in Lebanon.
In Iran, Suleimani was widely regarded as a hero for his staunch defence of the country, his defeat of the IS jihadist group, and his role in the grinding 1980s conflict between Iran and Iraq.
Since his death, Suleimani has been hailed as the “Che Guevara of the Middle East” in some quarters, but the region’s schisms and fractures present a much more complex picture.
“They’re packaging Suleimani as this foreign policy guru, martyr, strategist… away from the narrative that he was a terrorist and responsible for loss of life,” said Sanam Vakil from the London-based Chatham House.
Iran strategically avoided US casualties with missiles – report
Iran is believed to have deliberately sought to avoid US military casualties in last night’s missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, according to US and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments, Reuters writes moments ago.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the Iranians were thought to have targeted the attacks to miss US forces, in order to prevent the crisis from escalating out of control, while still sending a message of Iranian resolve.
A source in Washington said overnight that early indications were of no US casualties, while other US officials declined comment.
Updated at 3.51pm GMT
US Senate leader calls Iran and its proxies “a cancer” on Iraq
US Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, speaking in the chamber on Capitol Hill moments ago communicated a relatively cautious message, following the Iranian missile strikes last night and ahead of Donald Trump’s plan to address the nation on television at the top of the hour.
“I was troubled but not surprised by reports that Iran fired ballistic missiles at US forced,” he said, of the strikes within Iraq.
He said the Iranian threat “had been growing for years” and noted: “It will continue even beyond the death of Iran’s master terrorist Qassem Suleimani. We must remain vigilant.”
He pointed out that “apparently” there had been no injuries or deaths as a result of the strikes last night. “But they demonstrated progress Iran has made…towards a large and long-range missile force.”
McConnell then added that the strikes were “a stark reminder that Iran and its proxies have been a cancer on Iraqi sovereignty and politics for a long time.”
Senior Democrats have been expressing concern about the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about the standoff with Iran, and have called on officials in the Defense department to provide regular briefings and documents to Congress.
“While recognizing the need for operations security, we similarly believe there is a requirement to be transparent with the American people about how many troops this Administration plans to deploy in support of contingency plans,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and other senior Democrats wrote in a letter on Wednesday.
The Democrats also expressed grave concern over Trump’s recent comments on targeting Iranian cultural sites, and asked for clarification. They said they expected a response by Friday.
The Pentagon has contradicted Trump, saying cultural sites would not be a target. US secretary of defense Mark Esper acknowledged that such an attack is against international law and would be considered a war crime, adding: “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.”
The Iranian strikes on Iraqi bases last night appear to have been carefully designed to avoid US casualties, and may offer both sides a pathway out of the standoff, the Guardian’s Michael Safi writes:
The Iranian strikes were heavy on symbolism. The missiles were launched around 1.30am in Iraq, roughly the same time as the drone strike that killed Suleimani outside Baghdad’s airport on Friday morning. The first projectiles struck their targets shortly after the Iranian general’s coffin was lowered into the ground in the city of Kerman. The Revolutionary Guards called the operation “Martyr Suleimani”. They distributed videos of the missiles being launched to be broadcast across Iranian media.
Despite this theatricality, the attacks appear to have been carefully designed to avoid US casualties: fired at bases that were already on high alert and so far registering no confirmed deaths. Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi prime minister, said he was forewarned of the attacks as they were imminent, and passed the alert to troops stationed at the base.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the strikes were characterised as self-defence and within the boundaries of international law, not the first shots in a war. He added the attacks had now concluded. Even the hardline Revolutionary Guards said in a statement that they considered this round of overt hostilities to be over if the US declined to respond.
This presents an opportunity for Trump that the US president appears to have recognised. Far from the over-the-top warnings he issued in recent days, he used his first comments after the unprecedented attack to play it down.
Updated at 3.16pm GMT
Here’s a summary of where events stand so far today:
- Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops overnight, declaring the strikes to be retaliation for the killing last week of the senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. You can read the full report here. Iranian officials initially told state media, without presenting evidence, that at least 80 US personnel had been killed or injured in the strikes, but President Donald Trump tweeted that casualty assessments were underway but “so far, so good”. He is expected to make a statement at 11am ET this morning.
- The Iraqi prime minister’s office said it had received a verbal message from the Iranians shortly after midnight saying that their “response to the assassination of the martyr Qassem Soleimani had begun or would start shortly” and would be limited to US military stationed in Iraq. At the same time, they were informed by the Americans that strikes had begun against US forces at various locations in the country.
- Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, described the bombings as “a slap in the face” for the US but warned that Tehran still had a wider goal of expelling its enemy from the region. He told an audience in the city of Qom:
We just gave [the US] a slap in the face last night. But that is not equivalent to what they did.
- International leaders have called on both sides to refrain from further violence. EU commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said “the use of weapons must stop now to give space for dialogue”.
- Meanwhile, a passenger plane bound for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, has crashed a few minutes after taking off from Tehran’s main international airport, killing 176 people. Iran’s Red Crescent said there was no chance of finding survivors, and Pir Hossein Kulivand, an Iranian emergency official, later told state TV all those onboard had been killed. Iran has said it will not hand over the black box of the plane – which contains vital records of how the tragedy occurred – to Boeing.
Updated at 3.17pm GMT
Trump to deliver address on the Iran crisis at 11 am EST (4pm GMT)
The White House has said Trump will deliver an address at 11am EST (4pm GMT) following the Iranian attacks on Iraqi military bases housing US troops
Updated at 3.17pm GMT
Nato secretary general condemns Iran’s missile strike against US forces in Iraq
Welcome to the Guardian’s US politics live blog, where we’ll be focused on the latest developments on the fallout from the Iranian missile attack on US forces in Iraq last night.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has condemned Iran’s missile strike, and has urged Iran to refrain from further violence.
European leaders have pleaded in public and in private with the Trump administration on Wednesday to draw a line in its conflict with Iran, and not to respond militarily to Iran’s “retaliatory” missile attack, which came days after the US drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is expected to address the public on TV this morning about the Iran crisis. The time has not yet been specified.
In other US politics news, the impeachment process for bringing Trump to trial before the Senate is in suspended animation this morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to break off from briefing her caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, when they had expected to hear details about the next step in impeachment, last night, after the Iranian missiles were launched.
There is no indication yet of when she intends to deliver the articles of impeachment (aka congressional charges against the president) to the Senate. The Republican-controlled Senate appears intent on attempting to barrel through with the eventual trial without any witnesses being allowed.
Updated at 3.18pm GMT
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