According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), the country's state-run news outlet, Iran fired "tens of ground-to-ground missiles" at the base and claimed responsibility for the attacks. The attacks unfolded in two waves, each about an hour apart. The Pentagon said these bases were on high alert after signs of the Iranian government were planning attacks on U.S. forces. Although the Pentagon disputes the number launched, it has confirmed that both the Ayn al-Asad and the Erbil airbases were hit by Iranian missiles. A military spokesman for U.S. Central Command said a total of 15 missiles were fired. Ten hit the Ayn al-Asad airbase, one hit the Erbil base, and four missiles failed. Other sources confirmed that two ballistic missiles targeted Erbil: one hit Erbil International Airport and did not explode, the other landed about 20 miles (32 km) west of Erbil. On 8 January Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said the Kingdom would stand with Iraq and do everything in its power to spare it from the "danger of war and conflict between external parties".
A spokesman for the Iranian government said the country's top security body would hold an extraordinary meeting shortly to discuss the "criminal act of attack". Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned that "retaliation is waiting". On 4 January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there was "no specific, credible" threat to the U.S. mainland but warned about Iranian capabilities. Trump warned Tehran that any retaliation would result in the U.S. targeting 52 Iranian significant sites, including cultural sites. The 52 sites were reported to represent the 52 American hostages held during the Iran hostage crisis. Hossein Dehghan, the main military adviser of Iran, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif asserted that attacks on Iranian cultural sites would be grave breaches of international law. U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo avoided a direct answer when asked about cultural targets, saying that Washington will do the things that are right and the things that are consistent with U.S. law. U.S. secretary of defense Mark Esper later asserted that cultural sites would not be targeted because "That's the laws of armed conflict."More Info
The modern Middle East has seen a number of occasions in which the assassination of high-level government and military figures was attempted, or at least considered. Such instances include United States air raids targeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1986 and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1991, 1998, and 2003, in addition to successful missions to kill non-state terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Governments conducting assassinations of foreign leaders was largely frowned upon in prior centuries, but that norm has been weakening over time, especially since World War II. The effectiveness of anti-terrorist "leadership targeting" has become a subject of scholarly debate, especially with regard to whether such killings are actually beneficial to a country's foreign policy goals. In the wake of the strike against Soleimani, both the topic of further eroding norms and questions regarding effectiveness were raised. The costs and benefits of foreign policy assassinations are difficult to compute, and decisions to go ahead with such actions often reflect the vague, and not always realized, hope that any successor to the targeted person will be less capable against, or will embody policies more favorable toward, the country taking the action.More Info
According to The New York Times, Trump initially rejected the option to target Soleimani on 28 December 2019, but made the decision after being angered by television news reports of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad under attack by Iranian-backed protesters on 31 December. By late 2 January, Trump had finalized his decision of the most extreme option his advisors had provided him, which reportedly "stunned" top Pentagon officials. The Times report cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying the intelligence regarding Soleimani's alleged plot against the U.S. was "thin" and that the Ayatollah had not approved any operation for Soleimani to carry out. However, General Milley said the intelligence was "clear and unambiguous" with a time frame of "days, weeks". U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence were reportedly the most hawkish voices arguing to retaliate against Iran. Vice President Pence later wrote that Soleimani was plotting "imminent" attacks on U.S. persons. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien insisted that Soleimani "was plotting to kill, to attack American facilities, and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were located at those facilities".More Info
U.S. officials justified the Soleimani strike claiming it was necessary to stop an "imminent attack", though later clarifying the legal justification of the action as being taken "in response to an escalating series of attacks...to protect United States personnel, to deter Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks...and to end Iran's strategic escalation of attacks..." Some critics of the strike questioned the legality of the attack with respect to international law, as well as the domestic laws of the U.S. Iran called the strike an act of "state terrorism". The Iraqi government said the attack undermined its national sovereignty and considered it a breach of its bilateral security agreements with the U.S. and an act of aggression against its officials. On 5 January 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution to expel all foreign troops from its territory while, on the same day, Iran took the fifth and last step of reducing commitments to the 2015 international nuclear deal.More Info
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