Friday 17 January 2020

Trump and Iran pull back from war after missile attack

Demand: Donald Trump called for an end to Iran's nuclear deal. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demand: Donald Trump called for an end to Iran's nuclear deal. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Raf Sanchez, James Rothwell and Gordon Rayner

US president Donald Trump stepped back from the brink last night after a barrage of Iranian missiles struck American bases in Iraq but failed to cause any casualties.

He said Iran appeared to be "standing down" following the attack and that he would impose fresh economic sanctions, but not order any retaliatory strikes.

"The American people should be extremely grateful and happy," he said.

"Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned, and a very good thing for the world."

Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said the missile strike "concluded" the Iranian retaliation for the death of its top general, Qasem Soleimani, in a US drone attack last week, and said Iran was not seeking further "escalation or war".

However, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said "such military actions are not enough" to avenge Soleimani, implying Iran would continue covert and political action to drive the US out of the Middle East.

In a televised address, he said: "This was just a slap in the face last night."

Moqtada al-Sadr, the influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, said the immediate crisis was over, and called on militia groups there not to carry out attacks.

In London, Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said British anti-terror police were on alert for any fallout.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, said Soleimani had "the blood of British troops on his hands" and the US had the right to defend itself.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, accused Mr Johnson of failing to condemn the US drone strike "because he has hitched his wagon to a trade deal with the United States".

Mr Johnson responded by insisting Mr Corbyn was peddling "little green men" conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, amid the de-escalation of the crisis, Mr Trump criticised countries for continuing to back the "defective" Iran nuclear deal.

He said: "The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognise this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal."

Mr Johnson had told MPs the deal was still the best way to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In its retaliation for the Soleimani killing, Iran launched at least 22 missiles towards the al-Asad airbase in Iraq, which hosts 1,500 American and British troops, and a smaller airbase in Erbil in north-east Iraq, in the early hours of yesterday.

US defence officials suggested Iran may have deliberately tried not to kill US troops to avoid triggering a full-blown war.

Such a strategy would allow the regime to save face with is own population, while also providing the US with a diplomatic "off ramp", officials suggested.

The heat signatures of the missiles were reportedly quickly picked up by a US national security agency facility in Maryland, allowing US forces in Iraq to seek shelter.

It was also reported that Iran informed Iraqi officials of the attack in advance, and the information may have been passed on to the US.

Mr Trump said casualties were avoided "because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well".

Dr Sidharth Kaushal, of the UK's Royal United Services Institute defence and security think tank, said Iran chose not to use its most accurate missiles and instead relied on a set of less accurate Fateh-110 weapons.

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