Iran missile attacks: Missile launches over for now, fears US response could 'escalate' aggression

Iran has launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two US military bases in Iraq.

The Al Asad airbase in western Iraq was targeted in the attacks, as well as a complex in the northern city of Erbil. Al Asad houses both Iraqi and US armed forces, with UK forces also frequenting. 

The attacks serve as retaliation for the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who died in a US-directed strike last week. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif believes that Iran has taken and "concluded" "measures in self-defence", indicating that the attacks are now over - unless the US strikes back.

There has been no official word on casualties.

A Ukrainian plane also crashed shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran's capital, Tehran. Roughly 180 passengers and crew on-board the aircraft have died. 

Now, the world is waiting for US President Donald Trump to make a statement regarding the attacks - and what America's next move might be.

What you need to know:

  • Iraq's Al Asad airbase and a military complex in the northern city of Erbil, both known to house US troops, were hit by missiles fired by Iran.
  • According to a statement  by the Iraqi military, the country was attacked with 22 missiles. Seventeen missiles hit the Al Asad airbase while five hit Erbil province.
  • There were reports that Camp Taji - where Kiwi troops are based - was hit, however these reports have been confirmed as false by Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters.
  • The attacks are a reprisal for the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by an American drone.
  • Both New Zealand and Australian military personnel have been confirmed as safe by Winston Peters and Scott Morrison respectively. 
  • Flights have been diverted from Iranian and Iraqi airspace. 
  • US President Donald Trump said "all is well" following the missile attacks, claiming that initial assessments of the damage are "so far, so good".
  • Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei said in a live speech that Iran gave the US "a slap in the face", reiterating that America's presence is not welcome in the region.

These live updates have now finished.

9:21pm - Newshub has a number of stories regarding the unfolding Iran-US conflict. Catch up here:

9:15pm - Ukraine's national security council has confirmed that 11 Ukrainian citizens died in the crash of an Ukrainian aircraft in Iran, including nine crew members, The Guardian reports.

As reported by Reuters, Ukraine International Airlines said it was suspending flights to Tehran indefinitely and that the crashed plane had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday.

The airline said it was doing everything it could to find out the causes of the crash and all possible assistance is being provided to the loved ones of those killed.

8:55pm - Ali Khamenei's speech continued:

As many in the audience wept and chanted angrily, Khamenei said Soleimani's death means "a revolution is alive".

Khamenei said Soleimani was "brave" and "fearless", saying he was capable of foiling America's plans in the region.

"What matters is that the presence of America, that is a source of corruption in this region, that should come to an end."

Iran's president Rouhani reportedly said during a cabinet meeting that Iran "will cut" America's presence in the region as they "cut the hands of Qassem Soleimani".

8:32pm - Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei is delivering a live, televised speech.

Iran Front Page editor Abas Aslani is live tweeting updates.

According to Aslani, Khamenei has praised the legacy of top Iranian general and "martyr", Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US-orchestrated strike last week.

He said the region "does not accept America's presence", slamming US involvement in the Middle East.

He also said Iran's attacks gave America "a slap in the face", although their retaliation was "not equivalent" to the severity of America's actions.

8:10pm - According to Iran's state-run news agency IRNA, Iranian Armed Forces chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, threatened the US with a "stronger and more crushing" response if Trump retaliates to Wednesday morning's missile attacks.

Baqeri reportedly said: "Today, it is time for the wicked US officials to understand the Islamic Republic power and opt for a principled method to make its terrorist army leave the region".

8:02pm - A number of countries have responded to Iran's missile strikes on Iraq-based US military bases.

South Korea is closely monitoring the situation, a Blue House spokesperson saying that South Korean companies with employees based in Iraq are increasing their security and reviewing emergency escape plans.

India's Ministry of External Affairs has urged its citizens to avoid "all non-essential" travel to Iraq.

Pakistan citizens have been warned to "exercise maximum caution" when travelling to Iraq.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that the government is "deeply concerned over [the] escalating tensions", urging the US and Iran to "exhaust diplomatic efforts" in order to de-escalate the conflict.

7:50pm - According to The Guardian reporter Michael Safi, the security cell of Iraq's prime minister's office said no Iraqis were harmed in Iran's missile attacks.

No casualties have been confirmed as of yet, with Trump saying initial assessments of damage and casualties are "so far so good". Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Norway have also confirmed that their military personnel are safe.

Following the reporter's aforementioned comments, Safi said this continues to indicate that Iran orchestrated the attack to ensure no casualties were sustained.

Safi said in this scenario, the strikes would've been designed "to satisfy its domestic audience that Soleimani's death had been publicly avenged" while also "providing room for the US not to respond and to de-escalate the conflict".

7:45pm - Reuters reports that according to Iranian state television, Iran’s president will deliver a speech regarding Iran's missile strikes on US military bases in Iraq. A time was not specified.

It did not give a timing for the speech by President Hassan Rouhani.

7:42pm - For more information about Gerry Brownlee and Mark Mitchell's stance on NZ troops in Iraq, click here.

6:45pm - Iranian state media are reportedly claiming that the missile strikes caused at least 80 US casualties.

The Guardian reporter Michael Safi says this claim is "almost certainly not true" - but it allows Iran to "beat their chest and claim victory".

Safi insinuated, like many others, that the attacks may have been carefully orchestrated to avoid any US casualties. He also suggested that in the best-case scenario, the US may step back if there is no substantial damage or casualties - leading to the strikes becoming an "opportunity to de-escalate without losing face".

"Iran will say it took violent revenge for Soleimani's death and pivot to a campaign of proxy warfare - with which it feels more comfortable, against a vastly more powerful adversary - and diplomatic pressure to eject American forces from Iraq," Safi wrote.

6:31pm - National Party Spokesperson for Defence Mark Mitchell and National Party Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee have issued a statement on the missile attacks in Iraq.

The pair say New Zealand should emulate Britain and Australia's approach, keeping New Zealand troops on the ground with contingency plans to move them quickly if necessary.

"We do not want to cut and run unduly, leaving others to shoulder our responsibilities," Mitchell said.

"We have a proud history of operating in the Middle East to keep the peace and it's important that we are not distracted from our continued efforts to stabilise Iraq."

Brownlee said it is the time for "cool heads" and "meaningful dialogue" rather than "tit for tat retaliation".

6:22pm - According to Iran's Red Crescent organisation, it has been confirmed that all onboard the Boeing flight from Iranian capital Tehran to Kiev, Ukraine will have died in the crash.

Early reports suggested the crash does not have any apparent links to Iran's missile attacks on US military bases in Iraq.

5:51pm - Iran Front Page editor Abas Aslani tweeted than an Iranian official reportedly said it's unlikely any of the passengers or crew onboard the crashed Ukrainian plane could have survived. These claims are unverified.

BBC correspondent Bahman Kalbasi has also tweeted devastating footage at the scene of the crash.

"Nothing left of it. This is gut wrenching."

5:32pm - Iran Newspaper has tweeted pictures believed to be of the remains of a plane that crashed a short while ago in the Iranian capital of Tehran.

The tweet roughly translates to: "A picture of the remains of a crashed Ukrainian plane near Imam Airport".

5:22pm - NBC News' Tehran bureau chief and correspondent Ali Arouzi says that according to state media, Iran's senior officials "won't launch anymore attacks as long as America does not attack".

"This is key right now," Arouzi wrote.

"If America does not respond to these attacks then this may be over for now. If America attacks then this will escalate."

5:18pm - According to Iran Front Page editor Abas Aslani, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' senior military officer and Iran's secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, Mohsen Rezaee, said: "First we started the revenge with dozens of missiles, then we buried my brother (Qassem Soleimani).

5:08pm - BBC correspondent Bahman Kalbasi has tweeted horrific footage of the Ukrainian Boeing 737 that crashed in the Iranian capital of Tehran, reportedly just minutes after taking off.

4:53pm - Iran's official daily newspaper, the Iran Newspaper, has reported on the aforementioned crash, a tweet roughly translating to: "A spokesman for the country's emergency agency reported the crash of a Ukrainian plane near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, saying [an emergency ambulance is] at the scene of the crash".

"Initial news says the plane was bound for Kiev, the capital of Ukraine."

Earlier, the newspaper also called Trump's update on the missile attack "passive".

4:44pm - A US military official alleges that the military had enough warning of the missile attack on Iraqi airbases to sound the alarm and get to safety, according to CNN.

General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), has confirmed on Twitter that "all deployed CAF personnel are safe and accounted for following missile attacks in Iraq".

"We remain vigilant," he wrote.

4:36pm - A Ukrainian airplane has reportedly crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran's capital Tehran.

The editor of Iran Front Page Abas Aslani tweeted that 180 passengers and crew were on the airplane, which crashed "due to technical problems".

"The Boeing 737 belonged to a Ukrainian airline and crashed near Parand City minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini Airport," Aslani wrote.

4:34pm - At a 2012 GOP Convention in North Carolina, Trump somewhat prophetically accused Barack Obama of wanting to start a war with Iran to get reelected.

4:25pm - The prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, tweeted that he and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had spoken on the phone following the Iranian missile attack.

According to Barzani, they discussed current developments in Iraq, with Barzani suggesting "ways to de-escalate and contain the situation".

Earlier, Pompeo tweeted that he had spoken to the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

"I stressed that the US does not seek war and is committed to de-escalation. We appreciate the #UAE's partnership and recognition of the serious threat posed by the Iranian regime," Pompeo wrote.

On Saturday, Barzani also spoke to Pompeo about Iraq's relationship with the US, agreeing on the importance of "de-escalating tensions in Iraq through restraint and dialogue". 

4:18pm - Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has confirmed during a press conference that all Australian diplomats and military personnel are safe.

In an earlier statement released on Morrison's Twitter, the prime minister said that the Chief of the Defence Force had been instructed to "take whatever actions necessary" to protect and defend Australian troops and diplomats.

There have been no official reports on US casualties. 

Unverified reports indicate that some Iraqi people may have been hurt in the attacks. 

4:10pm - Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, has confirmed that all New Zealand personnel are "as safe as they can be".

He also expressed his "deep concern" at the escalating hostilities between the US and Iran.

"Now is the time for restraint and de-escalation and for diplomacy to take over," Peters said in a statement.

He also confirmed the attacks "did not target Camp Taji", following earlier rumours that Iranian missiles may have hit the base. 

"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," Peters concluded.

4:03pm - Singapore's national airline, Singapore Airlines, has diverted its flights from the Iranian airspace.

In a statement, the airline said that due to recent developments "all SIA flights in and out of Europe are diverted" until further notice.  

3:50pm - A Republican senator in the US has called Iran's missile attacks "an act of war".

Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina told Fox News that Trump "has all the authority he needs to respond" to the attacks, citing Article II.

"How he responds is yet to be determined, but he has that authority to respond," Graham stated.

Graham said he had spoken to the president before the interview and warned Iran they'll be "out of the oil business" if they "continue this crap".

According to CNN, Graham also suggested that Trump could respond by hitting military or oil targets.

3:46pm - Donald Trump said "all is well" and will make a statement on Wednesday morning (local time). 

"Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties and 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."

The president has a seemingly empty schedule for Wednesday, his only commitment being an intelligence briefing at 2:15pm (local time).

3:37pm - Iran's foreign minister has tweeted a statement saying Iran does "not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression".

Javad Zarif said the country took "proportionate measures in self-defence", citing Article 51 of the UN Charter.

3:30pm - According to CNN, at least two ballistic missiles have hit two seperate areas in Erbil, northern Iraq.

Kurdish security officials told the network that the alleged attacks were carried out in the early hours of Wednesday (local time).

The officials claimed one missile failed to explode when it landed inside Erbil International Airport's perimeter, while a second hit an area roughly 33 kilometres west of Erbil without causing casualties. 

3:26pm - US 2020 presidential candidates have made statements on the attacks, expressing their support for US troops in the region.

Elizabeth Warren has addressed her supporters in New York, opening with details of what's going on in Iraq. She reportedly reminded the audience why "de-escalation" is needed in the Middle East.

"The American people do not want a war with iran," Warren reportedly stated.

Joe Biden said Donald Trump is "bringing us dangerously close to starting" a new war, calling out the president for claiming "he wants to end endless wars in the Middle East".

Pete Buttigieg said he was praying for American troops in Iraq.

"My prayers are with them, their loved ones and their families," he tweeted.

3:24pm - The NZ Defence Force is investigating reports that Iranian missiles have struck Camp Taji, where 45 NZ troops are based, a spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday.

Just minutes before the attack, New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark told media he was "concerned" about the situation, however there were no plans to immediately pull out troops.

The reports of an attack on Camp Taji are not yet verified. 

3:05pm - NBC reporter Ali Arouzi says that Iranian media are reporting that the IRGC has readied its underground missile depots.

3pm - The Federal Aviation Administration has prohibited US civil aircraft from operating over Iraq, Iran, the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

2:50pm - Hesamodin Ashna, an advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, has tweeted that any retaliation will be met with an "all out war".

Iran's minister of telecommunications, Mohammad Javad Arazi Jahromi, has also made his feelings towards the US known on Twitter.

2:45pm - President Donald Trump will not be giving an address from the White House. His national security officials and vice-President Mike Pence have also left the White House.

2:40pm - US stock and futures prices slumped following the attacks, Bloomberg reports. However, oil prices surged.  

"Markets will likely remain nervous," Mitul Kotecha, a strategist at TD Securities, told Bloomberg.

"Much now depends on the US reaction and whether there is further escalation."

2:35pm -  Arabic television channel Al Mayadeen, which is based in Lebanon, reports that IRGC are claiming 30 American soldiers have been wounded. This is different to a comment from the Pentagon which says the only casualties were Iraqi.

2:30pm - Here is what you need to know:

2:20pm - CNN and The Guardian, citing the IRGC Telegram channel, that Iran is threatening to attack within America if the United States attacks Iran's homeland. Israel and Dubai have also been threatened. 

"We warn the Great Satan, the bloodthirsty and arrogant regime of the US, that any new wicked act or more moves and aggressions (against Iran) will bring about more painful and crushing responses," IRGC according to the Tasnim News agency.

"We in no way consider the Zionist regime (of Israel) to be separated from the criminal US regime in these crimes."

2:05pm - According to CNN, there are no reports of US casualties at this time. Security at the White House has been increased.

Ranj Alaaldin, the director of the Proxy Wars Initiative, says US jets have reportedly left the United Arab of Emirates and Iran's Air Force has taken off from its bases.

"This risks becoming a full-scale war between the US and Iran."

2pm - It is understood Donald Trump will address the US from the White House. Newshub will stream that address if possible. CNN says the timing is still being determined.

1:55pm - There have been reports that Camp Taji - where Kiwi troops are based - was hit. However, Voice of America reporter Carla Babb - who was one of the first to report this - now says it was incorrect.

1:50pm - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has released a statement, saying his agencies are monitoring the situation.

He has directed the Chief of the Defence Force to "take whatever actions are necessary to protect and defend our ADF and diplomatic personnel and keep Australians safe".

1:40pm - Speaker Pelosi says the safety of service members must be ensured. She said this meant a stop to the "needless provocations" from the Trump administration.

1:35pm - Al Jazeera, citing Iranian state television, says that Iran is promising a "more crushing response" if the United States retaliates for Wednesday's attacks.

Meanwhile, Farhad Alaaldin, chairman of the Iraq Advisory Council (IAC) and former political advisor to the Iraqi President, has shared a video of when the rockets attacked the base. This video has also been shared by the BBC reporter Nafiseh Kohnavard.

1:25pm - This is where Al Asad - one of the two bases fired at - is located within Iraq.

Iran missile attacks: Missile launches over for now, fears US response could 'escalate' aggression
Photo credit: Google Maps.

1:20pm - It is being reported by Iranian media, a CNN reporter and The Guardian that a second round of missiles have just dropped.

1:15pm - The Pentagon has now confirmed that "more than a dozen" missiles were launched against the United States military and Coalition forces in Iraq. Two bases were targeted.

"It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Erbil."

1:10pm - According to CNN, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received information about the attack during a meeting with Democrats. 

She reportedly paused the conversation and said: "Pray".

1:05pm - ABC is also reporting that missiles were fired at Erbil in northern Iraq.

1pm - A representative of the Supreme Leader to the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, has tweeted a picture of the Iranian flag.

12:55pm - Newshub asked Defence Minister Ron Mark about the airstrike but he hadn't yet been briefed on it so wouldn't comment.

Speaking about the recent tension between Iran and the United States, and the effect on New Zealand troops in Iraq, Mark said: "We would not comment on troop movements for security reasons".

"All I'd say is that we are as always very clear about our responsibility to maintain good situational awareness around security. We have stringent security measures in place in terms of force protection.

"We will continue to talk to Coalition partners. We will continue to collaborate alongside them and we will make our decisions based on the situation at the time."

He said it was a time for "cool heads and calm" and that the Iraqi government had not asked New Zealand to withdraw.

12:50pm - President Donald Trump has been briefed on the attacks. 

"We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq. The President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

12:40pm - The New York Times reporter Farnaz Fassihi has tweeted a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC): "We warn all allied countries of the US that if attacks are launched from bases in their countries on Iran, they will be a target of military retaliation."

The Guardian reports a statement from IRGC: "The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on Al Assad military base in the name of martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani."

Iranian state television has also said Iran is behind the attack, having fired "tens" of missiles.

It is a time of high tension within the Middle East, following the death of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's infamous Quds Force, in a United States-directed airstrike on Friday. Soleimani was regarded as one of Iran's most powerful people and his death has spurred threats of revenge from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran has vowed revenge for the attack, while US President Donald Trump has said the United States is targetting 52 Iranian sites that it will strike if Iran retaliates. 

In late December, an America contractor in Iraq was killed in a rocket attack which the US blamed on Iranian-backed militia. In response, the US killed 25 Kataeb Hezbollah fighters, leading militias to attack the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Sticking to similar lines to what the Pentagon said in a statement following the airstrike, US Trump said on Saturday that the decision to strike was to "stop a war". Ravanchi, however, said it had started one.

"Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him," the president said.

Roughly 3000 additional soldiers are being sent to the Middle East following Friday's airstrike.

How Iran will respond, and when and where, is not known. The US Homeland Department says there are no current domestic threats but is on the watch for any cyber attacks.

Democrats have criticised Trump's direction to strike, saying it wasn't educated and was ordered without congressional permission. However, sources have told CNN there was a consensus within the president's national security cabinet that based upon intelligence, action was needed. Three sets of White House lawyers also vetted the plan and said Trump did not need authorisation.

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