Iran struck two Iraqi bases housing American military forces with ballistic missiles on late Tuesday in retaliation for the drone strike that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani last week.
No casualties from Iraqi, American or coalition side have been reported, while Iran claims to have killed dozens.
The US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signaled a de-escalation of tensions with Iran, saying they will not retaliate but impose “powerful sanctions” on Iran which will remain in place until it changes its behavior.
The Iranian attack came just hours after the burial of Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, targeting two military bases, one in Baghdad and the other in Erbil, a province in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Shortly before the move, Iran sent Iraq “an official verbal message” about the missile attacks so that Iraq could, in turn, give an advance warning to the US forces, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech that Iran had given the U.S. “a slap in the face last night” and called for an end to the US presence in the region.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif framed the attack within self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter and denied seeking to escalate the situation into war.
The Iraqi Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq declared in a statement that Iran’s strike was a preliminary response to the Soleimani killing and that it would carry out its own retaliation.
The Shiite group was designated as a terrorist organization last week by the US.
However, an influential Iraqi Shiite leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, said the crisis that the country faced was over following de-escalation rhetoric from both sides and called on militia groups not to carry out attacks.
The leaders of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region issued a joint statement, reiterating that “military solution will in no way solve the problems.”
“We call for urgent restraint and a resumption of dialogue. Iraq should not pay the price for external rivalries,” a statement by the UN mission in Iraq read.
The attacks have marked the most direct attack by Iran on the US since 1979 when it seized the US embassy in Tehran.
The US has around 5,000 troops in Iraq in charge of preventing the resurgence of the Islamic State (ISIS).
On Monday, General Mark Milley, the US top military official, denied a leaked letter stating that America was pulling troops out of Iraq.
On Tuesday, Trump said the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq would be the worst thing for the country.