The successful strikes left Tehran fuming about “violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani called the strikes “another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension in instability in the region.”
The move also represented a significant escalation of the conflict in the Middle East related to Israel’s nearly four-months of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
An initial battle damage assessment found the U.S. hit each of its planned targets, along with a few “dynamic targets” that popped up as the mission unfolded, including a surface-to-air missile site and drone launch sites, a U.S. official said Saturday.
Friday’s strikes were meant “to overshadow the Zionist regime’s crimes in Gaza,” Iran’s Kanaani insisted. The “root cause of tensions and crises in the Middle East is Israel’s occupation and genocide of Palestinians with America’s unlimited support,” he added.
Kanaani also urged the UN Security Council to prevent further “illegal and unilateral U.S. attacks in the region.” He did not say whether Iran would respond to the escalation.
Before the U.S. retaliation, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran would not start a war, but would “respond strongly to anyone who tries to bully it.”
Some of the main Iran-backed militias in Iraq have vowed to continue fighting, ostensibly in support of Gaza, but one, known as Kataib Hezbollah, has said it would suspend attacks on American troops to avoid “embarrassing” the Iraqi government.
Another Iraqi militia official on Saturday hinted at possible deescalation, while notably downplaying the US strikes.
The US “must understand that every action elicits a reaction” said Hussein al-Mosawi, a spokesman for Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the main Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. But, he added, “we do not wish to escalate or widen regional tensions.”
The targeted sites in Iraq were mostly “devoid of fighters and military personnel at the time of the attack,” al-Mosawi said – suggesting that there may not have been enough damage to justify a strong response.
The U.S. has not issue a casualty assessment, but an Iraqi government spokesperson, Bassim al-Awadi, said Saturday that the strikes in Iraq near the Syrian border killed 16 people, including civilians.
There was also “significant damage” to home and private properties, he added.
About 23 rank-and-file fighters were killed in the Syrian strikes, according to Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Syrian state media has not given a total number of casualties.
Some of the US strikes in Iraq targeted facilities of the Population Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iran-backed militias, the spokesperson explained. The group’s official security headquarters were among the sites hit.
The coalition said in a statement that along with those killed, 36 people were wounded “while the search is still ongoing for the bodies of a number of the missing.”
Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudan’s office condemned the strikes as a “new aggression against Iraq’s sovereignty” in a statement and called any claims that the Baghdad government coordinated with Washington officials prior to the attacks “lies”
Iraq’s foreign ministry said that it would deliver a formal protest over the strikes to the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Alina Romanowski, is not in the country.
Iraq, in particular, has been in a precarious position since a group of Iranian-backed militias known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq started launching attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria on Oct. 18, claiming the strikes are retaliations for the US’ support of Israel in the war against Hamas.
Iraqi officials have quietly tried to rein in the militias, while also condemning the US’ retaliation and calling for the exit of the 2,500 US troops that remain in the country.
Separately, Russia condemned the US airstrikes, and called for the UN security council to investigate.
“It is obvious that the airstrikes are deliberately designed to further inflame the conflict,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Saturday. “By attacking, almost without pause, the facilities of allegedly pro-Iranian groups in Iraq and Syria, the US are purposefully trying to drive the largest countries in the region into conflict.”
Saturday morning, Russia asked the UN Security Council to meet on Monday to address the strikes.
Former NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker said the Biden sent a message to Iran by not directly targeting it.
“I suspect that what the administration is trying to do by not hitting Iran, is to send a signal to Iran,” Volker said in an interview with NewsNation. “‘Don’t hit us on our homeland, particularly during an election year.’”
“I think they are trying to say… ‘You hit our guys overseas, we will hit your proxies overseas. Shut this down, don’t do it anymore,’” the former ambassador added.