“We didn’t start it. They started it by killing one of our people and wounding badly other of our people,” Trump said. “So that you call retribution.”
Rocket attacks in Baghdad late Wednesday showed that the risk of escalation remained. The strikes highlighted fears that Iraqi militias, backed by Iran, could pursue revenge for the killing of one of their leaders in the same attack that killed Soleimani.
Two rockets struck Baghdad’s Green Zone, which hosts the U.S. Embassy and other foreign diplomatic missions, but caused no injuries, Iraqi authorities said.
Jawad al-Talibawi, a spokesman for the network of Iraqi militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, told the Iraqi News Agency that the network was not responsible for the attack.
“The bombing of the Green Zone might be an individual reaction, or an attempt by some parties to distort the reputation of the Hashd and shuffle the cards,” he said. “We are calling on those behind the bombing to stop these actions that distort the reputation of Hashd factions.”
The statement was part of the broader effort to de-escalate tensions, but “we should all take a moment before popping the champagne,” Rand Corporation political scientist Ariane M. Tabatabai said in an email. Even as the violence abated, the Trump administration was “doubling down on the maximum pressure campaign, which got us here to begin with,” she said, referring to U.S. sanctions and other measures aimed at isolating Iran.
And Tehran, she added, could take further action. A tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that his government had “concluded” its military response “could mean a lot of things: It could mean that Iran is done for now, which is the interpretation many have chosen to embrace. But it could also mean that this specific operation is done. Others may be in store.”
Iran tried to counter the United States on the diplomatic front Thursday after Trump called on Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China to “break away from the remnants” of the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, “underlined the UK’s continued commitment to” the nuclear deal and “ongoing dialogue to avoid nuclear proliferation and reduce tensions,” according to a British government statement.
Rouhani also called European Council President Charles Michel asking for a response to U.S. sanctions, which Rouhani described as “economic terrorism,” the Iranian Fars News agency reported.
In a statement, Michel emphasized the need for de-escalation in the region.
The tensions have continued to affect the main mission of U.S. forces in Iraq — fighting the Islamic State. The coalition said in a statement Thursday that military operations against the extremist group in Iraq would remain “paused” while the coalition focuses on “protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition personnel.”
The conflict between the United States and Iran sparked concern that operations against the Islamic State, or ISIS, would be sidelined at a moment when the extremists, driven from the vast swath of territory they once held, are trying to regroup in parts of Iraq and Syria.
In Iraq, hundreds of Islamic State fighters have made their way to rural areas in the north, stepping up their attacks in recent weeks, including ambushes and mortar strikes.
U.S. military officials first announced the suspension of anti-Islamic State operations Sunday, as the Trump administration braced for possible Iranian attacks on military bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq.
The same day, Iraq’s prime minister urged parliament to take “urgent measures” to force the withdrawal of foreign forces after the killing of Soleimani.
Lawmakers responded by passing a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to end the foreign troop presence in Iraq.
The coalition’s statement Thursday said it was awaiting “further clarification on the legal nature and impact of the resolution on foreign troops no longer being allowed to stay in Iraq.” Its training and support of troops fighting the Islamic State has been suspended, although other activities, including countering the militant group’s propaganda, would continue, the statement said.
Dadouch reported from Beirut. Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim in Baghdad and William Booth in London contributed to this report.