The assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in a Jan. 3 drone strike carried out by the United States sent shock waves throughout the region. Those who argued that Tehran would take its time to retaliate proved wrong. On the night of Jan. 8, Iran launched more than a dozen missiles on Iraqi bases housing US forces. Several struck the Ain al-Assad base west of Baghdad. Several others landed in an open field near an air base in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Nobody was killed.
The attack was seen, however, as a clear message from Tehran about the potential punishment Iraqis would face if they pursue their relations with the United States. Baghdad’s immediate reaction already had been to ask US forces to leave. Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, joined the chorus of Shiite Iraqis saying it was time for the Americans to depart. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurds see US forces as protection as much against the Islamic State as they do against Baghdad and Iran and other potential foes.