Iranian forces fired 22 ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq early Wednesday in what Iran described as “fierce revenge” for the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week at the Baghdad airport. The Iranian missiles targeted the Al Asad Airbase in Anbar province and a base in Erbil. There were no initial reports of U.S. or Iraqi casualties. Shortly after the attacks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.” Earlier today, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the missile strike a “slap in the face” of the Americans and called for U.S. troops to leave the Middle East. After the strikes, President Trump tweeted, “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & 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 Iranian missile strikes come just days after the Iraqi Parliament voted to expel all foreign military forces from Iraq. We speak with Mohammad Marandi in Tehran, where he is professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran. He was part of the nuclear deal negotiations in 2015.
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian forces fired 22 ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq early Wednesday in what Iran described as “fierce revenge” for the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last Friday at Baghdad airport. The missiles, which were launched from Iran, struck the Ayn al-Asad base in Anbar province and a base in Erbil. There were no initial reports of U.S. or Iraqi casualties, and Iran warned the Iraqi government before the attack.
Shortly after the attacks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, quote, “Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched. We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” he said.
Earlier today, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called the missile strike a “slap in the face” of the Americans and called for U.S. troops to leave the Middle East.
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI: [translated] They were struck with such a slap last night. That’s another matter. … Military action like this is not sufficient. What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region.
AMY GOODMAN: After the missile strikes, President Trump tweeted, quote, “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & 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,” he said. That’s today.
The Iranian missile strike comes just days after the Iraqi Parliament voted to expel all U.S. military forces from Iraq, after the U.S. assassinated the Iranian commander.
We begin today’s show in Tehran, Iran, where we’re joined by Mohammad Marandi. He’s a professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran, part of the nuclear deal negotiations in 2015.
So, first, Professor Marandi, if you can respond to what took place last night, early this morning, with Iran attacking two Iraqi bases that housed U.S. and Iraqi troops, warning Iraq in advance and killing no one?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, I think the most important message that the Iranians were sending to the United States was that we can fire missiles at your bases, and you cannot intercept any of them. This was the most important American military base in Iraq. All of Iranian — all of the Iranian missiles went through the American defense shield, which surrounds all military bases, especially an air base, and they reached their targets. So I think that is an important message, because it means basically that all American bases in the Persian Gulf region are vulnerable, and all those countries, perhaps more importantly, that are hosting American bases are vulnerable to Iranian missiles, and there is no force that can bring them down.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by this attack? And how do you respond to the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, saying, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression”?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: No, I wasn’t surprised. I think most people were expecting an attack at some point during this period. What perhaps surprised me was the fact that the Americans were unable to intercept any of the missiles.
I think, at this stage, from what we’ve been hearing from the foreign minister and others, is that Iran does not plan more military strikes. They have caused significant damage to the base. It is possible that the Iranians did not want to have any casualties. We don’t know exactly what happened. We’ll find out in the coming hours. But what is clear is that the missiles reached their targets and that the Iranians informed the Iraqis before the attack in order to prevent any aircraft or civilian aircraft that may be flying in the region to be in danger.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marandi —
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: And they could have told the Iraqis to inform the Americans. I’m not privy to that sort of information, so it’s all speculation for me.
AMY GOODMAN: You tweeted, “Everyone should immediately leave the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other counties where US bases are seen as a threat to Iran. If the Trump regime makes a foolish move, these regimes will be held responsible, considered hostile entities, attacked with full force, and destroyed.” Explain.
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, if the regimes in the United Arab Emirates, for example, and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia allow the United States to use bases to attack Iran, then they will be hostile entities, and Iran will strike back and bring down the regimes. I think it’s quite clear. In war, that’s what happens.
So, what the Iranians are — and ordinary people should leave the region as soon as possible, because we have no idea what Trump is going to do. He’s the sort of person that you have to see what he tweets in the morning when he wakes up. So, people who live in the Persian Gulf region, if they can leave, they should leave, until it becomes clear if the United States wants to escalate or not.
But I think it’s quite obvious that if any of these countries cooperate with the United States in attacking Iran, they will be considered an enemy of Iran. They are very small. They are very vulnerable. They’re family dictatorships. They only form a — like in the case of the United Arab Emirates, the Emirati population is only a fragment of the total population of the country, which is not very large, either. So, it would not last long. It would probably last a couple of days, the regime in the United Arab Emirates.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marandi, you were involved in the nuclear deal negotiations that led to the Iranian nuclear deal, the multiparty Iranian nuclear deal, that Trump pulled out of. Can you talk about how that relates to what’s happening today? And if there are negotiations going on behind the scenes, the U.S. pulling out of that led to almost all closed channel of negotiation with Iran. So, who is the U.S. voice there negotiating with Iran? I mean, is it the Swiss ambassador? We heard the Japanese Prime Minister Abe is involved. What is happening?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, there are no private negotiations taking place between Iran and the United States. The United States sometimes sends messages through different channels, as you pointed out. But the Iranians are unwilling to negotiate, because they say that we’ve already negotiated a nuclear deal. The Americans tore that deal. And until they abide by those commitments that they made in the deal, we have nothing to talk about, because if Iran was to accept negotiating with the Americans again, basically the Iranians would be saying that the Americans can tear up their deals and renegotiate. And that’s just not possible, because the Americans — the American government would become more demanding. Every time they don’t get what they want, they’ll impose new sanctions, and they’ll tear up the deal, or whatever deal they sign. So the Iranians are saying, “If you want to have any negotiations with us, you have to abide by the commitments that were made during previous negotiations, and then we can go on from there; otherwise, we cannot negotiate with a government that tears apart agreements and carries out economic warfare.”
AMY GOODMAN: And what is the response at your university, the University of Tehran, where you are now, and around Iran to the assassination of Qassem Soleimani?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, one of the major problems that I have with the media in the United States and in much of Europe is that there’s always this tendency to call Iran a regime, which sort of implies it’s illegitimate and not stable, and to claim that it is unpopular, it is evil, it is corrupt and that it is falling apart. And I’ve been hearing this since I’ve been a teenager.
The fact that it exists and it has existed for decades, I think, should have by now made it clear to many in the West that this is a legitimate government, with a Constitution, with checks and balances, and which has a high degree of legitimacy among the public, whether people in the West like it or not.
But the funeral that — or, the funerals that we saw, I think, shows the degree to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is legitimate in the eyes of the public, because the numbers were extraordinary. In Tehran alone, between 5 to 7 million people participated in the funeral. It’s just unheard of.
And even in Iraq, we constantly hear that the Iraqis hate Iran, the Iraqis hate the Popular Mobilization Force, the force that actually defeated ISIS. But when the American government murdered the Iranian general, as well as the Iraqi general, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Force, we saw the huge funerals in Iraq, where in each city hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, as the funeral passed through those cities, they carried the Iranian commander on their shoulders with the Iranian flag.
So, I think a lot of what we hear in the United States and a lot of what we read in the United States and a lot of what we watch on television in the United States is wishful thinking by the — that come from the corridors of power. And because they misread Iran and they present a picture of Iran which they would like to believe, they constantly miscalculate based upon those impressions that are not based on reality.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Professor Marandi, the protests against the Iranian regime that happened before — and there were protests, of course, long protests, in Iraq against the Iraqi government — now there are going to be protests called for January 10th in Iraq against both Iranian and U.S. influence in Iraq. And what has the assassination of Soleimani meant for the anti-government protesters in Iran? It looks like it has brought together people across the political spectrum and led to an ascendancy of the far right in Iran.
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: Well, I don’t understand why you use the term “regime” for Iran. Do you use it for France or Britain or Canada or Australia? Is it just for Iran?
And I don’t know what the “far right” means, because our politics are very different from politics in your country. So, in Iran, politics are very fragmented. We have different political parties. If you mean those who are more opposed to U.S. policies in this region, I think actually what Trump has done is he’s created a consensus among the political parties and the overwhelming majority of Iranians that the United States government cannot be negotiated with.
And protesters against the government are protesters against the government. We have to make a distinction. The protests that were made against the government were against the fuel hike that the government implemented, very poorly managed, and those ended on day one with no arrests and no deaths.
Subsequent to that, we had the riots. Those riots were egged on by Persian-language media channels funded by Western governments, and many of them were violent and coordinated from outside the country, such as the MEK terrorist organization. They attacked banks, hundreds of banks within two days. They burned over a hundred gas stations. They attacked refineries. They attacked storage sites for grain. These are not ordinary riots that we had in Iran. So, again, whether you like Iran or not —
AMY GOODMAN: How many people do you — how many people do you think were killed in those protests?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: I don’t know the numbers. But the point that I’m making is that if Iran, if the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the Constitution that currently exists, was unpopular, you would not have seen the scenes in Tehran and in the other cities that you saw. I think it’s time for Western countries to accept the fact that the people of Iran have their own state and they make their own decisions, and it’s not for the United States or the Europeans to determine how Iranians conduct themselves and how the Iranians decide to implement policy and what laws are passed in this land. It’s best for the United States and the Europeans to take care of their own affairs. They have enough trouble among themselves and in their own countries right now as it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you just on that issue of the protesters killed, the U.S.'s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, said more than a thousand Iranian citizens may have been killed in that uprising, what you called the riots. Do you think that's possible, Professor Marandi?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI: No, that’s completely nonsense. Those are — all the numbers made up by the United States are fabrications. We don’t take anything that the Americans, the American government — take seriously, just like the American government claimed that General Suleimani went to Iraq to carry out attacks on Iranian — on the Americans. We know now from the Iraqi prime minister that he went there to see the Iraqi prime minister and to discuss a letter from Saudi Arabia, because the Iraqi prime minister was trying to mediate between the two countries. And the Iraqi prime minister said in Parliament that Trump knew about this and that Trump gave — supported this. But then the Americans went and murdered this general.
If this general was not popular, if the Islamic Republic of Iran did not have a high degree of legitimacy, again, I repeat, you would not have seen such crowds. And Iran is an educated society. So, you cannot — one cannot say that they’re stupid, that they’re backward, that they’re fools. No, I think it shows that the narratives on Iran, whether it’s about riots, whether it’s about oppression, those narratives in the West are not completely accurate.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Marandi, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran. He was part of the nuclear deal negotiations in 2015, speaking to us from Tehran, Iran.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back — well, later in the broadcast, we’re going to San Juan to talk about the earthquake in Puerto Rico. But first we’ll go to Juan Cole at the University of Michigan. Stay with us.