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WASHINGTON – Iran may have intentionally missed targets on bases in Iraq to avoid significant U.S. casualties and damage to infrastructure, according to U.S. government sources.

Iran appears to have fired the missiles into vacant areas where they were unlikely to cause significant harm, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The attack, the official said, was designed mainly for a domestic audience to show Iranians that the regime was responding to the killing last week of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

The missile’s impact caused no caused casualties and limited damage, the source said. The potential for mass casualties from an attack was real: More than 1,500 troops are housed at the two bases in western and northern Iraq.

In September, precision drone and missile strikes by Iranian-backed forces severely damaged oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia, supporting the belief that Iran has the capability to strike targets with lethal force. That attack slashed Saudi oil production by destroying infrastructure. The weapons used were Iranian, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and constituted an act of war. 

The state-run Iran Press news agency showed footage Jan. 8 of what it said were rockets launched from the Islamic republic against the military base al Assad in Iraq. (Photo: -, IRAN PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

Tuesday’s attack did not kill or wound any U.S. troops, President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday in a live address to the nation. He described the damage done by the missiles as “minimal.”

Iran, Trump said, “appears to be standing down.”

The strike Tuesday could have functioned as a very loud warning shot and may be an indication that the regime wants to limit escalation, said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. The opening may be short-lived, he said. 

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“They missed on purpose and want to de-escalate,” O’Hanlon said, “for the moment.”

The Iranians know how to hit a target when they want to destroy it, said a U.S. official with knowledge of Iranian capabilities who was not authorized to speak publicly. Such an attack would have caused “grave damage,” the official said. It is possible that more moderate elements in the Iranian government are pushing for restraint, the official said.

Another senior staff member on Capitol Hill said the Iranians deliberately chose their targets as a warning, not to inflict major damage.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday there may be an opening for negotiation between the United States and Iran.

“We have the opportunity to come back from the brink of war,” Blumenthal said. “Purposely or inadvertently, the strikes caused a lot less damage than might have been expected.”

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The strikes involved more than a dozen guided missiles aimed at two bases in Iraq that house U.S.-led forces fighting Islamic State militants and helping to train Iraqi troops for combat. At the sprawling al Assad air base in western Iraq, there are about 1,500 U.S., Iraqi and allied forces. Erbil, the other base, is in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. 

The Iranian attack follows a drone strike last week in Baghdad that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the second-most powerful official in Iran and leader of forces that have been branded a terrorist organization by the United States. Iran vowed revenge after that targeted killing, which the White House, State Department and Pentagon said was necessary to prevent imminent attacks on American forces in the region.

U.S.-Iranian tensions, already simmering after Iran shot down an American drone last summer, spiked Dec. 27 after Iranian-backed militias fired rockets at the U.S. base near Erbil and killed an U.S. contractor.

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