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President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House on the ballistic missile strike that Iran launched against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops, Jan. 8, 2020, in Washington.

By Steve Herman

WHITE HOUSE - President Donald Trump says there were no casualties and only minimal damage sustained after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles targeting two Iraqi air bases that house U.S. troops.

"Iran appears to be standing down," Trump said in address to the nation Wednesday from the White House. "No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces and an early warning system that worked very well."

The missiles were fired early Wednesday following threats by Iranian leaders of retaliation against the United States for a U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian commander.

Trump said Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani "was responsible for some of the absolutely worst atrocities."

Iran's threats
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the Iranian strikes a "slap in the face" to the United States, and said the "corrupt presence" of the U.S. in the region should come to an end.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani added later in a tweet that Iran's "final answer" to the killing of Soleimani "will be to kick all U.S. forces out of the region."

The lying, rambling US govt – whose words are worthless – tried to introduce this great Mujahid & Commander in the fight against terrorism as a terrorist. The Iranian nation slapped them in the face with their turn out in the millions for the funeral of General Soleimani.

The Iraqi prime minister's office said there were no casualties among Iraqi forces, and that it had not received reports of any casualties from the U.S.-led coalition.

The statement said Iran notified Iraq that it was carrying out its response to the U.S. strike.

Iraq also rejected any violation of its sovereignty and aggression on its territory, and called for restraint to prevent the U.S.-Iran crisis from developing into a devastating war.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet after the missile strikes that Iran had taken and concluded "proportionate measures in self defense."

"We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression," Zarif said.

The missile attack was the latest step in a series of events that have unfolded in the past two weeks with increasing tensions between the United States and Iran.

The U.S. blamed an Iran-backed militia for a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that killed a U.S. military contractor. U.S. airstrikes then hit that militia's positions in Iraq and Syria, drawing complaints from the Iraqi government and militia-led demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. On Friday, a U.S. airstrike killed near Baghdad's airport.

A Pentagon spokesman said the missiles launched from Iran targeted the Al-Asad base, located about 60 kilometers west of Baghdad, as well as one in Irbil, part of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region.

Reaction in Iran, US
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sent out a statement hailing what it says was a successful missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, calling it "revenge for the assassination and martyrdom of Qassem Soleimani."

U.S. forces have been on high alert since Iran threatened to strike back after last week's targeted killing of Soleimani.

"We will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region," the Pentagon spokesman said.

Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN, "The President and his crew better figure out a way to tone things down, because we could be in the midst of a full-blown war."

"What we have to do now is tone down the rhetoric on all sides and extricate ourselves from this situation," he added.

Steven David, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, told VOA the potential for the situation is "very frightening" with two leaders and countries that do not want to back down, and which are armed with all kinds of physical and cyber weapons.

"On the other hand, I do hope that at some point both sides simmer down and allow this to de-escalate," David said. "There's a lot of Iran can do in the area. It can attack Saudi Arabia, it can attack Israel, especially with cyber, it can attack America. Neither country wants this to get out of hand, and to me, that's the most people positive sign in this horrible mess."

Tom Warrick, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, noted officials from many nations around the world have called on the United States and Iran to de-escalate, and pointed the role Iraq may play going forward as the country where the back-and-forth attacks have taken place.

"What we're faced with is a situation where I believe that Iraq is going to go to the United Nations and demand that the United Nations put together some kind of process that will get Iraq out of the middle of the dispute between the United States and Iran," Warrick told VOA. "And we'll have to see whether the diplomats in New York can come up with a way that tries to get the countries talking rather than fighting."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., smiles as he listens to a question from the audience during a campaign stop, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Hillsboro, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Increasingly alarmed that Bernie Sanders could become their party's presidential nominee, establishment-minded Democrats are warning primary voters that the self-described democratic socialist would struggle to defeat President Donald Trump and hurt the party's chances in premier House, Senate and governors' races.

The urgent warnings come as Sanders shows new signs of strength on the ground in the first two states on the presidential primary calendar, Iowa and New Hampshire, backed by a dominant fundraising operation. The Vermont senator has largely escaped close scrutiny over the last year as his rivals doubted the quirky 78-year-old's ability to win the nomination. But less than a month before Iowa's kickoff caucuses, the doubters are being forced to take Sanders seriously.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, previously a senior aide to President Barack Obama, warned Democrats that Sanders' status as a democratic socialist and his unwavering support for "Medicare for All" won't play well among swing voters in the states that matter most in 2020.

"You need a candidate with a message that can help us win swing voters in battleground states," Emanuel said in an interview. "The degree of difficulty dramatically increases under a Bernie Sanders candidacy. It just gets a lot harder."

The increasingly vocal concerns are coming from a number of political veterans tied to the Obama administration and the 2020 field's moderate wing, including those backing former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

In some ways, the criticism is not surprising.

Sanders has spent decades fighting to transform the nation's political and economic systems, creating a long list of political adversaries along the way. Many people connected to Hillary Clinton, for example, still blame Sanders for not working hard enough to support her after their long and bitter presidential primary feud in 2016. Some Democrats still accuse him of not being enough of a team player.

Sanders' chief strategist Jeff Weaver dismissed the growing criticism as a reflection of the strength of his candidacy.

He raised more money than any other Democratic candidate in the last quarter — virtually all of it from small-dollar donors — and he's considered a legitimate contender to win Iowa and New Hampshire next month.]

"People in establishment Washington are terrified of Bernie Sanders," Weaver said. "The truth of the matter is their centrist tacking over the years has led us to the place where someone like Donald Trump can get elected."

Less than four weeks before Iowa's Feb. 3 caucuses, Sanders' critics are making a concerted effort to turn up the volume.

The ranks of the concerned include many Democrats tasked with preserving the party's majority in the House and expanding its minority in the Senate and governors' mansions across the country.

California Rep. Ami Bera, a leader in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "frontline" program to protect vulnerable House members this fall, warned that a Sanders nomination would force more than 40 Democratic candidates in competitive districts — most of which were carried by Trump four years ago — "to run away from the nominee."

Specifically, Bera cited Sanders' signature health care plan, which would replace the nation's private insurance system with a government-run Medicare for All system.

"You have to take Sen. Sanders seriously," said Bera, who has endorsed Biden. "Those are going to be tough positions for our members to run on."

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who led the Senate Democrats' campaign arm the last time Trump was on the ballot, warned that Republicans "are really good at making elections about who's at the top of the ticket."

"I come from a state that's pretty damn red. There is no doubt that having 'socialist' ahead of 'Democrat' is not a positive thing in the state of Montana," Tester, who has not endorsed any 2020 candidate, said of Sanders. "He can overcome that, but I think it's something he's going to have to do."

Several Sanders critics noted that he has largely escaped intense scrutiny throughout the campaign, in part because some assumed that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another progressive firebrand, was a stronger candidate who would cannibalize his support. With Warren's candidacy struggling to maintain momentum, however, those assumptions are now being questioned.

"He has now emerged as somebody who's got the ability to win the nomination," said former Obama aide Ben LaBolt, who isn't aligned with any 2020 campaign but opposes Sanders.

LaBolt seized on Sanders' short list of accomplishments over three decades in Congress. Over that time, the senator wrote just a handful of bills that ultimately became law, though Sanders' camp insists he's effected meaningful change in and out of Washington.

"He's more concerned about shouting in the wilderness to make an ideological point than getting things done," LaBolt said.

Sanders is also facing lingering questions about his age, having suffered a heart attack late last year. He is the oldest candidate in the race, and, if elected, he would be the oldest president in U.S. history.

Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, who is supporting Bennet's underdog bid, was reluctant to single out any of the candidates for criticism. But he said Sanders wouldn't be the strongest nominee and suggested it was fair to take Sanders' age into account.

"I think health has become an issue, whether we like it or not," Hart, 83, said in an interview. "I'm older than Sen. Sanders, so I can say things like that. I think it's time for generational change."

Marshall Matz, who was a policy adviser for Sen. George McGovern's failed 1972 bid for president, was more direct in his warning for Democrats. If they nominate Sanders, he said, the party should expect the same landslide loss that McGovern suffered decades ago to President Richard Nixon.
"I think he would not just lose but would lose badly — and I don't think the country can afford that," Matz said, noting that McGovern generated large crowds and enthusiasm just as Sanders has.

Indeed, on the ground in Iowa, there are signs that Sanders is in a strong position as caucus day approaches.

Josh Kennedy, a 36-year-old Sanders supporter from West Branch, Iowa, said he had previously been curious about Warren but hadn't been impressed by her on the campaign trail. He's back on board with Sanders.

"You know exactly what you get with him," Kennedy said.

Sanders drew consistently large crowds as he crisscrossed the state over the New Year holiday. His campaign said he spoke to nearly 6,000 supporters across 16 events, with more than 1,300 people gathered for a Des Moines party on New Year's Eve.

The supporters turned out in rural areas as well.

Tracy Freese, chair of the Grundy County Democratic Party and a Sanders supporter, said she counted around 250 people at the Grundy Center Community Hall for Sanders last weekend, a number she called "incredible."

"To put that many people in a room, in a small red county, for Bernie was crazy on a Saturday," she said.

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