Iran's supreme leader says missile strikes insufficient retribution for Soleimani killing

"What is important in addition to retaliation is to end the U.S.’s corrupting presence in the region," Ayatollah Khamenei said.

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By Patrick Smith, Ali Arouzi and Amin Hossein Khodadadi

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Wednesday that overnight missile strikes on military bases housing American forces in Iraq were a "slap in the face" to the U.S. and not sufficient retaliation for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.

Speaking before a large crowd in the holy city of Qom, Khamenei gave a lengthy tribute to Soleimani in a speech that was interrupted with chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."

Khamenei reiterated his government's longstanding demand that Washington withdraw its forces from the Middle East. Ending U.S. influence and interventions remained the country's ultimate goal, he said, stopping short of calling for further attacks on U.S. targets.

Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces overnight, according to U.S. officials. There are no reports of casualties so far. Iran has claimed it was acting in self-defense.

“Military operations do not suffice. What is important in addition to retaliation is to end the U.S.’s corrupting presence in the region," Khamenei said in the televised speech. "The discussion about revenge is something else. This was just a slap in the face last night."

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In a White House address Wednesday, Trump said no Americans were harmed in the attack. "We suffered no casualties," he added. "Our great American forces are prepared for anything."

He went on to claim that Iran "appears to be standing down," which he said was a "very good thing for the world."

The U.S. will immediately place new sanctions on Iran "until Iran changes its behavior," Trump said without elaborating.

Khamenei has ruled out any resumption of talks with Washington on a 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in 2018.

The U.S. has since imposed tough new sanctions, driving down Iran's oil exports and hammering the economy.

Iran's supreme leader also said Soleimani had stood up to American "bullying" over the Palestinians and said he went to the Gaza Strip to "stand against the Zionists."

Iran usually refers to Israel as the Zionist state and describes regional countries and other forces opposed to Israel and the United States as a "resistance" front.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani joined Khamenei in striking a defiant tone on Wednesday, warning the U.S. that Soleimani's death would lead to reprisals.

"You cut Soleimani's hand from his body, your foot will be cut from the region," he told the semi-official Fars news agency after a Cabinet meeting.

Reuters contributed.