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Iran's embassy calls on New Zealand to promote peace and security after strikes

Iran's embassy in Wellington is calling on New Zealand to promote peace and security in the Middle East after rockets fell on US bases in Iraq this afternoon.

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Iranian TV says it was in response to the American assassination of their top military commander. Source: 1 NEWS

By Matthew Theunissen of rnz.co.nz

The US Department of Defence confirmed that Iran launched more than a dozen rockets against the US military facilities of al-Asad base in western Iraq and Erbil in the north.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand personnel in Iraq were as safe they could be - but added he was deeply concerned.

Video circulating on Iranian state media showed the moment a volley of missiles apparently landed on the large al-Asad base.

Not long afterwards, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard claimed credit for the attack, which it said was revenge for the killing of its general Qassem Soleimani by the "Great Satan" America.

It contained a warning to allies of the US, too, stating that any nations aiding the American mission could be targeted.

New Zealand has around 45 personnel currently stationed at Camp Taji on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The Iranian embassy in Wellington released a statement to RNZ which said the latest events would not negatively affect friendly relations between New Zealand and Iran.

"We expect New Zealand, as an influential member of the international community, to once again use its international position in reacting to this wrong approach to have peace and security in the Middle East and the world."

But the statement had a warning for all foreign forces in the Middle East.

"We hope that the international community will play its role in modifying the unlawful actions of some foreign powers in the region and prevent any unintended occurrence. Otherwise, serious damage will affect all international and domestic players involved."

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike on Friday, in the city of Kerman, Iran, Tuesday, Jan 7, 2020. (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP) Source: Associated Press

Mr Peters said he was deeply concerned about escalating hostilities.

"Now is the time for restraint and de-escalation, and for diplomacy to take over," he said.

"It is important to note that the missile attacks did not target Camp Taji and the government has been informed that all New Zealand personnel are as safe as they can be in these developing circumstances."

Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Ron Mark said he was not considering withdrawing New Zealand troops from the country before the official withdrawal due in June.

"We will continue to talk to coalition partners, we will continue to collaborate alongside them and we will make our decisions based on the situation at the time," he said.

"But at the moment it's a case of being alert, being aware and making sure that we keep our people as safe as possible."

Like most of the world's governments, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's administration has neither condemned nor endorsed the US drone strike which killed Soleimani, only calling for a de-escalation of hostilities.

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‘More than a dozen' ballistic missiles were fired from Iran at two US bases in Iraq, according to the Pentagon. Source: Associated Press

Jon Stevenson, a New Zealand journalist who has spent years covering conflict and politics in the Middle East, felt that was not enough.

"I am concerned that there has been a lack not just of political leadership but of moral leadership by Western politicians. They need to step up now and make it clear to the Trump administration that they're very concerned," he said.

"It's fine for [Justin] Trudeau, [Angela] Merkel, Boris Johnson and Jacinda Ardern to snigger behind Trump's back at international meetings, but this is where it really counts."

Mr Stevenson believed New Zealand troops were at greater risk than they were before the killing of Soleimani.

"That risk, in my view, is far more likely to come from Iraqi militias who are aligned with Iran than from the Iranian military itself," he said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the strikes against the US were "proportionate measures" carried out in self-defence.

He said Iran did not seek an escalation or war, but would "defend ourselves against any aggression".

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, earlier tweeted that "all is well" and that the assessment of casualties and damage was underway.

"So far so good," according to Mr Trump.