US Pulls Diplomats From Iraqi City, Citing Threats From Iran

September 30, 2018 Updated: October 1, 2018

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK—The United States announced on Sept. 28 it will effectively close its consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra and relocate diplomatic personnel assigned there following increasing threats from Iran and Iran-backed militia, including rocket fire.

The decision adds to mounting tension between the United States and Iran, which is the target of increasing U.S. economic sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as he explained the move, renewed a warning that the United States would hold Iran directly responsible for any attacks on Americans and U.S. diplomatic facilities.

It followed recent “indirect fire”—usually rocket or artillery attacks—that Pompeo said was directed at consulate in Basra, located on the Basra airport compound, by militias linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—a paramilitary group that answers directly to the supreme leader.

“I have advised the government of Iran that the United States will hold Iran directly responsible for any harm to Americans or to our diplomatic facilities in Iraq or elsewhere and whether perpetrated by Iranian forces directly or by associated proxy militias,” Pompeo said in a statement while in New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

“I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks.”

Still, Pompeo said the threats against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq were “increasing and specific” and added that Washington was working with Iraqi forces and U.S. allies to address them.

“We look to all international parties interested in peace and stability in Iraq and the region to reinforce our message to Iran regarding the unacceptability of their behavior,” he said.

Locals Call for End to Iranian Influence in Iraq

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said the consulate was placed on “ordered departure,” which technically involves a drawdown in staff. Although some personnel could remain on the diplomatic compound, the move is believed to effectively close the consulate, at least temporarily.

The decision came days after U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani exchanged taunts at the United Nations General Assembly, with Trump vowing more sanctions and accusing Iran’s leaders of sowing “chaos, death and destruction.”

In May, Trump withdrew the United States from an international deal under which Iran was to put curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.

Protesters in Basra ransacked and torched the office of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki this month and the Iranian consulate was set alight by demonstrators demanding fresh drinking water, basic services, and jobs. Protestors shouted condemnation for what many have seen as Iran’s sway over Iraq’s affairs.

Iraq has urged foreign diplomats not to pay attention to “what is being circulated to undermine the climate of security and stability accompanying Iraq’s relations with the countries of the world.”

Basra is Iraq’s main port and one of its largest cities.

For the first time in several years, mortar shells also landed this month inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses parliament, government buildings and many foreign embassies.

By Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton. Additional reporting by Epoch Times staff.

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