U.S. pulls staff from Iraq over Iran tensions
by Harvest Prude
Posted 5/15/19, 12:33 pm
In response to escalating tensions with Iran, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday ordered all nonessential embassy and consulate personnel to leave Iraq. The administration warned U.S. citizens to avoid traveling through Iraq, citing a high risk of “terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”
President Donald Trump said on Monday that Iran will “suffer greatly” if it attempts anything like an attack. Last week, the White House deployed warships and a bomber task force to the region in response to unidentified threats and warnings. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Iraq last week following reports that Iranian forces and their proxies were planning to target U.S. forces in the country, CNN reported based on information from unnamed U.S. officials. Currently in Russia for a diplomatic visit, Pompeo said the United States is not seeking war with Iran, but “we’re looking for the regime to simply stop conducting assassination campaigns throughout Europe.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told state media Tuesday, “We don’t seek a war, nor do they. They know that it is not to their benefit.”
The United States warned last week that “Iran or its proxies” could target commercial vessels and oil production infrastructure in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on Saudi oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Houthi-run Masirah Television said the group was retaliating against the “continued aggression and blockade” on Iran. A Saudi-led coalition has fought the Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015 in a proxy war with Iran.
The White House has continued to pressure Iran since pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal a year ago. In addition to reimposing sanctions, it also labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a domestic paramilitary force, a terror group and announced it will sanction nations that continue to import Iranian oil.
Iran threatened on May 8 to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and resume storing excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program unless Europe offers it a better deal within 60 days. The country threatened in April to close off the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot sell its crude oil. The narrow waterway connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and facilitates the transfer of about 20 percent of the world’s oil from the Middle East.
Also on Tuesday, Trump denied a New York Times report that the administration had plans to send more than 100,000 troops to the region if war erupted with Iran, but added, “Would I do that? Absolutely.” He added that in the event of war that he would send “a lot more troops than that.”
Read more from The Sift Sign up for The Sift email
Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.