US partially closes embassy offices in Iraq

WASHINGTON • The US yesterday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil as tensions mount between the United States and Iraq's neighbour Iran, prompting Kremlin concern.

Washington has ramped up pressure on Teheran in recent days, accusing Iran of planning unspecified "imminent" attacks in the region, and bolstering the American military presence in the Gulf.

A State Department advisory announcing the partial embassy closures warned of numerous "terrorist and insurgent groups" active in Iraq, including "anti-US sectarian militias" who could "threaten US citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq".

Amid the rising tensions, Germany has halted its training of soldiers in Iraq, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

The Dutch government also suspended a mission in Iraq that provides assistance to local authorities due to a security threat, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

The US last year shut its consulate in the protest-hit southern Iraqi city of Basra, blaming "indirect fire" by Iran-backed forces.

Tensions have sharply escalated between archrivals Washington and Teheran since US President Donald Trump withdrew last May from the 2015 international Iran nuclear deal, which removed sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear programme.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - who has made rolling back Iranian influence in the region a top priority - last week paid a surprise trip to Baghdad in a move to bolster ties with Iraq.

 

He has declined to go into further detail on the alleged plot, which has been met with scepticism in many quarters, including Democratic lawmakers who fear Mr Trump's administration is seeking to spark a war with Iran.

A US State Department spokesman yesterday said the departure of non-emergency personnel came in response to "the increased threat stream we are seeing in Iraq".

But a British general said on Tuesday there had been "no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria". The comments by Major-General Chris Ghika, a British spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), drew a sharp retort from US Central Command.

Both Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Mr Pompeo have this week played down fears that their countries were headed for conflict.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "There were no assurances from Pompeo", and "there is an obvious situation which unfortunately tends to escalate further".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'US partially closes embassy offices in Iraq'. Print Edition | Subscribe