DESPARDES News Monitor — The U.S. State Department has ordered all non-emergency personnel from its embassy in Iraq as a result of rising tensions in the region, officials said Wednesday, calling it “imminent” threat from Iranian-linked Iraqi militias, but President Donald Trump predicted that Iran would “soon” want to start talks.
The evacuation order, also covering the US consulate in Arbil, came 10 days after the Pentagon deployed an aircraft carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to fend off an unspecified plot by Tehran to attack US forces or allies.
“U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping,” the travel warning said. “Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians.
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“Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S.citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.”
Washington and Tehran have said they have no intention of going to war, but tensions have soared in recent weeks and Trump’s critics say he is rushing into a conflict.
In a series of tweets, Trump sought to portray the situation as under control, saying there was no discord in the White House and that Iran would want to negotiate.
“I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon,” he said.
Despite international skepticism, the US government has been building a case for growing threats from Iran, a longtime enemy and rival of US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the threat came from Iraqi militias “commanded and controlled” by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“It is directly linked to Iran, multiple threat streams directly linked to Iran,” said one official.
“This is an imminent threat to our personnel,” said a second official.
“There is no doubt in my mind that under the circumstances, a partial ordered departure (from the embassy) is a reasonable thing to do.”
On Tuesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted the showdown between the Islamic republic and the United States was a mere test of resolve.
“This face-off is not military because there is not going to be any war. Neither we nor them (the US) seek war,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment, saying in Sochi, Russia: “We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran.”
But the evacuation of US diplomatic personnel from Iraq added to broader worries.
Democrats in Congress demanded that the Trump administration brief them on the Iran threat, warning that the US legislature has not approved military action against Tehran.
On Monday, British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt bluntly warned of the danger of pushing Iran back towards developing nuclear weapons.
And in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday expressed concerns about “the continued escalation of tensions around this subject.”
Britain’s Major General Chris Ghika, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition fighting the jihadist Islamic State group, said Tuesday there was no special heightened alert.
After Ghika’s comments drew a sharp retort from the US Central Command, Britain’s defense ministry said Wednesday they have “long been clear about our concerns over Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region” — while still not confirming any new imminent danger.
The Trump administration ordered new sanctions last week on Iranian metals, including iron, steel, aluminum and copper. The materials are Iran’s largest sources of export revenue, other than oil, and account for about 10 percent of the country’s economy.
Demonstrations ensued in Iran over the sanctions as President Hassan Rouhani threatened to fully withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump withdrew the United States from the Obama-era pact last year.