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US to evacuate diplomats, close consulate in Basra, Iraq over Iranian threats

U.S. Soldiers search Iraqi civilians before allowing them access to the Basra Operations Center during a Medical Civic Assistance Program in Basra, Iraq, March 7, 2011. (Staff Sgt. Michael L. Casteel/Department of Defense)
September 28, 2018

The U.S. State Department made a shocking announcement Friday – they’re closing a U.S. consulate office in southern Iraq.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided to close the U.S. post in Basra, Iraq due to threats from Iran, a senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

The official said an increase of serious threats from Iran and Iranian-linked groups in Iraq spurred the decision.

As security risks from Iran have heightened, diplomats assigned to the consulate office will be evacuated in order to protect the diplomats and eliminate the possibility of Iran using the office in some way as leverage.

An official statement from State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has placed U.S. Consulate Basrah on ordered departure. U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide full consular services to for those in and around Basrah … We remain strongly committed to supporting Iraqis in the southern provinces and throughout the country.”

Pompeo sent messages to Iran warning that their threats would not be tolerated, and reiterated that the U.S. played no role in last week’s deadly Iranian military parade attack. Iran has blamed the U.S. and Israel for the attack that killed at least 25.

“Bottom line, if we are attacked we’ll respond,” the official said. “We’ll respond swiftly and effectively, and it will not be at proxies.”

Along with the increase of threats from Iran, the city of Basra has been plagued with civil unrest as Iraqis hold demonstrations over a range of issues, from blackouts, to water poisoning, and government corruption.

More than a dozen Iraqis have died and hundreds more injured after clashes with police.

Just over two weeks ago, rocket attacks struck the U.S. consulate in Basra, which the official said was caused by Iran.

“The totality of the information available to us leads us to the conclusion that we must attribute ultimate responsibility to the Iranian government, the Quds Force and the proxy militias under the direct command and control of the Quds Force,” the official said.

When the attacks occurred, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released an official statement which also pointed to Iran.

“Over the past few days, we have seen life-threatening attacks in Iraq, including on the United States consulate in Basra and against the American embassy compound in Baghdad. Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training and weapons,” the statement said at the time.

“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities,” the statement added. “America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives.”