This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi officials to discuss the United States’ security concerns amid what he called “escalating” Iranian activity.
Pompeo’s May 7 visit to the Iraqi capital came after the United States earlier this week announced the deployment an aircraft carrier battle group to the Middle East, which U.S. official said was in response to threats to American forces and the country’s allies from Iran.
The U.S. intelligence was “very specific” about “attacks that were imminent,” Pompeo said in Baghdad, without providing details.
Tehran has dismissed the reported threat as “psychological warfare.”
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since President Donald Trump one year ago withdrew the United States from the 2015 between Iran and world powers and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran.
After meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad, Pompeo told reporters: “We talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country.”
He said the purpose of the meetings also was to inform Iraqi leaders about “the increased threat stream that we had seen” so they could effectively provide protection to U.S. forces.
Pompeo said he had assured Iraqi officials that the United States stands ready to “continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation.”
“We don’t want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq,” he said.
Asked about the decision to deploy additional forces to the Middle East, Pompeo said: “The message that we’ve sent to the Iranians, I hope, puts us in a position where we can deter and the Iranians will think twice about attacking American interests.”
After his four-hour visit, Pompeo tweeted that his meetings in Baghdad were used “to reinforce our friendship & to underline the need for Iraq to protect diplomatic facilities & Coalition personnel.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim said the sides discussed “bilateral ties, the latest security developments in the region, and anti-terrorism efforts.”
U.S. forces are deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the extremist group Islamic State.
Ahead of the visit, Pompeo said he would also discuss with the Iraqis pending business accords, including “big energy deals that can disconnect them from Iranian energy.”
Earlier, the U.S. secretary of state had attended a meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland and abruptly canceled a planned visit to Germany due to what a spokesperson said were “pressing issues.”
White House national-security adviser John Bolton on May 5 said that the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and accompanying ships, along with a bomber task force, to waters near Iran was intended to send “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
The United States was acting “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” Bolton said.
The Pentagon said on May 7 that the U.S. bomber task force being sent would consist of long-range, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the USS Abraham Lincoln was already due in the Persian Gulf and dismissed the U.S. announcement as a “clumsy” attempt to recycle old news for “psychological warfare.”
“From announcements of naval movements (that actually occurred last month) to dire warnings about so-called ‘Iranian threats’,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “If US and clients don’t feel safe, it’s because they’re despised by the people of the region — blaming Iran won’t reverse that.”
The latest escalation between Washington and Tehran comes ahead of the May 8 anniversary of the U.S. pullout from the nuclear agreement with Iran that provided the country with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.