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Reports: US threatening to close Baghdad embassy if Iraqis can’t stop militia’s rocket attacks

US embassy in Baghdad (United States Department of State/Released)
September 28, 2020

The Trump administration is reportedly considering closing its embassy in Baghdad, Iraq unless the Iraqi government can stop rocket attacks against U.S. forces and facilities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller both delivered warnings to top Iraqi officials that the Shiite militia attacks must stop, officials told Wall Street Journal.

U.S. officials have begun preparing to withdraw its diplomats from the embassy and have taken preliminary measures for the embassy’s closure, Iraqi officials told WSJ.

“What we’re being told is that it is a gradual closure of the embassy over two to three months,” one Iraqi official said, adding that moving slowly to close the embassy would allow the U.S. to halt the closure if the Iraqi government takes the necessary action to protect U.S. assets.

The militia rocket attacks have been a significant strain on relations between the U.S. and Iraq. Closing the embassy could result in U.S. military strikes on Shiite militias behind the rocket attacks, U.S. officials said.

Rocket attacks are a frequent occurrence in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the fortified government and diplomatic area in the city’s center. The area houses Iraq’s government, the U.S. Embassy, and other notable facilities. Rocket attacks also frequently target the nearby Baghdad International Airport, where the headquarters for U.S. forces is located.

On Monday, rocket attacks aiming for the airport struck a civilian home, killing three and wounding at least two, the Associated Press reported.

News of the U.S. embassy’s closure comes weeks after the top U.S. general overseeing Middle East operations confirmed a plan to withdraw some 2,200 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of September.

“In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” Marine General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said during a visit to Iraq, according to an excerpt of his remarks provided to American Military News.

McKenzie explained that Iraqi forces, which have been trained by U.S. troops, are capable of fighting ISIS mostly on their own now. The remaining troops will continue “advising and assisting” Iraqi forces for now.

“We are continuing to expand on our partner capacity programs that enable Iraqi forces and allow us to reduce our footprint in Iraq,” McKenzie added.

The move is a step toward President Trump’s vow to put an end to “endless wars” and accompanies troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.