U.S. Warns Iraq It May Shutter Embassy Over Militia Attacks
(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo warned Iraq’s prime minister the U.S. may shutter its embassy in Baghdad if the Iraqi government can’t protect diplomats and staff linked to the diplomatic outpost.
Pompeo told Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in a call Saturday that the U.S. would slash staff at the embassy unless Iraq can halt attacks by Shiite militias that have targeted the U.S. embassy and other assets, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing a private communication.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the call but said the U.S. won’t tolerate threats to Americans serving abroad and will take whatever action necessary to keep its personnel safe. The spokesperson said Iran-backed militias in Iraq are the single biggest deterrent to stability in Iraq.
Attacks against the Green Zone and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by Iran-linked militia groups have increased in recent months, particularly after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad in January killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah. Iran vowed to retaliate for the strike.
Pompeo’s warning was earlier reported by the Washington Post.
The administration had high hopes for Kadhimi, who met with Trump in Washington in July, soon after taking office. But Kadhimi has also nurtured ties with neighboring Iran, making the country the destination of his first foreign visit earlier in the summer.
Earlier this month, General Kenneth McKenzie, the top American commander in the Middle East, said the U.S. was cutting troop numbers in Iraq to 3,000 from about 5,200. McKenzie said at the time the move was done “in recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made.” But U.S. diplomats are still subject to frequent attacks and Kadhimi’s government has struggled to keep militias in check.
The current U.S. embassy, among the largest and most expensive American diplomatic outposts in the world, was meant to showcase the new, close partnership between the two governments in the wake of the Iraq war. But the U.S. had earlier pulled many non-essential staff from the embassy and shuttered its consulate in Basra in 2018.
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