BAGHDAD: The US ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil, citing intelligence on a “imminent” threat from Iraqi militias with close links to Iran.
The evacuation order came 10 days after President Donald Trump ordered the movement of 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.
Both Washington and Tehran have said they have no intention of going to war, but tensions have soared in recent weeks.
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 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 test of resolve rather than a military encounter.
“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 about a possible armed clash ahead.
Democrats in Congress demanded 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 called for “a period of calm” and 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.”