The State Department has announced that it will close the U.S. consulate in the restive city of Basra, relocating its personal elsewhere in Iraq after heightened security threats in the city resulting from recent anti-corruption protests and attacks there on U.S. interests.
“I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
He did not elaborate on what these response options would be, but added that the U.S. looks “to all international parties interested in peace and stability in Iraq and the region to reinforce our message to Iran regarding the unacceptability of their behavior.”
The governement has put a curfew in place to restore calm and the Iraqi foreign ministry issued a statement Saturday saying it “regrets” the U.S. decision to withdraw its consular staff from Basra, stressing that “Iraq is committed to protecting foreign diplomatic missions on its soil and to improve security.”
This is only the latest in the Trump administration’s increasing threats against Iran.
President Donald Trump pulled out the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran. He has threatened further action against Iran and targeted Iran in his speech at this week’s U.N. General Assembly as well as his opening remarks at the U.N. Security Council.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani blasted President Trump’s “Nazi-like disposition” and noted that the U.S. was entirely isolated at the Security Council, were all other member states supported the nuclear deal with Iran.
Earlier this month, the U.S. consulate in Basra was attacked, one day after the Iranian consulate there was attacked by protesters, who also targeted a number of government buildings over a cut to services and corruption issues.
The unrest is not entirely localized — rockets also fell in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy. Again, there were no casualties.
The U.S., which has been urging Iranian forces to leave Iraq and for the Islamic Republic to stop supporting Shia factions there, nonetheless lashed out at Iran, wondering why it had not protected U.S. interests there.
However, although Iraqis have also totally torched Iranian offices there, there’s little question who the target of U.S. retaliation would be: Iran.
National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has been advocating war with Iran for years, on Tuesday threatened that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran crosses the United States, its interests or allies.
The U.S. withdrawal from Basra might embolden protesters to move violence, for which the U.S. will continue to blame Iran, as it does for virtually all unrest in the region. In other words, the U.S. appears ready to risk more instability in Basra in order to make (another) case against Iran.
Among the demands made by the Trump administration on Iran in order to have the sanctions re-lifted is that it withdraw its troops and support from Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. This demand has been soundly refused by Iran.
In a press conference in New York on Wednesday, Rouhani pointed out that Iran is the one operating within its own region, and the U.S. is the “outsider, coming from far away, and facing lots of security problems by virtue of its very presence there.”
“We’d be in support of a national poll in Iraq asking them what percent of Iraqis want America to stay in Iraq. Even Mr. Trump himself has repeatedly said that [U.S.] efforts have been pointless in the region, spending billions without getting anywhere. Even he said the terrorist groups operating in Iraq were created by the U.S.,” said Rouhani.
“These are the words of your president. So why does the U.S. figure it can do whatever it wants in Iraq, is unhappy with how Iraqis respond, and then wants to hang the responsibility for this around our necks… the U.S. needs to reconsider its presence in the region,” he added.