Pompeo accuses Iran of attacking US consulate in Iraq
The U.S. consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has come under repeated attacks in recent weeks, leading to U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo to close the facility. Pompeo blames Iranian-led Shia militias for the attacks.
The militias are led by Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers belonging to the Quds force. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been on the rise since the U.S. reimposed severe sanctions on Tehran.
"Threats to our personnel and facilities in Iraq from the Government of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and from militias facilitated by and under the control and direction of the Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani have increased over the past several weeks," said Pompeo. "There have been repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias directed at our Consulate General in Basrah and our Embassy in Baghdad, including within the past twenty-four hours."
The U.S. Consulate in Basra was the apparent target of rocket fire three weeks ago, though no facilities were damaged. The barrage came shortly after protesters set fire to Iranian offices in the city, an attack that drew a condemnation from State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
"Under the Iraqi constitution, the right to peaceful protest and the duty to protect public and private property go hand in hand," she said on Sept. 7. "The United States condemns violence against diplomats, including that which occurred today in Basra. We call on all parties, including security forces and protesters, to uphold the right of peaceful protest and to protect diplomats and their facilities."
But Iranian-backed forces accused the United States of orchestrating the clash. "The American Embassy is directing the situation in Basra," said Abu Mehdi al-Mohandis, a U.S.-designated terrorist who leads a Shiite militia, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported Pompeo's decision.
U.S. officials have emphasized that President Trump wouldn't make a distinction between Iran and Iranian poxy [sic] militias in Iraq, if a direct attack on American diplomats takes place. "The President and I have no more important priority than the safety and security of American citizens, including our diplomatic, military and other officials serving abroad," Pompeo said. "We look 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 militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were on the front lines in the Iraqi government's fight against ISIS forces who, at one time, controlled about a third of Iraq. But the government exercised only nominal control over them as they were recruited, trained, and armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Any attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq by these militias were almost certainly ordered from Tehran.
Iran is playing an extremely dangerous game. The Iranians are banking on the Iraqi government looking the other way while their militias seek to intimidate the Americans. Those militias are as much a threat to Baghdad as they are to the U.S., but the Iraqi government can't act too forcefully against them because of the pro-Iran factions within parliament and the administration of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
So Pompeo made the only prudent decision he could: he abandoned the Basra consulate and put Iran on notice that further attacks would not be tolerated. While Iran would be crazy to start a war with the U.S., they may test the U.S. further in the weeks ahead by threatening our diplomats.