US shuts con­sulate in protest-hit Basra

Pom­peo says Ira­nian gov­ern­ment is threat­en­ing US per­son­nel and fa­cil­i­ties in Iraq; Iran says it re­jects ‘US pro­pa­ganda;’ Iraq min­istry re­grets Amer­ica’s de­ci­sion

The Gulf Today - - MIDDLE EAST -

NEW YORK: The United States shut its con­sulate in the protest-hit south­ern Iraqi city of Basra, blam­ing “in­di­rect ire” by Iran-backed forces and warn­ing its ri­val of re­tal­i­a­tion for any dam­age.

Iraq’s for­eign min­istry voiced “re­gret” on Satur­day over the US de­ci­sion to shut its con­sulate in Basra which has been rocked by weeks of deadly protests.

“The min­istry re­grets the Amer­i­can de­ci­sion to pull its staff out of Basra,” a state­ment said.

Sec­re­tary of state mike pom­peo or­dered all but emer­gency staff to leave Basra, with con­sular du­ties to be taken over by the em­bassy in Bagh­dad.

Basra has been rocked by weeks of demon­stra­tions by Iraqis protest­ing un­em­ploy­ment and gov­ern­ment in­e­fi­ciency in the oil-rich south.

Pom­peo, who has made rolling back Ira­nian in­lu­ence in the re­gion a top pri­or­ity, said the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment and the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps Quds Force are threat­en­ing US per­son­nel and fa­cil­i­ties, and blamed Ira­nian mili­tias for “in­di­rect ire” — which usu­ally means rock­ets or ar­tillery — against the US con­sulate.

“I have ad­vised the gov­ern­ment of Iran that the United States will hold Iran di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for any harm to Amer­i­cans or to our diplo­matic fa­cil­i­ties in Iraq or else­where and whether per­pe­trated by Ira­nian forces di­rectly or by as­so­ci­ated proxy mili­tias,” he said in a state­ment while in New York to at­tend the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

“I have made clear that Iran should un­der­stand that the United States will re­spond promptly and ap­pro­pri­ately to any such at­tacks,” he added.

TRAVEL AD­VI­SORY

The state depart­ment, mean­while, sent out a re­newed ad­vi­sory telling Amer­i­cans not to travel to Iraq.

“US cit­i­zens in Iraq are at high risk for vi­o­lence and kid­nap­ping,” the ad­vi­sory states. “nu­mer­ous ter­ror­ist and in­sur­gent groups are ac­tive in Iraq and reg­u­larly at­tack both Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and civil­ians.” Iran has a strong in­lu­ence in Iraq, es­pe­cially in the coun­try’s Shi­itemajor­ity south.

Iran’ s con­sulate it­self was ear­lier burned down dur­ing the protests, al­though no one was in­jured and Tehran quickly opened a new mis­sion. Iran’s for­eign min­istry ear­lier called US al­le­ga­tions of fo­ment­ing vi­o­lence in Basra “as­ton­ish­ing, provoca­tive and ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

Speak­ing at the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani also dis­missed the US crit­i­cism of in­volve­ment in its neigh­bour, ques­tion­ing why Wash­ing­ton it­self was in­volved in a coun­try so far away.

Ear­lier this month, three mor­tar rounds also hit the for­ti­ied Green Zone area in Bagh­dad, home to the US em­bassy, with­out caus­ing in­juries and with the per­pe­tra­tors un­clear.

Diplo­matic se­cu­rity is a key pri­or­ity for the United States and Pom­peo, who as a con­gress­man went on the of­fen­sive against for­mer sec­re­tary of state Hil­lary Clin­ton over a deadly at­tack on the US con­sulate in the eastern Libyan city of Beng­hazi. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has with­drawn from a nu­clear deal with Iran, reim­posed sanc­tions and vowed to roll back the its role in the re­gion in­clud­ing in Syria, Ye­men and Iraq.

De­spite warn­ings of in­creased Ira­nian bel­liger­ence, the Pen­tagon has said naval in­ci­dents in the Gulf have com­pletely dropped off in re­cent months.

Iran, for its part, re­jected what it called the US “pro­pa­ganda and false ac­cu­sa­tions,” in­sist­ing it con­demned any at­tacks on diplo­matic sites.

“Iran sees the ab­surd US justi­ica­tion which fol­low weeks of pro­pa­ganda and false ac­cu­sa­tions against Iran and Iraqi forces as play­ing a blame-game,” said the coun­try’s for­eign min­istry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.

Agence France-presse

CUR­TAINS DOWN: From left: Egyp­tian Tourism Min­is­ter Ra­nia Al Mashat, ac­tors Dalia El Be­hery and Nelly Karim ar­rive for the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the sec­ond edi­tion of the El Gouna Film Fes­ti­val in Egypt late on Fri­day.

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