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
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.
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.
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.