Iraqi prime min­is­ter says he wants to end ten­sions be­tween Iran and U.S.

The News-Times - - NATION/WORLD -

BAGHDAD — Iraq will send del­e­ga­tions to the U.S. and Iran to help end ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries, Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­dul-Mahdi said Tues­day, adding that Baghdad is neu­tral in the con­flict.

Ab­dul-Mahdi, whose coun­try has close ties to both Iran and the U.S., said that Ira­nian and U.S. of­fi­cials have in­formed Iraq that they have “no de­sire in fight­ing a war.”

Last week, the U.S. or­dered the evac­u­a­tion of nonessen­tial diplo­matic staff from Iraq amid un­spec­i­fied threats from Iran and ris­ing ten­sions across the re­gion. The White House has sent war­ships and bombers to the re­gion to counter the al­leged Ira­nian threats.

Ab­dul-Mahdi’s com­ments came two days af­ter a rocket slammed into Baghdad’s heav­ily for­ti­fied Green Zone, land­ing less than a mile from the sprawl­ing U.S. Em­bassy. No in­juries were re­ported and no group im­me­di­ately claimed the Sun­day night at­tack.

Ma­jor Ira­nian-backed groups in Iraq dis­tanced them­selves from the at­tack, say­ing their coun­try should not be pulled into re­gional con­flict.

Af­ter Amer­ica’s 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq to oust dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hussein, Amer­i­can troops and Ira­nian-backed mili­ti­a­men fought pitched bat­tles around the coun­try, and scores of U.S. troops were killed or wounded by so­phis­ti­cated Ira­nian-made weapons.

Ab­dul-Mahdi said Iraq is “play­ing a role to calm the sit­u­a­tion but it is not a me­di­a­tion.” He said he will visit Kuwait on Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss re­gional is­sues.

“Iraq is only car­ry­ing mes­sages (be­tween the U.S. and Iran). Me­di­a­tion is a big word. What we are do­ing is try­ing to defuse the cri­sis,” he told re­porters in Baghdad dur­ing his weekly news con­fer­ence, with­out go­ing into de­tails about the del­e­ga­tions that will be sent. “We are trans­fer­ring mes­sages from one side to the other.”

“Iraq has no choice in the cri­sis. We don’t stand by one side against the other,” Ab­dulMahdi added.

On May 8, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo made a light­ning, pre­vi­ously unan­nounced trip to the Iraqi cap­i­tal fol­low­ing the abrupt can­cel­la­tion of a visit to Ger­many, and as the United States said it had been pick­ing up in­tel­li­gence that Iran is threat­en­ing Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East.

Ab­dul-Mahdi was asked whether Iraq is tak­ing any mea­sures in case the Strait of Hor­muz, the nar­row mouth of the Per­sian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes, is closed. Most of Iraq’s oil ex­ports pass through Hor­muz.

“We are work­ing for al­ter­na­tives but these are not short­term al­ter­na­tives. They are long-term ones,” he said.

“We have stored fuel for the cri­sis” in the lo­cal mar­ket in case some­thing hap­pens, he said.

Mc3 Dar­ion Chanelle Triplett / AFP/Getty Im­ages

This handout pic­ture re­leased by the U.S. Navy on Sun­day shows a MH-60S Sea Hawk he­li­copter from the “Night­dip­pers” of He­li­copter Sea Com­bat Squadron 5 trans­port­ing cargo from the fast com­bat sup­port ship USNS Arc­tic to the Nimitz-class air­craft car­rier USS Abra­ham Lincoln dur­ing a re­plen­ish­ment-at-sea. The Pen­tagon has sent the USS Abra­ham Lincoln car­rier group and a bomber task force to the Mid­dle East.

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