US staff in Iraq or­dered to leave

Pen­tagon raises Iran alert level; threat dis­puted

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kim Hjelm­gaard USA TO­DAY

The U.S. mil­i­tary put its forces in Iraq on high alert and the State De­part­ment or­dered all non­emer­gency em­ploy­ees Wed­nes­day to leave the coun­try im­me­di­ately amid es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions with Iran. Some U.S. al­lies have ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s claims that Iran poses a grow­ing threat.

Navy Capt. Bill Ur­ban, a spokesman at the U.S. mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand, said in a state­ment that there were “pos­si­bly im­mi­nent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq” as he sought to clar­ify con­tra­dic­tory re­marks by a Bri­tish com­man­der Tues­day. Bri­tish Maj. Gen. Christophe­r Ghika, a se­nior officer in the U.S.-backed coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State group in Iraq and Syria, said, “There’s been no in­creased threat from Ira­nian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.” Ur­ban re­but­ted Ghika’s re­marks in a sign of how the United States and its close al­lies have split over Iran’s po­ten­tial threat.

Ap­ply­ing “max­i­mum pres­sure” on Iran is a cen­tral tenet of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign pol­icy. Trump with­drew the United States from a nu­clear deal reached be­tween Iran and world pow­ers in 2015, reim­posed crush­ing sanc­tions and boosted the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Per­sian Gulf. Un­ease that Wash­ing­ton and Tehran could be headed to­ward mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion has mounted. In Bagh­dad, the U.S. Em­bassy pub­lished a state­ment Wed­nes­day say­ing the State De­part­ment or­dered all non­emer­gency staff leave the coun­try af­ter Wash­ing­ton said last week that it de­tected “cred­i­ble” threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the re­gion tar--

get­ing Amer­i­cans and U.S. in­ter­ests.

Specific de­tails about the in­tel­li­gence have not been re­vealed.

Saudi Ara­bia said this week that two of its oil tankers and other en­ergy-re­lated in­fra­struc­ture were dam­aged in an act of “sab­o­tage” in the Per­sian Gulf. Ye­men’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who are fight­ing a war with Saudi Ara­bia, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for drone at­tacks on Saudi oil fa­cil­i­ties Tues­day.

Fed­er­ica Mogherini, Europe’s top for­eign affairs diplo­mat, called for the United States to show “max­i­mum re­straint” af­ter meet­ing with Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo.

When the U.S. pulled out of the nu­clear deal in May last year, the other sig­na­to­ries – Bri­tain, China, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia and the Euro­pean Union – vowed to stay in and es­tab­lish a finan­cial mech­a­nism that would al­low them to keep trade and other ties with Iran open amid the U.S. sanc­tions. They have strug­gled to achieve that. As a re­sult, Iran gave Euro­pean coun­tries 60 days to find a way of sal­vaging the agree­ment or it would start en­rich­ing ura­nium to far higher lev­els.

If noth­ing hap­pens in 60 days, “there will be con­se­quences from our side,” Hamid Baei­dine­jad, Iran’s am­bas­sador to the United King­dom, told USA TO­DAY and other me­dia out­lets in a briefing Tues­day in Iran’s Em­bassy in Lon­don.

Suc­ces­sive U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions have viewed Iran as a re­gional trou­ble­maker and de­scribed it as the “largest state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism.” Tehran aids a num­ber of Shi­ite mil­i­tant groups in Iraq, Le­banon, Syria and else­where across the Mid­dle East. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pulled out of the nu­clear deal in part be­cause of that and also be­cause the deal does not ad­dress Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile ac­tiv­ity.

Iran or its prox­ies, such as Hezbol­lah, Ha­mas and the Tal­iban, have car­ried out bomb­ings, ab­duc­tions and hi­jack­ings against the United States and other Western na­tions.

“Iran is cer­tain to con­tinue to pur­sue its re­gional strat­egy, un­less and un­til its ad­ver­saries are will­ing or able to blunt Iran’s efforts,” the au­thors of a new re­port by the So­ufan Cen­ter, a global se­cu­rity re­search cen­ter, wrote.

New Jer­sey Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez, top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said law­mak­ers needed an im­me­di­ate briefing from Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion officials on Iran. He said there are only two rea­sons for the State De­part­ment to order the de­par­ture of U.S. Em­bassy staff from Bagh­dad: cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence Amer­i­cans are at risk or prepa­ra­tion for mil­i­tary ac­tion.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has not pro­vided any in­for­ma­tion to this com­mit­tee on the in­tel­li­gence be­hind their de­ci­sions or what they plan to do in Iraq or Iran,” he said.

Ghika

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