The US on Wednesday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil, ramping up alarm over an alleged Iran threat even as allies appeared less than convinced.
The order to evacuate US diplomats from Iraq came in response to an “imminent” threat directly linked to Iran, senior State Department officials said Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the threat came from Iraqi militias commanded and controlled by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“It is directly linked to Iran, multiple threat streams directly linked to Iran,” said one official.
“This is an imminent threat to our personnel,” said a second official.
Earlier Wednesday, the US State Department ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil, citing a non-specific threat from “terrorist and insurgent groups” in Iraq that included “anti-US sectarian militias.”
The move came 10 days after the White House ordered a US aircraft carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to prepare to respond to any Iranian-directed strike against US interests or allies in the region.
Both Washington and Tehran said Tuesday they were not seeking war amid mounting tension.
Washington though has been vague about the specifics of the intelligence it has that allegedly indicates Tehran’s plans to hit US personnel.
“This threat stream, let me tell you, is real,” said the second official.
“It’s IRGC-commanded and controlled Iraqi militias,” the official said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that under the circumstances, a partial ordered departure is a reasonable thing to do.”
Both officials stressed that the United States was not seeking an armed confrontation with Iran, despite the Pentagon’s military build-up in the Gulf.
“There is absolutely no desire or interest in a military conflict with anybody,” the official said.
A senior Democratic senator demanded President Donald Trump’s administration brief Congress on the Iran threat, warning that the US legislature has not approved military action against Tehran.
And Moscow expressed concerns that both Washington and Tehran were dangerously stoking tensions, as the Pentagon ramped up its forces in the Gulf with B-52 bombers, Patriot missiles and an aircraft carrier task force.
The embassy evacuation came 10 days after Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton announced the military deployment in response to intelligence on an unspecified “imminent” plot by Iran to attack US forces or allies.
Washington says it has received intelligence on possible attacks by Iranian or Iranian-backed forces, possibly targeting US bases in Iraq or Syria.
Some observers speculate that Tehran is seeking to retaliate to Washington’s decision in April to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran as a terrorist organization in an effort to stymie their activities across the Middle East.
But since the first US warning on May 5, the only activity seen has been a still-mysterious “attack” Monday on four tankers anchored off Fujairah, a UAE port at the strategically crucial entrance to the Gulf.