On the eve of tomorrow's Iraqi Kurdistan general election which will see a new Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan named, the US State Department has announced that it is evacuating the US Consulate in Basra.
Its doors are to remain shuttered until after the election, should civil violence be appropriately "simmered."
The order came from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, due mostly to rocket attacks earlier this month purportedly aimed at the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US Consulate in Basra.
Intelligence officials believe Iranian-backed forces could be planning an attack on U.S. military forces, but the threats aren't resting on the shoulders of Iran alone. There's already been a huge uptick in tangible violence this week leading up to the Iraqi Kurdistan general election tomorrow - an election which could very realistically cause huge levels of civil unrest.
The US Government is preparing for Iran and/or its proxies to take advantage of the tumult which is coinciding with the elections, and wants to make sure its diplomats are nowhere near the danger zone if/when things take a turn for the worst afterward.
Pompeo promised the U.S. would respond "promptly and appropriately" to any further attacks from Iran in an official document released on the U.S. State Department's official website:
The President and I have no more important priority than the safety and security of American citizens, including our diplomatic, military and other officials serving abroad.
Threats to our personnel and facilities in Iraq from the Government of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and from militias facilitated by and under the control and direction of the Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani have increased over the past several weeks. There have been repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias directed at our Consulate General in Basrah and our Embassy in Baghdad, including within the past twenty-four hours.
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. I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks.
Given the increasing and specific threats and incitement to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq, I have directed that an appropriate temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel in Iraq take place. We are working closely with our partners in the Government and Security Forces of Iraq to address these threats. We look to all international parties interested in peace and stability in Iraq and the region to reinforce our message to Iran regarding the unacceptability of their behavior.
- United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Earlier this week, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton declared that the U.S. had no intentions of scaling back America's personnel in the region:
“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias..."
- John Bolton
For now, it's a waiting game to see how the Iraqi Kurdistan elections pan out and if Iran decides to use the results to provoke further attacks in the region.
Photos by Getty Images
Read more at NPR.