Iraq denounces ‘dangerous’ US embassy pullout threat

US has made preparations to withdraw diplomats after warning Baghdad it could shut its embassy amid attacks.

Iraqi soldier in Baghdad ahead of security conference
Dozens of rocket and mortar attacks have targeted the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government and home to many foreign embassies [File: Ali al-Saadi/AFP]

Iraq’s foreign minister has said his country hopes the United States will reconsider its decision to close its diplomatic mission in Baghdad, as a group of ambassadors expressed their willingness to help Iraq tackle security challenges.

Fuad Hussein spoke at a news conference during a heated week sparked by the US warning it was taking measures to close its embassy in Baghdad.

“We hope that the US government and American administration will reconsider this decision … because the decision is a wrong one, it was taken at the wrong time and the wrong place,” Hussein said.

He said it would also send a message to the armed groups perpetuating the attacks that they were effective in reaching their political aims.

The US said the embassy would be closed unless the Iraqi government took action to stop frequent rocket and improvised explosive device attacks by Iran-backed groups and rogue armed elements against the American presence in the country.

Hussein called the threat to close the US embassy “dangerous” because “there is a possibility that the American withdrawal from Baghdad will lead to other [embassy] withdrawals”.

Rocket and mortar attacks have targeted the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to many foreign embassies, including the US embassy.

These attacks have also targeted Baghdad’s international airport, and recent rocket fire intended for the airport struck a residential home killing seven Iraqi civilians, all women and children.

Between October 2019 and July this year in Iraq, about 40 rocket attacks have targeted the US embassy or bases housing American troops.

“Some people in Washington make parallels with Benghazi but it’s a faulty analysis, just as this is a faulty decision,” said Hussein, referring to Libya’s second city.

Four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed in Benghazi in 2012 when armed attackers among a crowd of protesters stormed the US consulate.

Not imminent

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the embassy closure warning to Iraq’s President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in separate phone calls last week.

A US official said the warning was not an imminent ultimatum. But some Iraqi officials appear to be under the impression it may coincide with the expiry of the latest Iran sanctions waiver in two months time. Iraq desperately needs the waivers to import Iranian energy.

In the news conference, Hussein said Iraq acknowledged the domestic climate in the US ahead of the November presidential election, which might have precipitated the warning. But he said the new Iraqi government – barely in office four months – was taking measures.

“It is the government’s duty to take action and it has taken some actions,” he said, naming security measures in the Green Zone and the airport.

His comments came after a group of 25 ambassadors and charges d’affaires in Iraq released a statement in support of the Iraqi government and stability in the country, which was issued following a meeting with al-Kadhimi.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard in front of smoke rising from a fire set by pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters in the U.S. embassy compound, Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. U.S. troops
An Iraqi soldier stands guard in front of smoke rising from a fire set by pro-Iranian militiamen in the US embassy compound in Baghdad in January [Nasser Nasser/AP]

In Wednesday’s statement – which included ambassadors from the US, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Canada – the diplomatic envoys expressed “deep concern” at the rise in the number of attacks against diplomatic missions in Iraq.

They welcomed the actions taken by al-Kadhimi, including recent security operations and heightened security around the airport, and encouraged more measures to consolidate forces within the Green Zone.

“Those who carry out attacks on foreign missions are seeking to destabilise Iraq and sabotage its regional and international relations,” al-Kadhimi’s office said in a statement. “These attacks do not target foreign missions alone, but have hurt innocent citizens, including children.”

Armed groups have been locked in a tug-of-war with al-Kadhimi, who is seen as more pro-American than some of his predecessors.

The US still has hundreds of diplomats in its mission in the Green Zone in Baghdad and about 3,000 troops based in three bases across the country.

Source: News Agencies