These groups are undermining efforts to improve Erbil-Baghdad relations and reestablish security in the north.
The Pentagon has said a United States Coast Guard ship fired about 30 warning shots after 13 vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) came close to it and other US Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz – an account rejected by Tehran.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the warning shots were fired after the Iranian fast boats came as close as 137 metres (450 feet) of six US military vessels, including the USS Monterey, that were escorting the guided-missile submarine Georgia.
The US Coast Guard cutter Maui fired the warning shots from a 0.50-calibre machinegun before the Iranian vessels left, Kirby said, adding that the first round was fired when the Iranian boats got to within 300 yards (274 metres) of the US ships, and the second when they got within 150 yards (137 metres).
“It’s significant … and they were acting very aggressively,” he said, adding that the number of Iranian vessels was more than in the recent past.
But in a statement on Tuesday, the IRGCN rejected the Pentagon’s version of events.
It said seven vessels of the “terrorist” US Navy exhibited “unprofessional” behaviour such as flying helicopters and firing flares and shots. It added that the Iranian vessels adhered to the legal distance from US vessels and warned them, which made the latter change course.
The IRGCN also accused the US of trying to avoid responsibility for its “reckless” behaviour by releasing false statements.
“This is while it is the Americans that have through their illegitimate presence become a focal point for instability, producing threats and creating hazards in the region, including in the Hormuz Strait and the Persian Gulf,” the statement said, adding that Iran is ready to present a decisive response to any “calculation errors” by US forces as it considers any risky behaviour in the sensitive area a red line.
The latest incident – the third encounter between the US and Iranian vessels in the past month – comes as world powers and Iran seek to speed up efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord.
US officials returned to Vienna last week for the fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters on May 6 there is hope for the agreement if Iran makes a political decision.
“Is it possible that we’ll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It’s possible, yes,” the official said during a telephone briefing.
The Trump administration also sanctioned Iran after it left the accord.
Iran has long maintained that no further actions should be taken on its part until the US – the first party to withdraw from the agreement – returns to compliance.
Tehran also wants the sanctions lifted.