SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United States will not hesitate to act to protect its personnel in Iraq, where it considers Iranian-backed militias that have attacked U.S. targets to be the country’s “single biggest problem,” a senior State Department official said on Thursday (October 1).
David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, issued the warning when asked during a briefing about U.S. threats to close its embassy in Baghdad, Reuters reported.
He declined to comment on what he called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “private diplomatic conversations” but added, “We can’t tolerate the threats to our people, our men and women serving abroad.”
In recent weeks rocket attacks near the embassy have increased and roadside bombs targeted convoys carrying equipment to the U.S.-led military coalition. One roadside attack hit a British convoy in Baghdad, the first of its kind against Western diplomats in Iraq for years.
On Monday three children and two women were killed when two militia rockets hit a family home, the Iraqi military said. Police sources said Baghdad airport was the intended target.
Washington blames such attacks on Iranian-backed militia groups. Iran has not directly commented on the incidents but groups believed to be connected to Iran-aligned militias have claimed responsibility for some attacks.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on Wednesday that Iraq would protect foreign mission buildings and ensure only the state has weapons, as the United States warned it could shut down its embassy in Baghdad if attacks continued on Americans.
“Iraq is keen on enforcing the rule of law, the state’s monopoly on having weapons, protecting foreign missions, and diplomatic buildings,” Kadhimi told 25 ambassadors and Charges d’Affaires of foreign countries during a meeting in Baghdad.
“Those who carry out attacks on foreign missions are seeking to destabilize Iraq and sabotage its regional and international relations,” he said.
The meeting coincided with Iraqi officials and Western diplomats saying Washington has made preparations to withdraw diplomats from Iraq after warning Baghdad it could shut its embassy.
Any move by the United States to reduce its diplomatic presence in a country where it has thousands of troops would be seen in the region as an escalation of its confrontation with Iran, which Washington blames for missile and bomb attacks.
Iraqis fear their country could become a battleground in a proxy war.