U.S. orders embassy staff evacuated from Iraq over 'imminent' Iran threat
The United States Wednesday ordered non-emergency staff evacuated from its Baghdad embassy due to an "imminent" threat from Iranian-linked Iraqi militias, but President Donald Trump predicted Iran would "soon" want to start talks.
The move added to growing fears that the long-time rivals could be on course for conflict despite both sides stressing they have no desire for war.
The evacuation order, also covering the U.S. consulate in Arbil, came 10 days after the Pentagon deployed an aircraft carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf against an unspecified plot by Tehran to attack U.S. forces or allies.
Trump said the situation is under control, saying there was no discord in the White House and that Iran would want to negotiate. "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon," he tweeted.
He also blasted media reports of White House turmoil, saying "there is no infighting whatsoever."
Despite international skepticism, the U.S. government has been pointing to increasing threats from Iran, a long-time enemy and rival of U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the threat came from Iraqi militia "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.
"There is no doubt in my mind that under the circumstances, a partial ordered departure (from the embassy) is a reasonable thing to do."
On Tuesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted the showdown between the Islamic republic and the U.S. was a mere test of resolve. "This face-off is not military because there is not going to be any war. Neither we nor them (the U.S.) seek war," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment, saying in Sochi, Russia: "We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran."
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a visit to Tokyo that his country was exercising "maximum restraint," accusing Washington of an "unacceptable" escalation in tensions.
Tehran remains "committed" to the nuclear deal thrashed out with world powers despite Washington's withdrawal, Zarif said, adding that Iran had been assessed as in compliance with the multilateral agreement.
Despite the insistence that neither party wants conflict, world powers have rushed to urge calm and voiced concern over the escalating tensions.
(Cover: A helicopter carrying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes off from Baghdad International Airport in Baghdad, Iraq, May 7, 2019. /Reuters Photo)