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Pompeo warns of the withdrawal of US plans for the embassy in Baghdad



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed Kadhimi of the plans on Saturday night, according to an official familiar with the matter. Two Western officials in Baghdad said their country’s diplomatic missions had been informed of the plan.

On Sunday it was unclear whether the White House had approved a possible departure and what could cause the Trump administration to postpone the plan. If the government moves forward, the embassy shutdown is expected to take 90 days. This would give the Trump administration a chance to reconsider the decision, said a diplomat familiar with the situation.

An Iraqi official said the US government is calling for stronger action against militias, suggesting a shutdown in the case could be averted.

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Pompeo̵

7;s “private diplomatic talks with foreign leaders” but underscored US frustration with “Iran-backed groups firing missiles at our embassy”.

She said such attacks are “a threat not only to us, but also to the Iraqi government, neighboring diplomatic missions and residents of the former international zone and the surrounding areas.”

President Trump’s decision to order the assassination of senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani outside Baghdad airport in January sparked a firestorm in Iraq. Iraqi lawmakers called for US troops to be evicted. Iran-backed militia groups have launched a campaign of rocket and small bomb attacks on the US embassy and Iraqi military bases that house US-led coalition forces.

Two US soldiers, one British and several members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in missile attacks attributed to the militia earlier this year. In recent months, small-scale bombing has also targeted convoys related to the US-led coalition. Iraqi drivers are at the center of what fear has sown their ranks. A bomb was planted next to a British Embassy convoy in Baghdad earlier this month, suggesting a possible new phase in the militia campaign.

Seventeen years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the US embassy in Baghdad has grown into one of the largest diplomatic outposts in America. It was unclear on Sunday whether the decision to withdraw could be reversed if Kadhimi’s government can better protect Western diplomatic and military personnel.

Its challenges are high and Iraqi officials say the prime minister has little backing. Kadhimi has attempted to crack down on the militias by targeting their funding sources and restructuring the Iraqi security apparatus to bring trusted allies to the fore. The militias responded by increasing attacks on diplomatic missions.

Iraqi security officials also attribute the murder of a member of the Kadhimi Inner Circle, Hisham al-Hashemi, to an Iran-backed militia.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said “the presence of lawless Iran-backed militias”. As the United States seeks to secure financial support for Iraq from the international community and the private sector, “the greatest deterrent to additional investment in Iraq” remains.

The US decision follows Kadhimi’s visit to Washington last month, which both sides described in glowing words as a sign of renewed partnership.

A senior official in Kadhimi’s office said Sunday that the prime minister was working on behalf of European partners to persuade the United States to reverse its decision, citing the “negative consequences” this has on the country’s stability could.

Officials from three European embassies in Baghdad said their countries would stay even if the United States left.

The US military leads a coalition that has been fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from its headquarters in Baghdad since 2014. Defense officials said the United States plans to continue its counterinsurgency mission in Iraq for the time being.

General Frank McKenzie Jr., who heads U.S. Central Command, said this month the United States would reduce its armed forces from more than 5,000 to about 3,000 by the end of the month.

Analysts said a US withdrawal could set Kadhimi back in his fight against the militia.

“The trend here is for the US to withdraw. If they don’t do it now, then eventually they will, ”said Lahib Higel, senior analyst at Washington-based International Crisis Group. “These groups will restore each other in one way or another. They are part of Iraq’s political landscape. “

Pentagon officials say a continuing mission is important to ensure Islamic State doesn’t make a big comeback. The group continues to launch small attacks across Iraq.

The US mission to Iraq also provides a base for ongoing operations in Syria. There are fewer than 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Syria and many rely on the U.S. presence in Iraq for logistics and travel. Iran-backed militias have targeted Iraqi logistics companies operating US military bases in recent months.

The Iraqi military reported another attack on Sunday. Officials said a convoy of trucks driven by Iraqis had been targeted in central Babil Province. “We are afraid,” said an Iraqi who works with the US coalition on condition of anonymity because he feared the militia would attack him. “What should we say? That it is worth serving the US mission with our lives? They don’t even pay us a lot. “

Kadhimi, who was elected in May, was involved in a high-stakes fight against Iran-backed militias involved in attacks on Western forces. Pompeo warned the Iraqi government last week that the United States would close the embassy if Kadhimi didn’t hold it back, according to two US officials.

“I don’t think it will help Iraq going out with such a bang,” Higel said.

Ryan and Hudson reported from Washington. Mustafa Salim in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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