WASHINGTON — The State Department is pulling out of Basra, Iraq, blaming Iran for the security threats that have made it too dangerous for U.S. consular facilities to remain open there.
The Basra consulate, located in the southeastern tip of the country between Iran and Kuwait, was placed on ordered departure today. “We remain strongly committed to supporting Iraqis in the southern provinces and throughout the country,” State Department press secretary Heather Nauert said in the announcement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “threats to our personnel and facilities in Iraq from the Government of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and from militias facilitated by and under the control and direction of the Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani have increased over the past several weeks.”
“There have been repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias directed at our Consulate General in Basrah and our Embassy in Baghdad, including within the past 24 hours,” he said in comments released by the State Department.
Pompeo said he “advised the government of Iran that the United States will hold Iran directly responsible for any harm to Americans or to our diplomatic facilities in Iraq or elsewhere and whether perpetrated by Iranian forces directly or by associated proxy militias.”
“I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks,” he said. “Given the increasing and specific threats and incitement to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq, I have directed that an appropriate temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel in Iraq take place. We are working closely with our partners in the government and security forces of Iraq to address these threats. We look to all international parties interested in peace and stability in Iraq and the region to reinforce our message to Iran regarding the unacceptability of their behavior.”
Iraq is under the highest level of travel warning due to a high risk of terror attacks and kidnappings. “The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah,” the State Department said.
Mass protests by Shiites have been demanding better civic services and jobs. Twenty days ago, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued an alert to U.S. citizens in the country that “some protests in Basrah have turned violent, leading to deaths and injuries to protesters and security forces.”
“U.S. government employees in Basrah are generally avoiding any area where demonstrations could occur, including the Basrah central business district,” the message added.