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State Department Orders Nonessential U.S. Government Employees Out Of Iraq

17 May 2019

Iran remains committed to its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the 2015 nuclear deal, in the face of the unilateral USA pullout from the agreement last May, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday, calling the re-imposition of anti-Tehran sanctions "unacceptable".

Referring to the embassy and the US consulate in Erbil, it said "normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended".

But while non-essential USA personnel depart Iraq, over 5,000 service members remain in the country.

Washington has ordered the departure of "non-emergency employees" from Iraq, and the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned of a possible "full-scale confrontation", as tensions between the United States and Iran continue to rise.

But this was part of a response to intelligence reports that Iran may be about to strike United States interests in the region, most likely via one of its terrorist or "independent" militia proxies.

On May 12, the embassy in Baghdad advised US citizens against travel to Iraq, citing "heightened tensions" in the country.

However, the administration has not gone into great detail about the threat, leading even President Donald Trump's closest allies in Congress to press for more information. Visa services were suspended at the heavily fortified US missions.

"We believe that escalation by the U.S. is unacceptable and uncalled for", Zarif told Kono in front of reporters before they met privately.

The United States has sent further military forces to the Middle East, including an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles, in a show of force against what USA officials say are Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region. Iraq is home to powerful pro-Iranian militias, while also hosting more than 5,000 USA troops.

The United Arab Emirates will show restraint after attacks on oil tankers off its coast and is committed to de-escalation during a "difficult situation" caused by Iranian behaviour in the region, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Iran calls that "psychological warfare", and a British commander cast doubt on USA military concerns about threats to its roughly 5000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping local security forces fight Islamic State jihadists.

The New York Times reported this week that sources said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan last week - a plan that envisioned sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East in case of a move by Iran.

Tehran has rejected the allegation of Iranian involvement and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif said that "extremist individuals" in the USA government were pursuing unsafe policies.

Mr Trump's administration has pursued a policy of "maximum pressure" against Iran, including tightening economic sanctions, since withdrawing the United States from a deal created to limit Iran's nuclear program a year ago.

On the one-year anniversary of the United States pullout of the nuclear accord, Iran announced it planned to back out of parts of that agreement and pledged to enrich uranium.

Tehran is threatening to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the 3.67 per cent permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers. "They know it will not be in their interest", he said, as quoted on his official website.

"Achieving 20 per cent enrichment is the most hard part", Khamenei said, according to the newspaper. Iran is not known to have enriched beyond 20 per cent previously and it's unclear how far Tehran is willing to go in this process.

State Department Orders Nonessential U.S. Government Employees Out Of Iraq