Tuesday 21 May 2019
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US orders non-emergency embassy staff to leave Iraq

WASHINGTON: The US on Wednesday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil, as tensions mount between the United States and Iraq s neighbour Iran.Washington has ramped up pressure on Tehran in recent days, accusing Iran of planning imminent attacks in the region, and bolstering the American military presence in the Gulf.A State Department advisory announcing the partial embassy closures warned of numerous terrorist and insurgent groups active in Iraq, including anti-US sectarian militias who could threaten US citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq .The US last year shut its consulate in the protest-hit southern Iraqi city of Basra, blaming indirect fire by Iran-backed forces.Tensions have sharply escalated between arch-rivals Washington and Tehran since US President Donald Trump withdrew last May from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has made rolling back Iranian influence in the region a top priority last week paid a surprise trip to Baghdad in a move to bolster ties with Iraq. Pompeo told reporters he had made the trip because Iranian forces are escalating their activity and said the threat of attacks were very specific .The top US envoy met with Iraq President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, and spoke to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it s able to adequately protect Americans in their country .Diplomatic security is a key priority for the United States and Pompeo, who as a congressman went on the offensive against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton over a deadly attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.Blasts involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, the advisory warned, adding normal visa services would be suspended. Arbil is the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, in northern Iraq.

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