Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad if Iraqi leaders do not prevent Iranian-backed militias from firing rockets at the compound, and a decision is expected before the election, three unnamed U.S. officials told the New York Times on Tuesday.
“The Iran-backed groups launching rockets at our embassy are a danger not only to us but to the government of Iraq, neighboring diplomatic missions, and residents of the former International Zone and surrounding areas,” the State Department said in a statement to the New York Times.
The plan would relocate Matthew Tueller, the American ambassador to Iraq, to either the U.S. Consulate in Erbil or to the Al Asad Air Base, where American troops are stationed, according to the officials.
Officials said Pompeo called Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Saturday and President Barham Salih on Sept. 20 to discuss the plans.
A State Department spokesperson would not confirm the conversations or the shutdown proposal.
Pompeo has told U.S. officials he does not want any “Benghazi’s,” referencing the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in a 2012 attack.
American intelligence officials have said Iran does not want to take strong action against the U.S. before the election for fear of swaying it toward Trump or prompting military retaliation.
Al-Kadhimi reportedly told cabinet officials at a meeting Tuesday that European diplomats are also considering leaving Baghdad. Al-Kadhimi expressed frustration with the warnings, which he reportedly said were, “not directed against the Iraqi government, but against the conditions of the country,” noting what he called “continuous rocket attacks.” The day before the meeting, Iraqi military officials told Al Jazeera two rockets killed two Iraqi women and three children at a home near the Baghdad airport, where some U.S. troops are stationed.
Headcount at the embassy is already low — Pompeo ordered most employees to leave in May 2019 when tensions with Iran were high.
U.S. Orders Partial Evacuation of Embassy in Baghdad (New York Times)
As U.S. Increases Pressure, Iran Adheres to Toned-Down Approach (New York Times)