Flashpoints

Iraqi official to US: Reconsider embassy closure

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s foreign minister on Wednesday said his country hopes the U.S. will reconsider its decision to close its diplomatic mission in Baghdad, as a group of ambassadors expressed their willingness to help Iraq tackle security challenges.

Fuad Hussein spoke at a news conference during a heated week sparked by the U.S. warning that it was taking measures to close its embassy in Baghdad. The U.S. said it would be closed unless the Iraqi government took action to stop frequent rocket and improvised explosive device attacks by Iran-backed militias and rogue armed elements against the American presence in the country.

Hussein called the threat to close the U.S. Embassy “dangerous” because “there is a possibility that the American withdrawal from Baghdad will lead to other (embassy) withdrawals.”

Rocket and mortar attacks have targeted the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to many foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy. These attacks have also targeted Baghdad’s international airport, and a recent rocket attack intended for the airport struck a residential home, killing six Iraqi civilians, all women and children.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the embassy closure warning to Iraq’s President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in separate phone calls last week.

A U.S. official said the warning was not an imminent ultimatum. But some Iraqi officials appear to be under the impression it may coincide with the expiring of the latest Iran sanctions waiver in two months time. Iraq desperately needs the waivers to import Iranian energy. The U.S. official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the press conference, Hussein said: “We hope that the U.S. government and American administration will reconsider this decision. ... Because the decision is a wrong one, it was taken at the wrong time and the wrong place.”

He said it would also send a message to the armed groups and extremists perpetuating the attacks that they were effective in reaching their political aims.

He said Iraq acknowledged the domestic climate in the U.S. ahead of the November presidential election, which might have precipitated the warning. But he said the new Iraqi government — barely in office four months — was taking measures.

“It is the government’s duty to take action and it has taken some actions,” he said, naming security measures in the Green Zone and the airport.

His comments came after a group of 25 ambassadors and charges d’affaires in Iraq released a statement in support of the Iraqi government and stability in the country, which was issued following a meeting with al-Kadhimi.

In Wednesday’s statement — which included ambassadors from the U.S., the U.K., Saudi Arabia and Canada — the diplomatic envoys expressed “deep concern” at the rise in the number of attacks against diplomatic missions in Iraq.

They welcomed the actions taken by al-Kadhimi, including recent security operations and heightened security around the airport, and encouraged more measures to consolidate forces within the Green Zone.

“As friends of Iraq, we also expressed our willingness to help Iraq in addressing these security challenges,” the statement said.

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