U.S. Closes Consulate in Southern Iraq, Blames Iran

September 10, 2018
Updated

On September 28, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the evacuation of diplomatic personnel from the U.S. consulate in Basrah in southern Iraq. The announcement followed rocket attacks directed toward the Basrah consulate and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier in the month. Pompeo held Iran responsible. “Threats to our personnel and facilities in Iraq from the government of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, and from militias facilitated by and under the control and direction of the Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani have increased over the past several weeks,” he said. 

Starting on September 3, protests spread throughout Basrah over unemployment, clean water shortages and electricity, and widespread corruption. On September 6, protestors set fire to offices belonging to pro-Iran militias and political parties, including the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al Haq. The offices of other militias were reportedly attacked as well. 

On September 7, hundreds of rioters set fire to the Iranian consulate. Some chanted “Iran, out, out!” Given such slogans and the selection of targets throughout the week, the protestors seemed to be expressing rage against both Iraq’s central government and Iranian influence in the country. More than a dozen people had been killed and nearly 200 were injured during protests and clashes with security forces during the week. 

 

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), accused the U.S. consulate in Basrah of instigating the unrest to weaken PMF-backed parties, many of whom are supported by Iran. Muhandis claimed that the United States wanted to ensure that Haidar al Abadi, would serve another term as prime minister. Abadi has been widely perceived as Washington’s preferred candidate over other leaders thought to be more heavily influenced or beholden to Tehran.

On September 8, Katyusha rockets were fired toward Basrah’s airport, which houses the US. consulate. The rockets reportedly hit the perimeter of the airport and did not cause any damage to the facility or casualties. Meanwhile, two rockets landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a highly fortified area home to government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy. Mortars had been fired into the compound earlier in the week as well. 

The United States held Iran and its proxies responsible for the attacks on U.S. facilities.  “America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives,” warned the White House on September 11. 

 

On September 28, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the evacuation of diplomatic personnel from the U.S. consulate in Basrah. “These latest destabilizing acts in Iraq are attempts by the Iranian regime to push back on our efforts to constrain its malign behavior,” he claimed. The State Department also warned U.S. citizens to not travel to Iraq, citing the threat of sectarian militias.

Iran denied the American accusations. “Iran sees the absurd U.S. justification which follow weeks of propaganda and false accusations against Iran and Iraqi forces as playing a blame-game,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi. The following are U.S. and Iranian reactions to the attacks in Basrah. 

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

“Iran is the origin of the current threat to Americans in Iraq.  It is to blame for the attacks against our mission in Basra and our embassy in Baghdad. Our intelligence in this regard is solid. We can see the hand of the ayatollah and his henchmen supporting these attacks on the United States.” 

“On Friday, I ordered the temporary relocation of U.S. Government personnel from our consulate general in Basra.  I also warned the Iranian Government that we will hold it directly responsible for any harm to Americans or our diplomatic facilities, whether perpetrated by Iranian forces or by associated proxies or elements of those militias.”

“These latest destabilizing acts in Iraq are attempts by the Iranian regime to push back on our efforts to constrain its malign behavior.  Clearly, they see our comprehensive pressure campaign as serious and succeeding, and we must be prepared for them to continue their attempts to hit back, especially after our full sanctions are re-imposed on the 4th of November.”

“The United States will continue to stand with the people of Iraq as they chart a future based on Iraqi interest, not those dictated by Iran.  Even with the temporary relocation of our staff, we are supporting the delivery of clean water to the 750,000 residents in Basra.”

—Oct. 3, 2018, during a press conference

 

“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 twenty-four hours. I have 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. 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.” 

ꟷSept. 28, 2018, in a statement

 

Just a few weeks ago, Iranian-supported militias in Iraq launched life-threatening rocket attacks against the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad and at the U.S. consulate in Basra. Iran did not stop these attacks, which were carried out by proxies it has supported and funded and trained, and with which – and militias with which it has provided weapons.

The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to our facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in [defense of] American lives, and we will respond against the source of the attack on American interests.

ꟷSept. 25, 2018, in remarks at the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit 

 

White House Press Secretary

“Over the past few days, we have seen life-threatening attacks in Iraq, including on the United States consulate in Basrah and against the American embassy compound in Baghdad.  Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons. The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities.  America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives.” 

ꟷSept. 11, 2018, in a statement 

 

State Department Spokesperson

 

U.S. State Department

Iraq Travel Advisory September 28, 2018 

Iraq-Level 4: Do Not Travel 

Do not travel to Iraq due to terrorism and armed conflict. 

U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur frequently in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq is extremely limited.  On September 28, 2018, the Department of State ordered the departure of U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.

U.S. citizens should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict, where they would face extreme personal risks (kidnapping, injury, or death) and legal risks (arrest, fines, and expulsion). The Kurdistan Regional Government stated that it will impose prison sentences of up to ten years on individuals who illegally cross the border. Additionally, fighting on behalf of, or supporting designated terrorist organizations, is a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States. 

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within or in the vicinity of Iraq, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and/or a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR). For more information, U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices. 

 

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi

“The ridiculous justification [provided by Americans] for the closure of the US Consulate General in Basrah, which came after weeks of propaganda and false allegations against Iran and the Iraqi forces, is a suspicious move aimed at evading responsibility and pinning the blame on others.” 

—Sept. 29, 2018, in a statement  

“American officials are rehashing groundless and unfounded remarks, leveling accusations and waging psychological warfare concerning its [US] diplomatic sites in Iraq [and] currently engaging in such ridiculous and suspicious propaganda [efforts] and projectionism in order to escape the consequences of their own despicable and clumsy measures.”

ꟷSept. 21, 2018, to the press

 

Iranian Foreign Ministry

“Iran’s foreign ministry has condemned and dismissed allegations made by Washington for shutting down the US consulate in the Iraqi city of Basrah, saying that the Americans’ remarks are unjustified, unnecessary and clearly part of a blame game. It is clear that such childish justifications by the US are part of its adventurist policies and the White House’s plot to depict Iraq as an insecure country.”

—Sept. 29, 2018, in a statement  

 

Updated