US threatens Baghdad with sanctions over Iran-backed militia attacks in Iraq: Sources

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The United States has threatened to shut its embassy in Baghdad in a strongly-worded message delivered to Iraq’s president in recent days over continued attacks against US targets by Iran-backed militias, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a “very tough message” to Iraqi President Barham Salih regarding Washington’s frustration, which included the threat of sanctions on top Iraqi officials, an Iraqi political source said.

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US and Iraqi political sources briefed on the content of the message told Al Arabiya English that the threat of sanctions and limits on dollar transactions, including withholding badly-needed aid through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for Iraq, were all raised by Pompeo.

The US State Department said it does not comment on the Secretary of State’s private diplomatic conversations with foreign leaders when asked about the matter.

Read more: Number one issue in Iraq is the question of pro-Iran militias: Expert

“We have made the point before, however, that 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,” a State Department official told Al Arabiya English.

The US has around 5,200 troops stationed in Iraq, although Washington announced that it would reduce the number to about 3,000.

Read more: Two rockets fall inside Iraq’s Taji camp hosting US troops, no casualties reported

Meanwhile, rocket attacks continue against bases housing US or Coalition forces. In August, three Katyusha rockets fell in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport.

That attack followed at least five attacks directed at US interests in Iraq within one week, including four blasts against convoys carrying supplies to bases housing US forces, a rocket attack on an air base north of Baghdad and a rocket attack near the US Embassy in the capital.

This week a former Iraqi official acknowledged the message sent by Pompeo.

Hoshyar Zebari, the former finance and foreign minister, said the “recent stern warning” from Pompeo meant that “Iraqi leaders have to rise to the challenges posed by armed militia to target US diplomatic & military installations.”

The US has been patient with Iraq, and the international community will follow Washington’s calls to help Baghdad or not, Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute think-tank said.

“The US waited for the Iraqi government to stop attacks on its assets in Iraq and have been very patient. The international community will take its cues from Washington if it were to refuse to offer assistance to Iraq,” Slim told Al Arabiya English, adding that an IMF assistance package was needed for Iraq.

The State Department official said that the US was working to secure financial support for Iraq from the international community and various private-sector businesses. But “the presence of lawless, Iran-backed militias remains the single biggest deterrent to additional investment in Iraq.”

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