The US State Department on September 28 announced the evacuation of personnel from the consulate in Basra, Iraq, citing “security threats from Iran.”
A day earlier, Iraqi media outlets reported that mortar shell or rockets landed near the consulate, though an “anonymous” Iraqi security source said that no strikes had taken place. Another “anonymous senior Iraqi official” told the Washington Post, “We are not aware of any intention by Iran or its friends in Iraq to attack American diplomats or the consulate.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, has contradicted the unnamed Iraqi officials, corroborating initial media reports about “indirect fire…within the past 24 hours” against the consulate. He said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ordered the strike. That would mark the third known such attack against US missions in Iraq in the past month.
“Threats to our personnel and facilities in Iraq from the Government of Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and from militias facilitated by and under the control and direction of the Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani have increased over the past several weeks,” he said in a press release.
“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,” Pompeo stated.
“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,” he continued, “we are working closely with our partners in the Government and Security Forces of Iraq to address these threats.”
Earlier this month, after Basra protesters torched the offices of IRGC-backed political parties, “resistance groups” tied to the IRGC released a public statement accusing the US of instigating the attacks against their offices. “We and mujahid forces are ready to surpass these conspiracies… We look with rage at the illegal presence of foreign forces in Iraq,” the statement read, which were publicized in IRGC-linked news agencies.
On the same night, on September 6, Iraqi media reported that three mortar shells landed inside the Baghdad Green Zone near the U.S. embassy.
The following day, Basra protesters torched the Iranian consulate and called for Iran to “get out.”
Then, on September 8, the media reported another strike against Basra airport, where the US consulate is located.
The White House initially said that Iran failed to prevent the attacks, though Pompeo later accused Iran of ordering the Katyusha rocket strike against the Baghdad embassy and “action” in Basra. While Tehran has officially denied the charges, that should be taken with a grain of salt. [For more, please see FDD’s Long War Journal article Analysis: Tehran’s push to force US exit from Iraq]
On September 22, gunmen killed and injured dozens in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz during a parade commemorating the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). While there are conflicting claims about the perpetrators, Iranian government officials and military commanders have accused the US and regional allies of sponsoring the attack. The accused have rejected those charged.
Earlier this week, National Security Adviser John Bolton, describing the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic, told Tehran, “If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.”
According to an Iraqi news agency this week citing “ones of the commanders of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF),” Qods Force chief Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani has relayed a message to the US that “we will open the gates of hell” if US forces target the PMF there. IRGC-backed formations and figures dominate the PMF.
CNN citing defense officials then reported on September 27 that a US intelligence assessment conducted in recent days concluded that Iranian-backed militias could be planning a strike against US military forces or interests in the Middle East.
Iran’s reported transfer of ballistic missiles as well as production capabilities to militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have been in the spotlight in the past month. Reuters in late August broke the report about the transfers of material and know-how to militias in Iraq. Israeli officials since have not ruled out striking IRGC targets in Iraq (American officials have reportedly told the Israelis to “please leave Iraq to us”). The Israel Defense Forces said jets on September 17 “targeted a facility of the Syrian Armed Forces [in Latakia] from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.” In late September, Israel released information and photos about a year-long Iranian-directed project in Beirut for Hezbollah to build “infrastructure to convert surface-to-surface rockets to accurate missiles.”