October 24, 2020

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U.S. tells Iraq it’s planning to pull out of Baghdad embassy


By Louisa Loveluck, Missy Ryan and John Hudson,

Anonymous AP

The U.S. Embassy is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad while under construction in 2007.

BEIRUT — The United States has told the Iraqi government and its diplomatic partners that it’s planning a full withdrawal from its sprawling embassy in Baghdad unless Iraq reins in attacks on personnel linked to the American presence there, U.S. and other Western officials said Sunday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi of the decision Saturday night, according to an official familiar with the matter.

A second person, a Western official in Baghdad, said his country’s diplomatic mission had been informed of the plan. Two European officials said they were due to meet with U.S. representatives Sunday evening.

It remains unclear if the White House has signed off on the decision to close the facility. The process of shutting it down is expected to take 90 days, a window that would give the Trump administration the opportunity to reassess the decision, said a diplomat familiar with the situation.

The State Department and National Security Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

President Trump’s decision to order the killing of senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani outside Baghdad airport in January sparked a firestorm in Iraq. Iraqi lawmakers urged the expulsion of U.S. troops. Iran-backed militia groups ramped up a campaign of rocket and small-scale bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi military bases that host U.S.-led coalition troops.

Patrick Semansky

AP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference last week to announce the Trump administration’s restoration of sanctions on Iran.

Seventeen years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Baghdad embassy remains one of America’s largest diplomatic outposts in the world. It was unclear Sunday whether the decision to pull out might still be reversed if Kadhimi’s government is able to better protect Western diplomatic and military personnel.

The U.S. military leads a collation that has been battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from a Baghdad headquarters since 2014. Defense officials said the United States is planning to continue its counterinsurgency mission in Iraq for the time being.

Gen. Frank McKenzie Jr, who heads U.S. Central Command, said this month that the United States would reduce its force level from more than 5,000 to around 3,000 by the end of the month.

Pentagon officials say a continued mission is important to ensuring that the Islamic State does not make a major comeback.

The Iraq mission also provides a platform for ongoing operations in Syria. There are less than 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria, and many of them rely on U.S. military presence in Iraq for logistics and travel.

Kadhimi, who was elected in May, has been locked in a high-stakes battle to clamp down on Iran-backed militias implicated in attacks on Western forces. According to two U.S. officials, Pompeo warned Iraq’s government last week that the United States would close the embassy unless Kadhimi restrained them.

A senior official in Kadhimi’s office said Sunday that the prime minister is now lobbying European partners to try to convince the U.S. to reverse its decision, citing the “negative consequences” that it might have on the country’s stability.

Ryan and Hudson reported from Washington. Mustafa Salim in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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