Pompeo Warns in Baghdad: Iran in Peril If Harm Comes to US Troops in Iraq

US intelligence information that elements of a pro-Iranian Iraqi militia was plotting to attack the US garrison at Al Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border led Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to break his date with Chancellor Angela Merkel and hurry to Baghdad for urgent talks with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih. There was also information of a connected plot to attack US forces in western Iraq and possibly to take hostages. What Pompeo told them in essence was that the US “doesn’t want anybody interfering in their country” and asking them to protect the American troops based there.

Elements of the Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), whose leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is a designated terrorist, had been entrusted with executing Tehran’s plots.

His visit to Baghdad came two weeks after the deployment to the region of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier with strike group, following “specific, credible” intelligence that Iran is likely moving short-range ballistic missiles. The US also relocated its B-52 bombers from their Ayn-al Asad Air Ba\se in western Iraq to the Gulf and positioned them at Al Dhafra Air Base, 30 km south of Abu Dhabi, and the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. This move was approved in Washington to underline the Trump administration’s determination to hit targets in Iran, if Tehran or its allies attacked US facilities – but those US strikes would only be launched from its Gulf bases, so as not to impair relations between Baghdad and Washington.

President Donald Trump became the first American president to seriously consider wielding military might against the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran. including even nuclear resources. On Tuesday, May 7, US Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban spoke of “indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces in the region.” The Pentagon currently believes Iran’s actions could put US and coalition forces at risk in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.”

It’s not clear if the Iranian missiles were being transported to conduct launches from boats or from land. The US could send Patriot missile batteries back to the region months after bringing some home, unless the Iranians pulled the batteries back, which has not happened. While continuing to monitor the situation, Washington was factoring several more developing situations into its calculations:

1. For now, Tehran shows no indication of intending to block the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic but seems rather to be preparing to obstruct the Bab Al Mandeb gateway to the Red Sea.

2. Tehran has assigned two ultra-extreme US-designated terrorist groups with executing the plots against US targets in Syria and Iraq. They are: Kata’ib Hezballah and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, both factions of Iran’s Iraqi proxy, the PMU whose members draw salaries from Iraq’s state budget. Both maintain forces in Syria as well as Iraq.

3. Also revealed was that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had recently furnished the two Iraqi terrorist groups with short-range missiles for attacks on US and Israeli targets. These pro-Iranian militias in Syria were therefore fully armed for cross-border launches against US locations in western Iraq as well as Syria itself.

4. Some of the intelligence sources which alerted Washington to the anti-US plot also referred to a plan to closely follow up on the resulting pandemonium with attempts to destabilize the Iraqi government in Baghdad. After his talks with the Iraqi president and prime minister, the US Secretary of State told reporters that the two leaders had “provided assurances that they understood their responsibility.” Pompeo went on to say: “We wanted them to know about the increased threat stream that we had seen to give them a little more background and ensure that they had enough information to ensure that they were doing all that they could to provide protection for our team.” Furthermore, he said, “They understood too its importance for their country. We don’t want anybody interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq and there was complete agreement.”

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