Pentagon offers military support in U.S. Consulate evacuation in Iraq
The Defense Department is planning to provide military support to evacuate American diplomats stationed in a remote U.S. Consulate in southwest Iraq, after State Department officials opted to shutter the outpost in the wake of recent attacks.
Military units from U.S. Central Command, and those tied to the American-led coalition battling the Islamic State in Iraq, have plans in place to assist in the withdrawal of American personnel from the U.S. Consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra.
“We do not have any numbers [of units] right now or timelines, but when asked, we will definitely support” all evacuation efforts, coalition spokesman Army Col. Sean Ryan told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the closure of the consulate after it came under rocket attack last week, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Pompeo laid the blame for the emergency evacuation on Iran, saying ongoing destabilization efforts by members of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC have endangered the lives of American diplomats in the city, which lies roughly 300 miles south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
“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 said in a statement Friday, calling for the departure of U.S diplomatic officials and staff from Basra.
Washington has blamed Iraqi paramilitary forces trained and equipped by the IRGC, Iran’s cadre of elite troops responsible for standing up various proxy forces in Iraq and elsewhere the region, for last week’s rocket attacks against the consulate.
Eyewitnesses in the Abusheir district, north of of the city said two rockets were fired last Friday toward the secure compound at Basra airport where the U.S. Consulate was located. Witnesses report the rockets fell outside the outer security perimeter of the compound, with no casualties coming from the attack.
No consulate staff were harmed during the incident, and the consulate itself was not hit, State Department officials said at the time. On Tuesday, Col. Ryan asserted the specific threat to the consulate in Basra may have been the work of local protesters, angered over the lack of much-needed government services and rampant corruption among the city’s leaders, rather than an organized paramilitary force.
“You have folks that are out there shooting weapons that they may not know how to use,” he said of the rocket attack targeting the Basra airport and adjoining consulate.
That said, “American lives are at risk and you’re making threats to U.S. personnel” in the city, Col. Ryan said. “It’s definitely a State Department decision, [and] they’re just not wanting put up with [the attacks]. They’re here to be diplomats. They’re not warfighters.”
Basra is one of the top two sources of petroleum revenues for Baghdad, second only to oil-rick Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, with the port city reportedly shipping three million barrels of Iraqi oil to global markets on a daily basis.