Reportedly, the United States has started making preparations to withdraw diplomats from Iraq after warning Baghdad it could shut its embassy. Any move by the US to scale down its diplomatic presence is being seen as an escalation of its confrontation with Iran.
“The American threat to close their embassy is merely a pressure tactic, but is a double-edged sword,” said Gati Rikabi, a member of Iraq’s parliamentary security committee. He said US moves were designed to scare Iraqi leaders into supporting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
However, there are growing concern among Iraqis is that pulling out diplomats could be followed by a military action against forces Washington blamed for attacks and turn their country into a battle zone.
Many fear the possibility of military action, with just weeks to go before an election in which US President Donald Trump has campaigned on a hard line towards Tehran and its proxies.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has threatened to close the embassy in a phone call a week ago to President Barham Salih.
Populist Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who commands a following of millions of Iraqis, issued a statement last week pleading for groups to avoid an escalation that could turn Iraq into a battleground.
One of the Western diplomats said the US administration did not “want to be limited in their options” to weaken Iran or pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, Washington is expected to respond militarily.
Earlier it was said the US would reduce its presence in Iraq to 3,000 troops from 5,200. Pentagon reinforced its committed to support Iraq’s long-term “security, stability, and prosperity”.
In a region polarized between allies of Iran and the US, Iraq is the rare exception, a country that has close ties with both. But that has left it open to a perennial risk of becoming a battleground in a proxy war.
That risk became more evident after Washington killed Iran’s most important military commander, Qassem Soleimani, with a drone strike at Baghdad airport. Iran responded with missiles fired at US bases in Iraq.
Since a new prime minister has taken power in Iraq, supported by the US, Tehran is still maintaining close links with powerful Shia factions.
Rockets regularly fly across the Tigris towards the heavily fortified US diplomatic compound, constructed to be the biggest US embassy in the world in central Baghdad’s so-called “Green Zone” during the US occupation after a 2003 invasion.