Baghdad: Iraqi leaders have warned of the risks of war during a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country is locked in a tense standoff with the United States.
Zarif’s visit to neighbouring Iraq - which is caught in the middle of its two allies the US and Iran - follows a decision by Washington to deploy 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi warned of the “danger of a war” during a meeting with Zarif on Saturday night, his office said.
Abdul Mahdi pleaded for the “stability of the region and the upholding of the nuclear deal,” it said, referring to a 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh discussed with Zarif “the need to prevent all war or escalation,” his office said.
On Saturday Zarif called the deployment of extra US troops to the region “very dangerous and a threat to international peace and security.”
It follows a US decision in early May to send an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers in a show of force against what Washington’s leaders believed was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets.
Washington says the latest reinforcements are in response to a “campaign” of recent attacks including a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, and drone strikes by Yemeni rebels on a key Saudi oil pipeline.
The US this month ended the last exemptions it had granted from sweeping unilateral sanctions it reimposed on Iran after abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.
On Friday, the Pentagon accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the coast of the UAE earlier this month.
Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, on Friday described US intelligence portraying a new Iranian “campaign” that used old tactics, and stretched from Iraq to Yemen to the waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital maritime chokepoint for the global oil trade.
This came as US President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan.
The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the kingdom, UAE and Jordan.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that US partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event”.
The US on Friday announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defences against Iran.