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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters onboard his plane as he flies from Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia on February 19. Image Credit: AFP

Addis Ababa: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Iran must be held accountable for its proxies’ attacks on American forces in Baghdad, warning that such violence can’t become routine.”It cannot become ordinary course that the Iranians, through their proxy forces in Iraq, are putting the lives of Americans at risk,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane as he prepared to fly from Addis Ababa to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday. “There has to be accountability connected to those very serious attacks.”

Pompeo was referring to a February 16 incident in which several rockets landed inside the US Embassy compound in Baghdad, causing minimal damage and no injuries. The attack was the latest in a series on American forces by what the Trump administration says are Iranian-backed militias, including a strike that killed an American contractor in December. Days after the contractor’s death, the Trump administration killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike. US officials said that killing was, in part, carried out to restore “deterrence” and make Iran think twice about such attacks in the future.

During his visit to Riyadh, Pompeo is scheduled to meet senior Saudi leaders and visit Saudi Aramco’s Khurais oil field, which was targeted in a missile attack in September that both the kingdom and the US blame on Iran. Tehran denied involvement in that incident.

He said the US “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran will continue until the country’s leaders meet a series of US demands to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, halt a ballistic missile programme and stop what the administration says are malign activities in the region. On Sunday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said his country wouldn’t negotiate with the US until it lifts the sanctions choke-hold that has strangled the economy. Pompeo countered that the US was ready to talk any time. “We’re not anxious, we’re not rushed,” Pomepo said.

“The pressure campaign continues.” The embassy in Baghdad has also become a source of tension between the US and Iraq, with US officials venting frustration that the government has failed to prevent such violence. On December 31, Iraqis who support an Iranian-backed militia stormed the compound before being driven out. Pompeo said the US is also demanding that Iraq’s government do more to make sure American forces and the embassy in Baghdad are safe from such attacks.”They have a responsibility to keep our embassy and our military facilities secure,” Pompeo said. “They’ve repeatedly not been able to achieve that.”