Dubai: The US Embassy in Iraq says the State Department has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country right away amid escalating tensions with Iran. The alert, published on the embassy’s website on Wednesday, comes after Washington last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans and American interests.
On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing “heightened tensions.”
The warning coincided with an attack on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday.
Four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged by what Gulf officials described as sabotage.
Details of the alleged sabotage to two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati oil tanker on Sunday remained unclear, and Gulf officials have declined to say who they suspected was responsible.
But it demonstrated the raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies as tensions are increasing between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The US has warned sailors of the potential for attacks on commercial sea traffic, and regional allies of the United Arab Emirates condemned the alleged sabotage as the tankers were off the coast of the UAE port city of Fujairah.
A US official in Washington, without offering any evidence, told the AP that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships.
The official, who was not authorised to discuss the investigation, agreed to reveal the findings only if not quoted by name.
The US already had warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region.
America is deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Arabian Gulf to counter threats from Tehran.
Citing heightened tensions in the region, the United Nations called on “all concerned parties to exercise restraint for the sake of regional peace, including by ensuring maritime security” and freedom of navigation, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Tensions have risen since Trump withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and restored US sanctions that have pushed Iran’s economy into crisis.
Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.
European Union officials met Monday in Brussels to thrash out ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had traveled there for talks.
“We’re not going to miscalculate. Our aim is not war,” Pompeo told CNBC in an interview.
“Our aim is a change in the behavior of the Iranian leadership.”