FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends the Mining, Agriculture, and Construction (MAC) Protocol Signing Ceremony, at Villa San Sebastiano, in Rome, Italy, October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/Pool
October 14, 2020
By Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was pleased that the Iraqi government was doing more to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad from Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militias but declined to provide an update on whether Washington was still considering to shut down its embassy.
“We are happy that the Iraqis are doing more to provide increased security for our team on the ground there,” Pompeo told a State Department news conference.
Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened last month to shut its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in Iran-aligned militias that have attacked U.S. interests with rockets and roadside bombs.
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most powerful Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq, on Sunday said it has suspended rocket attacks on U.S. forces on condition that Iraq’s government present a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.
Asked if the United States saw the announcement as progress and whether it would still follow through on its threat to shut down the embassy, Pompeo did not specifically answer but sounded doubtful about the militia’s ceasefire declaration.
“We have a rogue set of militias who have now promised not to violate the Iraqi people’s sovereignty and to take aim at the U.S. diplomats serving there that are designed to help the Iraqi people,” he said.
The U.S. warning caused alarm in Iraq, where it was seen as a step toward air strikes, potentially turning Iraq into a battleground in a proxy war between the United States and Iran. A broad array of politicians called on the militia to stop provoking the Americans.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)