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US Orders All Non-emergency Embassy Staff to Leave Iraq

Amid tensions with Iran, the US State Department ordered the evacuation of all “non-emergency” government employees from Iraq. The directive came a day after the US Army’s Central Command raised the threat level in both Iraq and Syria, and placed American troops on “high alert” due to the prospect of an “imminent” attack by Iranian forces or proxies. That move, in turn, came on the heels of reports that Israel’s Mossad spy agency passed along intelligence to Washington about an alleged Iranian plot to target American interests in the Gulf. Indeed, earlier this week, authorities in the United Arab Emirates said that four commercial vessels – including two oil tankers belonging to Saudi Arabia – were “significantly damaged” in attacks off the coast of the port city of Fujairah. A day later, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for drone strikes on two oil pumping stations belonging to Saudi-owned Aramco. Neither Riyadh nor Abu Dhabi pointed a finger directly at Tehran, although the secretary-general of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the developments as a “serious escalation.” The US notice comes against the backdrop of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent surprise visit to Baghdad, reportedly prompted by information that Iran-backed Shi’ite armed groups were positioning rockets near bases housing US soldiers. Pompeo allegedly implored top Iraqi officials to safeguard American military personnel, saying Washington would respond to any aggression with force.