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Romney, Murphy 'extremely concerned' about threats to withdraw from US Embassy in Baghdad

Romney, Murphy 'extremely concerned' about threats to withdraw from US Embassy in Baghdad
© Bonnie Cash

A bipartisan pair of senators is expressing concern about the Trump administration’s reported threats to withdraw from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad if Iraq cannot stop militia attacks against U.S. personnel.

In a statement Wednesday, Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election Biden: Johnson should be 'ashamed' for suggesting family profited from their name MORE (R-Utah) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Senate Democrats seek to alleviate public concern about some results not being available on election night MORE (D-Conn.), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Middle East subcommittee, urged the administration to provide senators with a briefing “as soon as possible” on the issue.

“We stand with the State Department in its efforts to protect American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. However, we are extremely concerned that the implications of fully withdrawing our already limited diplomatic teams from the Baghdad Embassy could serve to undermine U.S.-Iraqi relations to the benefit of malign Iranian influence, cause our allies to also withdraw their diplomats from Baghdad and undercut missions to train Iraqi security forces,” Romney and Murphy said in their statement.

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“We urge the administration to provide a briefing to the Senate as soon as possible to explain the nature of the threats to our embassy personnel, steps the State Department is taking to mitigate the threats in coordination with our Iraqi partners, and any consequence we would expect if the U.S. does vacate the Baghdad embassy,” they added.

Multiple news outlets have reported this week that Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTreasury sanctions Iran's ambassador to Iraq Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning House lawmakers call for continued assistance to Lebanon MORE threatened in recent calls with Iraqi officials to close the embassy if Baghdad cannot stop rocket attacks that have targeted U.S. personnel and interests there.

Iraqi leaders have decried the threat, with Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein saying Wednesday that closing the embassy would be “dangerous" and could spur other countries to withdraw their diplomats from Iraq as well.

“We hope that the U.S. government and American administration will reconsider this decision,” Hussein said at a news conference, according to The Associated Press. “Because the decision is a wrong one, it was taken at the wrong time and the wrong place.”

The Trump administration has blamed the attacks on Iran-backed militias.

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Tensions between the United States and Iran have flared for months with Iraq caught in the middle, reaching a fever pitch in December and January when the Trump administration blamed an Iran-backed militia for a rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor. The U.S. military responded with strikes on the militia, which led to supporters storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

That was followed by a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was at the Baghdad airport. Iran retaliated with a missile strike on an Iraqi military base that gave more than 100 U.S. service members brain injuries.

More recently, in March, U.S. officials blamed the militia for a rocket attack that killed two U.S. service members and a British service member.

Attacks have also targeted the Green Zone, the area of Baghdad that houses the Iraqi government and several foreign embassies, including the United States’, as well as the Baghdad international airport. On Monday, the Iraqi military said a rocket attack intended for the airport hit a residential home and killed six civilians.

The reported threat to pull diplomats out of Iraq comes after the Trump administration announced a drawdown of U.S. troops in the country, from 5,200 troops to 3,000 this month.

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U.S. troops are in Iraq helping local forces fight remnants of ISIS. But Trump has pushed for a full withdrawal from the Middle East, and the tit-for-tat between Iran and the United States has stoked opposition within Iraq to the U.S. presence.

Critics of the Trump administration’s moves argue they risk ceding influence to Iran, as well as creating a vacuum in which ISIS could reemerge.

“As Iraq attempts to counter excessive Iranian influence and prevent a resurgence of ISIS, they also face myriad political, humanitarian, and economic challenges ranging from tackling corruption to the COVID-19 pandemic to the sharp drop in oil prices,” Romney and Murphy said in their statement. “Now is a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Iraq. The United States must conduct policy in a manner that supports Iraq’s efforts to achieve a secure, democratic and prosperous future and become a stabilizing force in the region.”