WIUM Tristates Public Radio

State Department Orders 'Non-Emergency' Government Employees To Leave Iraq

May 15, 2019
Originally published on May 15, 2019 9:03 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The State Department says nonessential government employees are in the process of leaving Iraq. It ordered the move in response to U.S. claims that Iran or its proxies are a threat to U.S. forces in the region. And the U.S. wants other countries to follow the U.S. hard line with Iran, As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The State Department is drawing down its diplomatic presence in both Baghdad and Erbil, though officials won't say by how much. One official calls it a prudent step, saying, quote, "this threat stream is real and similar to what the U.S. saw in Iraq in 2011 as the insurgency intensified." But if the U.S. has credible threats that Iranian-backed militias are preparing to attack U.S. interests, Senator Lindsey Graham wants to see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: And I would urge the State Department and DOD to come down here and explain to us what's going on.

KELEMEN: The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, also sounded skeptical about the ordered departure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOB MENENDEZ: There are only two reasons for ordering their departure - we have credible intelligence that our people are at risk or in preparation for military action in Iran.

KELEMEN: He points out that the Foreign Relations Committee oversees the State Department and the safety of those who work there and is charged with writing the laws that authorize the use of military force.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MENENDEZ: And yet the Trump administration has not provided any information to this committee on the intelligence behind their decisions or what they plan to do in Iraq or Iran.

KELEMEN: State Department officials say they are sharing information, including with U.S. partners. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a last-minute stop in Brussels earlier this week to meet European foreign ministers. U.S. officials say he asked the Europeans to use their influence to get Iran to, quote, "de-escalate." But the European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is urging both sides to be cautious.

FEDERICA MOGHERINI: We are living in a crucial, delicate moment where the most responsible attitude to take is - and we believe should be - maximum restraint to avoiding any escalation on the military side.

KELEMEN: The Trump administration is leading what it calls a maximum pressure campaign against Iran trying to get others to stop doing business with it after the U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.