Iraq is planning to send urgent delegations to the United States and Iran, its prime minister said yesterday, as Baghdad seeks to rein in soaring tensions between its top allies.
Baghdad “will very soon send delegations to Tehran and Washington to push for calm”, Adel Abdel Mahdi told journalists in the Iraqi capital.
The United States and Iran have exchanged bellicose rhetoric in recent weeks, with the US deploying a naval strike group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over unspecified Iranian “threats”. The bitter standoff has raised fears of the consequences for Iraq, which has sought to balance its ties between the bitter enemies.
On Sunday, a Katyusha rocket was fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone housing government offices and embassies including the US mission, days after Washington evacuated staff from Iraq, citing Iranian threats.
Abdel Mahdi stressed the need to “avoid giving other parties the space to inflame the situation”.
“We will not allow Iraq to be a war zone or a launchpad for a war against any state,” he said.
Calming the situation would “serve both the interests of Iraq and its people and those of the region in general,” he added. The premier said Iraq “does not have the option of distancing itself” from US-Iranian tensions, and said Baghdad was working with European and Arab states to calm the situation.
Another Iraqi official, who asked not to be named, said that Baghdad would be a suitable place for US-Iranian talks.
“The United States considers Iraq the only country able to bring the two countries together for negotiations,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s administration charged Tuesday it was “quite possible” Iran was responsible for sabotage of Gulf oil interests but said its robust response had stopped potential attacks on Americans.
Top Trump officials appeared to be toning down weeks of fiery warnings to Iran before delivering a classified briefing to the full Congress, where rival Democrats have accused the administration of hyping intelligence and pushing the United States dangerously close to war. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States has not made “a definitive conclusion” that can be presented publicly over sabotage incidents of oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates or drone strikes on a crude pipeline in Saudi Arabia.
“But given all the regional conflicts that we have seen over the past decade and the shape of these attacks, it seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind these,” Pompeo told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt before heading to Congress.
“Most importantly, we will continue to take acts that protect American interests and that work to deter Iran from misbehaviour in the region, which has the real risk of escalating the situation such that crude oil prices rise,” he said.
John Bolton, Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, earlier this month warned of “unrelenting force” if Iran strikes US interests as he announced the deployment to the region of an aircraft carrier strike group, followed by nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.
Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who will also brief lawmakers alongside the US military chief, General Joseph Dunford, said the US response had made an impact but warned of continued risks.
“I think our steps were very prudent and we’ve put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans,” Shanahan told reporters. “I’d say we’re in a period where the threat remains high and our job is to make sure that there is no miscalculation by the Iranians,” he said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif warned that the United States was “playing a very, very dangerous game” with military deployments, saying that some actors were “interested in accidents” — a likely allusion to its regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia.
“There will be painful consequences for everybody (if) there is an escalation against Iran, that’s for sure,” he said,” Zarif told CNN.
Trump last year pulled out of a multinational agreement negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear work in return for promises of sanctions relief.
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