By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. will close its consulate in Basra, Iraq, the State Department said Friday, citing mounting threats from Iranian-backed militias.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel in Iraq and said they are working with Iraqi security forces to address these threats.
Pompeo said the U.S. will hold Iran accountable for any harm caused to U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq.
"I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks," he added.
Pompeo cited "repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias" which was directed at the U.S. consulate in Basra as well as its embassy in Baghdad.
He said the responsible parties were the Iranian government, Iranian elite military unit the Quds Force, and militias under the command of Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.
State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. embassy in Baghdad will provide consular services for people in and around the Basra area.
"We remain strongly committed to supporting Iraqis in the southern provinces and throughout the country," Nauert said in a statement.
Earlier this month, protesters set fire to Iran’s consulate in Basra and rockets were fired towards Basra International Airport, which houses the U.S. consulate.
In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Iran did not act to stop “attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training and weapons".
Since July 9, Iraq’s Shia-majority central and southern provinces — especially Basra — have been rocked by protests to demand better public services, more job opportunities and an end to government corruption.