The United States has ordered its non-emergency government employees to leave Iraq. The order comes as the Trump administration warns of possible threats against U.S. forces in the Middle East from Iran and its allies.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad said the move affects workers there and at the U.S. diplomatic office in the city of Irbil.
U.S. embassies in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates all warned American citizens to have a “high level of vigilance.”
"Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority ... and we want to reduce the risk of harm," a State Department official said.
Last week, U.S. officials said they had found signs of Iranian preparations for possible attacks on U.S. forces and interests in the Mideast. The officials did not share evidence to prove there is an increased threat from Iran.
On Wednesday, Germany and the Netherlands said they were suspending military training operations in Iraq. Yet the German government said it had no signals of its own that Western interests in Iraq are being threatened. The Netherlands said that a security threat was the reason for stopping the training operations.
Some U.S. lawmakers seemed to question claims that Iran is a growing threat to the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf. Senator Lindsey Graham asked that State and Defense Department officials tell Congress about the threat top officials say that Iran poses.
The Defense Department has already sent an aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bomber airplanes to the area.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump denied a New York Times report that the administration plans to send up to 120,000 troops to face Iran, if necessary. But Trump created controversy when he said: "Would I do that? Absolutely."
In Europe, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his country was worried about the risk of accidental conflict. That comment was followed by the unusual public statement by a British general in Baghdad.
Coalition general’s comments
"There's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," said Major General Chris Ghika. He is a top officer in the U.S.-aided coalition fighting the Islamic State group. Ghika was speaking on Tuesday from coalition headquarters in Baghdad. He told reporters "there are a …number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria, and we don't see any increased threat from any of them…”
Late in the day, the U.S. Central Command said that Ghika's comments ran "counter to the identified credible threats" from Iranian-backed forces in the Mideast. In a written statement, it said the coalition in Baghdad has increased the alert level for all coalition military in Iraq and Syria.
Allied concerns about American credibility may be the result of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was justified by false intelligence.
The U.S. military has about 5,000 troops in Iraq and about 2,000 in Syria as part of the coalition campaign to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group there. It also has air and naval forces in Bahrain, Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf. Many are there to support military operations against IS, but some are there to balance Iranian influence.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday that he thought "things will end well."
Hours later, an Iranian official said any conflict in the area will have "unimaginable consequences."
I’m Susan Shand.
Susan Shand wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Her story was based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and VOANews.com. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
vigilance - n. carefully noticing problems or signs of danger
priority - n. the things that someone cares about and thinks are important
pose - v. to be or create a possible threat, danger, problem
controversy - n. argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something
absolutely - adv. used in speech as a forceful way of saying “yes” or of expressing agreement
counter - v. doing something that is made or done as a defense against or response to something else
credible - adj. believable
alert - n. an alarm or signal of danger
consequence - n. something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions