US says Iranian threat to its forces in Iraq remains ‘significant’

US says Iranian threat to its forces in Iraq remains ‘significant’
US says Iranian threat to its forces in Iraq remains ‘significant’

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iranian-backed militia pose a continuing and "significant" threat to US forces in Iraq, the State Department's top diplomat for the Middle East said on Thursday, about a week after US President Donald warned of an attack by Iran or its proxies.

Speaking to reporters in a teleconference, David Schenker, assistant secretary of Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department, did not give details about the Iranian threat, but said: "It continues to be significant."

Iran-backed paramilitary groups have been regularly shelling bases in Iraq that host US forces, as well as the area around the US embassy in Baghdad.

On Monday, three Katyushka rockets landed near a district in southern Iraq that houses workers for foreign oil companies, including US oil service company Halliburton. No casualties or damage were reported.

Last week, President Trump said Iran or its proxies planned a sneak attack on US targets in Iraq, and warned they would pay a "very heavy price" but gave no details.

US-Iranian relations have been strained since the toppling of the US-backed shah of Iran in 1979 which ushered in an era of theocratic rule.

While there was a detente with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, relations deteriorated after Mr Trump's decision nearly two years ago to abandon that multilateral agreement and reimpose US sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

Tensions rose after a US drone strike in Iraq killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who founded Iraq's Shi’ite Kataib Hezbollah militia on January 3.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States proposed a 'Strategic Dialogue' with Iraq to be held in June, a bid to restore strained bilateral ties.

Mr Schenker, who in March said Washington was "enormously disappointed" by Iraq's performance in protecting US-led coalition forces in the country, reiterated that Baghdad needed to take steps if it valued Washington's partnership.

"It is on the Iraqis - if they value that relationship - to take certain steps and that includes providing protection to the coalition forces who are in Iraq, if they want those forces to remain," he said.

Updated: April 10, 2020 02:36 AM

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