Pompeo To Iraq: Stand With US Or Move Aside

With tensions heating up with Iran in the Middle East, the Trump Administration increases sanctions and military presence in the region in a show of force to Iran.

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In Iraq, unconfirmed reports from the AP say that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders that if they are not going to stand with the US against Iran, then they should stand aside.

Pompeo’s message came last week as he met with Iraqi leaders to discuss the mounting tension between Washington and Tehran.

The news agency said the message was relayed to it by two Iraqi officials who refused to be named, pointing out that Pompeo’s visit to Baghdad came as intelligence had received information about Iranian threats to US interests in the Middle East.

Iranian Official Says Iran Does Not Want War

In Tehran, Iran, Iran will “under no circumstances” enter a war either directly or indirectly with the United States, a prominent reformist Iranian lawmaker said Wednesday, as both Washington and Tehran try to ease heightened tensions in the region.

The reported comments by Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh come after the White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.

Since that development, Iran has announced it will back away from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that President Donald Trump pulled America out of a year ago. The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged off its coast, and Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have launched drone attacks into Saudi Arabia.

Falahatpisheh’s comments, reported by the semi-official ILNA news agency, carry additional heft as he serves as the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission.

“Under no circumstance will we enter a war,” Falahatpisheh said, according to ILNA. “No group can announce that it has entered a proxy war from Iran’s side.”

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has worked to leverage relationships with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and others to counter what it perceives as the threat from America’s vast military presence across the Mideast. Analysts believe that if attacked, Iran could rely on those militant groups to target American troops, Israel and other U.S. allies in the region.

On Monday, Iran announced it had quadrupled its production capacity of low-enriched uranium. Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.

But by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the nuclear accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Mideast already on edge.

The U.S. Air Force announced Wednesday that a B-52 bomber deployed to America’s vast Al-Udeid Air Base over the tensions took part in a formation flight with Qatari fighter jets. That come as Qatar has grown closer to Iran after facing a nearly two-year boycott by four Arab nations also allied with the U.S.

“This flight was conducted to continue building military-to-military relationships” with Qatar, the Air Force said.

The Iraqi Prime Minister says he wants to end tensions between the U.S. and Iran

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq will send delegations to the U.S. and Iran to help end tensions between the two countries, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Tuesday, adding that Baghdad is neutral in the conflict.

Abdul-Mahdi, whose country has close ties to both Iran and the U.S., said that Iranian and U.S. officials have informed Iraq that they have “no desire in fighting a war.”

Last week, the U.S. ordered the evacuation of nonessential diplomatic staff from Iraq amid unspecified threats from Iran and rising tensions across the region. The White House has sent warships and bombers to the region to counter the alleged Iranian threats.

Abdul-Mahdi’s comments came two days after a rocket slammed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy. No injuries were reported and no group immediately claimed the Sunday night attack.

Major Iranian-backed groups in Iraq distanced themselves from the attack saying their country should not be pulled into regional conflict.

After America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq to oust dictator Saddam Hussein, American troops and Iranian-backed militiamen fought pitched battles around the country, and scores of U.S. troops were killed or wounded by sophisticated Iranian-made weapons.

Abdul-Mahdi said Iraq is “playing a role to calm the situation but it is not a mediation.” He said he will visit Kuwait on Wednesday to discuss regional issues.

“Iraq is only carrying messages (between the U.S. and Iran). Mediation is a big word. What we are doing is trying to defuse the crisis,” he told reporters in Baghdad during his weekly news conference, without going into details about the delegations that will be sent. “We are transferring messages from one side to the other.”

“Iraq has no choice in the crisis. We don’t stand by one side against the other,” Abdul-Mahdi added.

On May 8, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a lightning, previously unannounced trip to the Iraqi capital following the abrupt cancellation of a visit to Germany, and as the United States said it had been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East.

Abdul-Mahdi was asked whether Iraq is taking any measures in case the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes, is closed. Most of Iraq’s oil exports pass through Hormuz.

“We are working for alternatives but these are not short-term alternatives. They are long-term ones,” he said.

“We have stored fuel for the crisis” in the local market in case something happens, he said.

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan address media

In Washington D.C. yesterday Pompeo and Shanahan addressed the media following their briefings on Iran with both the House and Senate. The following is the transcript of their press briefing as released by the State Department.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  First, we shared with both the House and the Senate our strategic campaign, the effort to push back against Iran’s malign activity – 40 years of terrorist activity.  And so we talked to them about that, and we tried to place that – or place the recent intelligence in context of that 40 years of history.  And we walked through our efforts and our ultimate objective over the past days, which has been to deter Iran.

ACTING SECRETARY SHANAHAN:  Good afternoon, everybody.  We had a very good conversation with both the House and the Senate, and we heard feedback that they’d like more conversation.  They’d also like us to be more communicative with the American public, and we agreed to do more of that.

Today I walked them through what the Department of Defense has been doing since May 3rd, when we received credible intelligence about threats to our interests in the Middle East and to American forces, and how we acted on that credible intelligence.  That intelligence has borne out in attacks, and I would say it’s also deterred attacks.  We have deterred attacks based on our re-posturing of assets, deterred attacks against American forces.

Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation.  We do not want the situation to escalate.  This is about deterrence, not about war – or not about going to war.  This is about continuing to protect our interests in the Middle East and conducting the missions that we are there to perform.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, will you speak directly to Iran, sir?  Will you speak directly to Iran?

SECRETARY POMPEO: There are plenty of ways that we can have a communication channel.  I’m very confident in that.  Thank you all very much.

Where does this go next?

As tensions have been building, both sides indicate that they do not want war, though President Trump says Iranian aggression with be met with "Great Force". Iranian officials say that they will not engage in any sort of war with the U.S., while at the same time they attack and provoke U.S. allies in the region through proxy groups. In Yemen, Iranian backed insurgents attacked Saudi Arabia with bomb laden drones...again.

Iran continues to support Hammas who is still routinely firing missiles into Israel, and a missile exploded in the green zone just a short distance from the U.S. embassy in Iraq. Iran also just quadrupled it uranium enrichment program and vows to up their nuclear weapons program even more dramatically soon if the EU does not work out some sort of deal with them. Recent attacks on cargo vessels in the region are also highly suspected to be the actions of Iranian backed groups.

So while Iranian officials claim to not want to engage in war, they are doing a great job of poking the bear(s). Obviously, the U.S., and other regional allies have a long history with the Iranian regime that has long been known for the open chants call for "death to America" and the complete destruction of Israel.

What we have seen regarding President's Trump style indicates that he will likely ramp up the posturing even more and have a greater show of force, along with that of regional allies before he tries to negotiate with Iran. President Trump has sent a battle group to the region headed up by the Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln, as well as, B52 bombers. This is certainly intended to get the attention of Iran with a show of force, though both sides say they want peace. We certainly know that President Trump has vowed not to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and has placed severe sanctions on Iran. The question is whether Trump can work out a new deal with Iran that will keep them from obtaining nuclear weapons and be verifiable in a realistic way.

I would expect some aggressiveness back and forth as both sides posture over the coming weeks, but talks are likely to occur in some fashion in an effort to keep Iran contained without war and still be able to hold Iran accountable. I do not see how, given Iran's history, that anything can be achieved with talks. Iran has proven to lie and circumvent the rules of the deals in the past. We'll just have to wait and see what the Trump administration is able to achieve.

For more on the key events raising tensions in the region, click here.

The AP contributed to this report

Pompeo Announces U.S. Will No Longer Grant Waivers On Iranian Sanctions

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