Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

CENTCOM Heightens Alertness Over 'Eminent Threats'

CENTCOM Heightens Alertness Over 'Eminent Threats'

Thursday, 16 May, 2019 - 08:15
A US flag hangs from blast barriers guarding the entrance to the dining facility inside the compound of the US embassy in Baghdad (Reuters)
Washington - Heba al-Qodsi
US State Department officials told Asharq Al-Awsat that according to intelligence reports there are no indications that Iran will retreat from its threats, citing possible plans to attack US targets in the region.

This comes following the Department 's statement ordering the departure of non-emergency US Government employees from Iraq, both at the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate in Erbil.

“Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended. The US government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in Iraq,” read the statement.

Despite Washington's statements of fears of attack, deputy commander for the US-led coalition against ISIS Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.

“We are monitoring the militia groups carefully and if the threat level perceives to go up, we will raise our force protection levels accordingly.”

The British general's remarks revealed a possible international divergence over the US military buildup in the Middle East.

Later on Tuesday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a statement saying Ghika's comments “run counter to the identified credible threats” of Iranian-backed forces in the region.

“US Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in Iraq and Syria,” the statement says.

“As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq.”

CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said the coalition is “now at a high level of alert” as it continues to monitor “possibly imminent” threats to US forces in Iraq.

At a campaign rally on Tuesday evening, US President Donald Trump emphasized what is becoming one of the hallmarks of his hardline foreign policy, telling supporters that his administration was "holding dangerous regimes accountable by denying them oil revenue to fund their corruption, oppression and terror."

Analysts noted that Trump did not use Twitter to announce his position on Iran so far, likely that the President is not currently considering war.

Some analysts in Washington ruled out the possibility that US military moves could bring Iran to the negotiating table or hold talks to modify the nuclear deal, but made clear that Washington could update previous covert operations, such as launching an electronic attack to disrupt Iranian nuclear operations or its electricity networks.

Some analysts said that the rising tensions and successive US military moves indicate that Washington wants Iran to take the first step, and accordingly US will launch military strikes on the pretext of self-defense, although almost all EU representatives, the United Nations, China, Russia and many other countries will oppose a war between the United States and Iran.

Ilan Goldenberg, Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, stated that no one wants the war, and US escalation aims to push Iran into realizing that a direct confrontation could be suicidal.

Goldenberg noted that “hawks” in Washington believe diplomacy with Iran is futile, and that the Iranian regime will only respond to enormous economic pressure and military force, if necessary.

In the US Congress, many legislators have complained that the Trump administration does not share information with them on rising tensions with Iran. Democratic and Republican members also demanded briefings with senior officials on Iran's threats and how the administration handles them.

Sen. Bob Menendez told reporters the administration should provide classified briefings and public hearings for the people to better understand what is going on.

“If Iran is responsible for targeted attacks on our service members stationed around the region or any of our national-security assets, we should, of course, respond appropriately and in a way that deters and prevents further assaults,” Menendez added.

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