The governor of Basra has dismissed US allegations that it closed its consulate in Iraq’s southern city of Basra last week for security reasons, saying the decision is “political”.
The US State Department has announced its decision to place the consulate in Basra on “ordered departure,” temporarily relocating its diplomatic personnel in the country over what it has called security risks after violent incidents near the facility.
“The security situation in Basra in 2003 was far worse and the consulate did not close at that time, so it’s basically an American political decision,” Asaad al-Eidani told the online news website Middle East Eye.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the decision had been made to protect American diplomats against violence. He claimed that Iran was trying to use the potential risk to US staff there as a form of leverage on the administration of President Donald Trump and his anti-Iran policies.
Pompeo’s claim was rejected by a senior Iraqi security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Washington Post quoted the official as saying that the decision to close the consulate in Basra did not appear to be driven by any credible threat from Iran or the groups it supports.
The developments come a few weeks after a group of attackers set fire to the Iranian consulate in Basra. Later, a number of rockets were also fired at the American consulate, which is located near the city’s airport.
The attacks followed several weeks of unrest in Basra, triggered by the residents’ anger over poor electricity supply and contaminated water, which made thousands of people ill.
Speaking from the Basra oil ministry, which he has used since his own building was torched by the demonstrators, Eidani rejected US claims that Iran had “controlling power” in Basra, saying Tehran’s influence in the city was being exaggerated.
“If Iran is the controlling power in Basra, their consulate would not have been burned,” he said, referring to the attack on Iran’s consulate earlier this month.“They don’t have controlling power over Basra,” he stressed.
Iran has also dismissed “unjustifiable” claims made by the US for shutting down its consulate, saying the move is part of a blame game played by Washington.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the US made such claims despite numerous “overt and covert indications” of foreign agents’ involvement in a “brutal” attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra.
He added that it is quite crystal that US officials’ “childish justifications” are part of the country’s adventurism and plot to depict Iraq as an insecure country to exert pressure on its government.