'Rapid Strikes To Follow': Iraqis See US Threat To Shutter Embassy As Prelude To War

We detailed previously that the US State Department is livid over repeat rocket and mortar attacks on both the US Embassy in Baghdad and the high secure 'Green Zone' in which the American compound is located.

This resulted in US officials signaling at the start of this week they are mulling shuttering the embassy altogether and calling all diplomatic personnel home. Multiple reports say "preparations" for just such a retreat are underway, which strongly suggests bigger US military intervention will follow.

Not only was there weekend fire on the US embassy area, but a Monday attack on Baghdad's international airport, which also hosts Western military advisory forces, killed five Iraqi civilians when a rocket slammed into their house on the edge of the airport.

Reuters file image: past formal opening of the US embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, Jan. 5, 2009.

Both Iraqi and American diplomats have now told Reuters that the region will interpret closure of the US Embassy as a sure sign war is coming

According to the report, it would mean a US "gloves off" approach to pro-Iranian Shia Iraqi militias which have long been blamed for the sporadic rocket attacks on Western interests, on a noticeable uptick of late:

Any move by the United States to reduce its diplomatic presence in a country where it has up to 5,000 troops would be widely seen in the region as an escalation of its confrontation with Iran, which Washington blames for missile and bomb attacks.

That in turn would open the possibility of military action, with just weeks to go before an election in which President Donald Trump has campaigned on a hard line towards Tehran and its proxies.

Indeed it could be a Trump administration "tough on Iran" foreign policy selling point, in line with the long-running maximum pressure campaign, especially given there are Iran hawks on both sides of the aisle. 

Reuters cited Western diplomatic sources to say that if the go ahead order for a full embassy withdrawal is actually given, expect swift military action to follow: "The concern among the Iraqis is that withdrawing diplomats would be followed quickly by military action against forces Washington blamed for attacks."

But the embassy closure or especially a timetable is still anything but certain, as the report notes:

One of the Western diplomats said the U.S. administration did not “want to be limited in their options” to weaken Iran or pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Asked whether he expected Washington to respond with economic or military measures, the diplomat replied: “Strikes.”

The U.S. State Department, asked about plans to withdraw from Iraq, said: “We never comment on the Secretary’s private diplomatic conversations with foreign leaders ... Iran-backed groups launching rockets at our Embassy are a danger not only to us but to the Government of Iraq.”

Despite Katyusha rocket attacks on the embassy in the past months becoming a near weekly occurrence (as well as deployment of countermeasures), there's rarely any casualties or material damage to the embassy. 

Typically the non-precision rockets fall in open fields, and it's yet ultimately unknown and unproven just who or which group is behind the bulk of the attacks.