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U.S. orders non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq

The US State Department has ordered non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq, the US embassy in Baghdad said on Wednesday, amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The order covers non-emergency employees at the US embassy in Baghdad and the US consulate in Erbil in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, the embassy added in a statement.

Normal visa services will be temporarily suspended at both posts, the mission added.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq, it added on its website.

The embassy advised those employees to leave Iraq by commercial transportation as soon as possible.

On Sunday, the embassy advised US citizens against travelling to Iraq citing heightened tensions.

Wednesday’s order comes a day after the US Central Command said that US forces in Iraq and neighbouring Syria had been placed on high alert following credible threats from Iranian forces in the region.

The tensions come after Iranian President Hassan Rowhani announced last week that his country would begin partially withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Rowhani unveiled his step-by-step plan exactly one year after US President Donald Trump announced his country’s full and unilateral exit from the deal.

The first phase of Iran’s withdrawal began on Wednesday, the ISNA news agency reported, citing a source from the National Security Council.

This will see the Islamic Republic stop abiding by restrictions set by the landmark agreement, which limited stocks held in the country of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms and heavy water to 130 tons.

Western sanctions against Iran were lifted in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but the US has gradually revived sanctions over the past year, including an embargo on oil exports that are essential for Iran’s economy.

The US previously said it had deployed an aircraft carrier to the Middle East, after Tehran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes connecting the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week to meet top officials, and last month, the US declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization.

But Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out a war with the US.

Neither we nor the United States want a war, that is why that is not going to happen, Khamenei told Iranian state television on Tuesday.

In the past few days, tensions have mounted in the Gulf. On Sunday, the United Arab Emirates, a US ally, said that four commercial vessels were sabotaged off its coast.

Two days later, Saudi Arabia said two oil pipeline booster stations in the Riyadh province were targeted by explosive-laden drones, an attack claimed by Yemen’s Iran-linked Houthi rebels.

Riyadh called the attack an act of terrorism and sabotage.

Saudi Arabia, a regional rival of Iran, is leading a military campaign in Yemen against the Houthis

Source: News Agency of Nigeria