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The Journal Gazette

  • An Emirati coast guard vessel passes an oil tanker off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. Saudi Arabia said Monday two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates near Fujairah in attacks that caused "significant damage" to the vessels, one of them as it was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

  • In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Navy, the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group transits the Suez Canal in Egypt. The aircraft carrier and its strike group are deploying to the Persian Gulf on orders from the White House to respond to an unspecified threat from Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Darion Chanelle Triplett/U.S. Navy via AP)

  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Emirati-flagged oil tanker A. Michel off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. As many as four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

  • This photo provided by the United Arab Emirates' National Media Council shows the Emirati-flagged bunkering tanker A. Michel off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. (United Arab Emirates National Media Council via AP)

  • This photo provided by the United Arab Emirates' National Media Council shows the Norwegian-flagged oil tanker MT Andrea Victory off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. (United Arab Emirates National Media Council via AP)

  • In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Suez Canal in Egypt. The aircraft carrier and its strike group are deploying to the Persian Gulf on orders from the White House to respond to an unspecified threat from Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow, U.S. Navy via AP)

  • In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Navy, Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 2nd Class Jason Caldwell, assigned to the "Jolly Rogers" of Strike Fighter Squadron 103, observes sunrise on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln while transiting the Suez Canal in Egypt. The aircraft carrier and its strike group are deploying to the Persian Gulf on orders from the White House to respond to an unspecified threat from Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley, U.S. Navy via AP)

  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Norwegian-flagged oil tanker Andrea Victory off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. As many as four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

  • This photo provided by the United Arab Emirates' National Media Council shows the Norwegian-flagged oil tanker MT Andrea Victory off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. (United Arab Emirates National Media Council via AP)

  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Saudi-flagged oil tanker Al Marzoqa off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. As many as four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

  • In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photo released by the U.S. Navy, the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group transits the Suez Canal in Egypt. The aircraft carrier and its strike group are deploying to the Persian Gulf on orders from the White House to respond to an unspecified threat from Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley, U.S. Navy via AP)

  • This photo provided by the United Arab Emirates' National Media Council shows the Emirati-flagged bunkering tanker A. Michel off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. (United Arab Emirates National Media Council via AP)

  • This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Saudi-flagged oil tanker Amjad off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 13, 2019. As many as four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a "sabotage" attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

  • This satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows Saudi Aramco's Pumping Station No. 8 near al-Duadmi, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, after what the kingdom described as a drone attack on the facility. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was hit Tuesday by drones, the Saudi energy minister said, as regional tensions flared just days after what the kingdom called an attack on two of its oil tankers elsewhere in the Mideast. (Satellite image © 2019 Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 1:30 pm

US pulls nonessential staff from Iraq amid Mideast tensions

JON GAMBRELL and PHILIP ISSA | Associated Press

 

BAGHDAD -- The U.S. on Wednesday ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq, and Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country in the latest sign of tensions sweeping the Persian Gulf region about still-unspecified threats the Trump administration says are linked to Iran.

Recent days have seen allegations of sabotage targeting oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a drone attack by Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels and the dispatch of U.S. warships and bombers to the region.

At the root of this appears to be President Donald Trump's decision a year ago to pull the U.S. from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, embarking on a maximalist sanctions campaign against Iran. In response, Iran's supreme leader issued a veiled threat Tuesday, saying it wouldn't be difficult for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The movement of diplomatic personnel is often done in times of conflict, but what is driving the decisions from the White House remains unclear. A high-ranking British general said there was no new threat from Iran or its regional proxies, something immediately rebutted by the U.S. military's Central Command, which said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.

Last week, U.S. officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on U.S. forces and interests in the Mideast, but the United States has not spelled out that threat, and an alert on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said all nonessential, nonemergency U.S. government staff were ordered to leave Iraq right away under State Department orders.

The U.S. in recent days has ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf region, plus four B-52 bombers.

Germany's military said it was suspending training of Iraqi soldiers because of the tensions, although there was no specific threat to its own troops in Iraq. Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said Germany was "orienting itself toward our partner countries" though there are "no concrete warnings of attacks against German targets."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer expressed concern about the tensions and said it welcomes "any measure that is aimed at a peaceful solution." Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said the German government has not reduced its embassy staff in Iraq or Iran.

In the Netherlands, state broadcaster NOS said its 50-person military mission in Iraq was halted "until further orders," quoting a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying he couldn't elaborate on the threats. It said the Dutch forces primarily train Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State militants.

 

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nasser Karimi of the Associated Press in Tehran, Iran, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Angela Charlton in Paris, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.