United States pulls staff from Iraq, says Iran gave 'blessing' for tanker attacks

Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal a year ago and is ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, aiming to strangle its economy by ending its worldwide sales of crude oil.

Chris Ghika, deputy commander of the global coalition against the Islamic State group, had told reporters that measures in place to protect U.S. forces and their allies from Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria were "completely satisfactory".

"I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon", Trump added.

The State Department has ordered all non-emergency U.S. government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. consulate in Erbil to leave the country, according to a statement posted on the embassy's website Wednesday.

Iran's supreme leader issued a veiled threat in the same speech in which he stated that "no one is seeking war", saying it wouldn't be hard for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels amid rising tensions with the USA, state media reported Wednesday.

The effort to pin the tanker attacks on Iran came just over a week after Boltonused the planned deploymentof an American aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran with military action and warn - again, without evidence - of "escalatory indications" from Iran.

It was also reported on Tuesday that U.S. investigators believed Iran or groups it supported had used explosives to damage four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

However, while the European Union has issued statements critical of Iran, they have not supported United States claims of imminent Iranian attacks.

Illustrative photo of the USA embassy under construction as seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad, Iraq, May 19, 2007. "The American people should know, we've done that", he said.

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"We exercise maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew", Mr Zarif said as he met his Japanese counterpart, Mr Taro Kono, in Tokyo.

Despite the insistence that neither party wants conflict, world powers have rushed to urge calm and voiced concern over the escalating tensions.

Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika said in a briefing to the Pentagon "there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces" in the region, according to The Guardian.

One or more vessels incurred light hull damage, but what caused the damage and who was behind it remains unknown.

Germany, which has 160 soldiers in Iraq, and the Netherlands which has 169 military and civilian staff, suspended military training operations, citing regional tensions.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ISNA news agency reported that an Iranian atomic energy official said Iran has officially stopped some commitments under the pact, and has no limit from now for production of enriched uranium and heavy water. German defense ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said there was a "generally heightened alert" in the region but gave no specifics.

Similarly, Germany's foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Rottgen said that German intelligence doesn't align with the United States view that a military strike by Iran is soon approaching.

Trump's administration has been warning of unspecified threats from Iran in the wake of new US sanctions over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program and other malign behavior in the Middle East. "We need a strategy", Coons said, echoing a call by Congress for the government to brief lawmakers. "If (the administration) were contemplating military action with Iran, it must come to Congress to seek approval", he said.

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