Iran is committed to its obligations under an global nuclear deal despite the United States withdrawal from the landmark agreement, its foreign minister said on Thursday, calling the reimposition of the U.S. sanctions "unacceptable".
The US on Wednesday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil, ramping up alarm over an alleged Iran threat even as allies appeared less than convinced. Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended.
US officials told ABC News last week that there were "clear indications" Iran or its proxy forces were preparing for a possible attack against USA forces at sea and on land, including in Iraq and Syria, prompting the deployment of a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the region.
Employees were urged to depart the country by commercial transportation as soon as possible and avoid US facilities within Iraq.
On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing "heightened tensions".
It was unclear how many personnel were affected, and there was no word on any specific threat.
On Tuesday, the United States military reaffirmed concerns about possible imminent threats from Iran to its troops in Iraq, although a senior British commander cast doubt on that and Tehran has called it "psychological warfare".
Tensions between Tehran and Washington took a new turn last week after the United States boosted its military presence in the Persian Gulf with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to send a "clear and unmistakable message" to Iran.
Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications "things will end well" despite the rhetoric.
The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday came out forcefully against the Trump administration angling the United States into another costly and unnecessary war of choice in the Middle East-this time against Iran-delivering an online address in which he warned that any military action without approval from Congress would be an "unconstitutional and illegal" breach of office.
The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said past year that Tehran would block exports through the waterway if countries heeded USA calls to stop buying Iranian oil.
USA allies in Iraq have refrained from echoing Washington's warning cry. "They know that it is not to their benefit".
Iran recently threatened it might resume higher enrichment by July 7, beyond the level permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers. Satellite images obtained Tuesday by the AP from Colorado-based Maxar Technologies showed no visible damage to the vessels, and Gulf officials have refused to say who they suspected was responsible. Though Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90 per cent threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20 per cent. "The next steps are easier than this step".
Spain announced that it was pulling its frigate from a US-led naval group that is headed for the Gulf, telling reporters that the "US Government has taken a decision outside of the framework of what had been agreed with the Spanish Navy".