US warns Iran against attacking Americans in Iraq

Iran looks warily to China for help as US sanctions resume.
Wednesday 12/09/2018
A file photo showing US troops in the village of Oreij, south of Mosul, in 2017. (AFP)
A file photo showing US troops in the village of Oreij, south of Mosul, in 2017. (AFP)

LONDON – The United States warned Iran on Tuesday it will “respond swiftly and decisively” to any attacks by Tehran’s allies in Iraq that result in injury to Americans or damage to US facilities.

The statement by the White House press secretary accused Iran of not preventing attacks in recent days on the US Consulate in Basra and the American Embassy compound in Baghdad.

“Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons,” the statement said.

“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives,” the statement said.

On Friday, three mortar bombs landed inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, where the US Embassy is located, but they caused no casualties or damage, the Iraqi military said.

The mortar attack was the first such one in several years on the Green Zone, which houses parliament, government buildings and many foreign embassies.

The US Consulate in Basra is near the airport, which was attacked by rockets on Saturday. No damage or casualties were reported.

Protesters in Basra angry over political corruption ransacked and torched Iraqi government buildings last week. The Iranian consulate was set alight by demonstrators shouting condemnation of what many see as Iran’s sway over Iraq’s affairs. 

Iran looks warily to China for help as US sanctions resume

With US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull America from the 2015 nuclear deal, Iranians likely see China as one of the few avenues now open to them.

“China is a vast economy and has enough middle-sized companies that don’t have a lot of exposure to the US that Iran is going to be able to continue large quantities of trade there, assuming the Chinese government lets that happens and wants that to happen,” said Peter Harrell, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security and a former US diplomat who worked on Iranian sanctions issues with Beijing.

The Chinese have stressed they want the nuclear deal to continue and support any talks toward that end.

“China has been carrying out open, transparent and normal business cooperation with Iran in the economic, trade and energy sectors. Such cooperation is reasonable, legitimate and lawful,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in August. “It contravenes no UN Security Council resolutions or international obligations China has pledged into, undermines the interests of no one, and thus deserves to be respected and maintained.”

First among China’s wants likely is Iran’s energy supplies as other US allies cut off their purchases by a November deadline. Nearly a quarter of all of Iran’s oil exports went to China in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration, making it the Islamic Republic’s biggest single market. While oil imports from Iran have dropped some 20 percent between May and August, “China will keep any reductions to a minimal level,” the Eurasia Group said Wednesday.

After French oil major Total SA pulled out of a $5 billion, 20-year agreement to develop the Iran’s massive South Pars offshore natural gas field, growing rumors circulated that China would take over the concession.

Meanwhile, India may face growing pressure to pull out of Iran’s Chahbahar port on the Gulf of Oman after pledging $500 million to improve it, allowing China to expand its own presence there. 

But already, there are rumblings of concern among the Iranian public.

At Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, most acknowledge Chinese goods are substandard to the ones sold by Western firms and remember how they flooded the market when nuclear sanctions bit into the country in 2006. Fishermen along Iran’s southern coast already complain about Chinese firms gaining access to their fishing grounds.

Analysts expect Beijing also will ring major discounts from Tehran for buying whatever crude it otherwise can’t sell after the November deadline.

The one thing China, the world’s top oil importer, does not want to see happen is any military action driving up the price of crude oil.

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made veiled threats about Iran’s ability to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the Chinese immediately reached out to the Iranian government to express concern.

(Arab Weekly and news agencies)