Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Wednesday urged Department of Defense and State Department officials to explain to members of Congress why they felt inclined to withdraw diplomatic personnel from U.S. embassies in Iraq earlier in the day.
“Removing personnel from embassies and consulates is clearly a serious move by the State Department; they feel the threat,” Graham told reporters. “I would urge the State Department and DoD to come down here and explain to us what’s going on, because I have no idea what the threat stream is beyond what I read in the paper. And I think there are a lot of people in my shoes who are going to support standing up to Iran but they need to understand what the threat is.”
Sen. Graham after State Dept. orders personnel to leave Iraq posts: "I would urge the State Dept. and DoD to come down here and explain to us what's going on" with alleged threats from Iran. "We need to understand what we're doing."https://t.co/sE3cURbALx pic.twitter.com/vhRDcdMLSz
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) May 15, 2019
The State Department ordered all non-critical government employees to leave Iraq Wednesday morning to avoid potential danger if violence breaks out between the U.S. and neighboring Iran. That announcement came after a U.S. intelligence assessment blaming Iran for attacking Saudi oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates over the weekend.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated steadily since mid-April, when the Trump administration designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. The U.S. then dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier-strike group to the Persian Gulf last Thursday in response to intelligence reports that suggested a possible imminent attack on American troops by Iranian forces or their proxies.
The New York Times reported Monday evening that acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan presented a plan to top national-security aides last week that called for deploying 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event Iran attacked U.S. forces or made any effort to accelerate its nuclear program.
President Trump pushed back on the report Tuesday, telling reporters no such plan had been devised while also expressing a willingness to deploy that many troops under certain unspecified circumstances.
“I think it’s fake news, okay? Would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we don’t have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
British major general Chris Ghika, who is deputy commander of the coalition operations against ISIS, publicly rebuked the Trump administration’s assertion that there is an increased threat to U.S. forces in the Middle East.
“I am not going to go into the detail of it, but there are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria and we don’t see an increased threat from many of them at this stage,” he told reporters Tuesday.