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U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Iran amid Coronavirus Damage, Seeks Release of Americans

A team of doctors and nurses prepare themselves before heading out to their designated residential areas to check on residents who returned from Iran to see anyone is infected with the novel coronavirus at Isa Town Health Center, south of Manama, Bahrain, March 2, 2020. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

The U.S. imposed fresh sanctions on Iran on Wednesday and called on the state terror sponsor to release detained Americans after new rocket attacks were launched at U.S. forces in Iraq by what are believed to be Iran-backed forces.

The State Department sanctioned nine entities based in South Africa, Hong Kong, and China as well as three Iranian individuals “who have engaged in activity that could enable the Iranian regime’s violent behavior,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. The sanctioned entities and individuals were involved in “significant transactions” to trade in Islamic Republic’s petrochemical industry, which the sanctions will target.

“The actions of these individuals and entities provide revenue to the regime that it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing activities, such as the recent rocket attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces located at Camp Taji in Iraq,” Pompeo said.

Two U.S. troops and one coalition service member were killed last week in a rocket attack on a military base in Iraq. At least a dozen more people were injured at Camp Taji, about 17 miles north of Baghdad, after about 18 of up to 30 Russian Katyusha rockets were launched from northeast Baghdad and hit the base.

Over the past year, the U.S. has accused Iran-backed forces such as Kataib Hezbollah of 13 similar attacks on military bases in Iraq that house U.S. and coalition troops. The Defense Department said it launched strikes against the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah.

Pompeo also said Iran is considering releasing several detained American citizens and urged the country to do so amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Iran particularly hard.

The U.S. will continue its campaign to squeeze the Iranian economy and limit Iran’s ability to export oil, which Tehran claims has impaired its ability to contain the spread of the deadly respiratory illness.

The coronavirus has hobbled Iran, infecting over 17,300 and killing more than 1,100, including high-ranking government officials.

Earlier this month, Pompeo warned that Iranian government was attempting to cover up the scope of the toll the virus is taking on the population. Iran has so far refused U.S. offers of help to combat the virus, expressing suspicion that the U.S. is trying to break the spirits of Iranians over the epidemic.

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