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Pentagon Chief to Iraq: Stop Attacks on Bases Housing US Forces

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US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday urged Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to take steps to prevent bases housing US troops from being shelled, a statement from the premier's office said.

Esper “expressed his concerns over the shelling of some installations and the necessity to take procedures to stop it,” a statement from Abdul Mahdi's office quoted the Pentagon chief as saying during a phone call.

Abdul Mahdi warned Esper that unilateral action could have negative consequences that will be difficult to control and might jeopardize Iraq's sovereignty.

Abdul Mahdi resigned last month under pressure from mass anti-government protests. He is carrying out his duties in a caretaker capacity.

Esper's call came after a senior US military official warned last week that attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting US forces in Iraq were pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.

Rocket strikes targeting Iraqi bases where members of the US-led coalition are also stationed have increased in past weeks with no claim of responsibility from any party.

However, the US military official said intelligence and forensic analyses of the rockets and launchers pointed to Iranian-backed militias.

The US Embassy in Iraq on Saturday accused Iran's proxies of carrying out the attacks, warning “Iran's leaders that any attacks by them, or their proxies of any identity, that harm Americans, our allies, or our interests will be answered with a decisive US response.”

“Iran must respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and immediately cease its provision of lethal aid and support to third parties in Iraq and throughout the region,” the statement said.

Similarly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Tehran for the spate of rocket attacks and warned the Trump administration would respond forcefully if US or allied forces were injured or killed.

“Iran’s proxies have recently conducted several attacks against bases where Iraqi Security Forces are co-located with US and International Coalition personnel,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Over 5,000 US troops have been deployed in Iraq to support the Iraqi forces in the battle against ISIS militants, mainly providing training and advising to the Iraqi forces.

Tension between the United States and Iran has risen as a result of US sanctions that are hitting Tehran hard. The two sides have also traded blame over attacks on oil installations, militia arms depots and bases hosting US forces.
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