Pompeo thanks Netanyahu for support after Iraq embassy attack

Foreign Minister Katz urges international community to fight ‘murderous’ Iran after pro-Tehran protesters storm Green Zone

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Lisbon, Portugal, December 4, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Lisbon, Portugal, December 4, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke late Wednesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thanking him for Israel’s support in efforts to combat Iran and after the attack on the US Embassy in Iraq.

“Secretary Pompeo thanked Prime Minister Netanyahu for Israel’s unwavering commitment to countering Iran’s malign regional influence and its condemnation of the December 31 attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The Secretary and Prime Minister reaffirmed the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel,” the statement said.

There was no immediate readout of the call from the Israeli side.

Pompeo also spoke with officials from Qatar.

The breach of the US Embassy compound in Baghdad also prompted Pompeo to postpone his trip to Ukraine and four other countries.

Pompeo was to arrive in Ukraine late Thursday in his first visit to the country at the center of US President Donald Trump’s impeachment, then on to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Cyprus.

He delayed the trip “to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq and ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday. She said he intends to reschedule soon.

Israel earlier Wednesday condemned an attack by pro-Iranian groups on the US embassy in Baghdad, accusing Tehran of erring by ordering the coordinated assault.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The comments by Foreign Minister Israel Katz came hours after pro-Iran demonstrators left the besieged US embassy in Baghdad after the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force ordered them to withdraw a day after their dramatic incursion.

Thousands of Iraqi supporters of the largely Iranian-trained Hashed had encircled and vandalized the embassy compound Tuesday, outraged by US airstrikes that killed 25 Hashed fighters over the weekend.

“Iran made a grave mistake by attempting to harm American diplomats in Iraq,” Katz said in a statement.

“We call on the international community to stand determinedly against the crimes of the murderous regime in Tehran,” he added.

Katz linked the latest incident to Iran-linked attacks on diplomatic missions worldwide, including the deadly 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, in which 29 people were killed.

In a radio interview Wednesday, the foreign minister said Iran could attack Israeli interests next, though he acknowledged the possibility was slim.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard in front of smoke rising from a fire set by pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters in the US embassy compound , in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

“There is a possibility — the chances are not high, but it exists — that the Iranians could harm Israel and drag us into this,” Katz told Army Radio. “It must be clear to them that we will respond with great force to any attack.”

Tensions lingered on Wednesday after the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of state-allied militias — many backed by Iran — called on its supporters to withdraw in response to an appeal by the Iraqi government, saying “your message has been received.”

In an orchestrated assault Tuesday, hundreds of militiamen and their supporters broke into the embassy compound, destroying a reception area, smashing windows, chanting “Death to America” and spraying pro-Iran graffiti on the walls.

Supporters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force hold placards depicting trampled US symbols reading in Arabic ‘Welcome’ during a protest outside the US embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on January 1, 2020 to condemn the US air strikes that killed 25 Hashed fighters over the weekend. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

The protesters set up a tent camp overnight and on Wednesday set fire to the reception area and hurled stones at US Marines guarding the compound, who responded with tear gas.

There were no injuries on either side and no American staff were evacuated from the compound.

Tuesday’s embassy attack was the latest episode in spiraling tensions between the United States and Iran since Washington abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018.

Many of those tensions have played out in Iraq, which has close ties with both governments.

US forces have faced a spate of rocket attacks in recent months, blaming them on pro-Iran Hashed factions.

US forces (unseen) fire teargas canisters at supporters and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force during a demonstration outside the US embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on January 1, 2020. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

Last week, one of those attacks killed a US contractor, prompting the retaliatory US air strikes that killed 25 fighters from Kataeb Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades).

President Donald Trump and other US officials have blamed Iran for attacks on US forces and the embassy.

“They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding “Happy New Year!”

Iran’s supreme leader Wednesday condemned US strikes on Iraq and warned his country was ready to hit back.

“First of all, you can’t do a damn thing! This has nothing to do with Iran,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech on state television.

“If the Islamic Republic decides to oppose or fight against a country, it will do this explicitly,” he said.

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