Mitt Romney questions Trump administration threat to pull diplomats out of Baghdad

(Khalid Mohammed | AP file photo) Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters damage property inside the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 31, 2019.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney questions whether Iraq’s stability may crumble if the Trump administration completes a threat to pull all U.S. diplomats from Baghdad unless that country does more to protect them against frequent rocket and improvised explosive device attacks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued that warning to Iraqi officials last week.

Romney, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, questioned the move in a joint statement Wednesday that he issued with the committee’s ranking Democrat, Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

“We are extremely concerned that the implications of fully withdrawing our already limited diplomatic teams from the Baghdad embassy could serve to undermine U.S.-Iraqi relations to the benefit of malign Iranian influence, cause our allies to also withdraw their diplomats from Baghdad, and undercut missions to train Iraqi security forces,” the senators wrote.

They said the potential move comes as Iraq faces myriad political, humanitarian and economic challenges that range from tackling corruption to handling the COVID-19 pandemic and facing a sharp drop in oil prices.

“Now is a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Iraq,” they wrote. “The United States must conduct policy in a manner that supports Iraq’s efforts to achieve a secure, democratic and prosperous future and become a stabilizing force in the region.”

The pair urged the administration to provide a briefing quickly for the Senate.

They said they want the administration “to explain the nature of the threats to our embassy personnel, steps the State Department is taking to mitigate the threats in coordination with our Iraqi partners and any consequence we would expect if the U.S. does vacate the Baghdad embassy.”

Despite their questioning, the senators said they support State Department efforts to protect U.S. diplomats in Baghdad.

Their statement came after Iraq also called for the administration to reconsider its move.

“There are outlaw groups that try to shake this relationship, and closing the embassy would send a negative message to them,” Ahmed Mulla Talal, a spokesman for Prime Minister Mustafa ­al-Kadhimi, said Sunday.

The Associated Press has reported that President Trump’s decision to order the killing of senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport in January sparked a firestorm in Iraq.

Iraqi lawmakers urged the expulsion of U.S. troops. Iranian-backed militia groups ramped up a campaign of rocket and small-scale bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi military bases that host U.S.-led coalition troops.

Two U.S. servicemen, a Briton and several members of Iraq’s security forces have been killed this year in rocket attacks attributed to the militias.

In recent months, small-scale bomb attacks have also targeted convoys linked to the U.S.-led coalition. Iraqi drivers are the focus, which has sown fear among their ranks. A bomb was planted next to a convoy from the British Embassy in Baghdad this month, suggesting a possible new phase in the militias' campaign, The Associated Press reported.