Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 May 2020

Trump says Iran planning 'sneak attack' and threatens heavy price

He warns Tehran and proxies against attacking US troops in region

US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on March 31, 2020, in Washington, DC. AFP
US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on March 31, 2020, in Washington, DC. AFP

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Iran and its proxies against attacking US troops or assets in Iraq, talking of a possible "sneak attack" but giving no other details.

"Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq," Mr Trump tweeted.

"If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price indeed."

In a response, an article published on Iran's state-run Tasnim news agency challenged Mr Trump's tweet, saying he did not provide any evidence that Tehran planned an attack on US troops.

The tweet follows a report by The New York Times last week that the US military is preparing for escalation in Iraq against the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah militias.

On Monday, Esmail Ghaani, the new head of Iran's Quds Force, visited Iraq.

His predecessor, Qassem Suleimani, was killed by a US drone in Iraq on January 3, which exacerbated a cycle of attacks between the US military and Iran's proxies in the country.

Washington is also discussing with the Iraqi government the possible installation of Patriot missiles against Iran's wishes, and has moved troops from four bases in recent weeks.

A US State Department official told The National that American forces were not withdrawing from Iraq.

“The US is not withdrawing from Iraq," the official said. "We are committed to a partnership and friendship with Iraq."

He said the troop movements "were pre-planned and based on the success that we and our partners have had against ISIS".

Hours before Mr Trump tweeted the threat, Gen Yahya Rahim Safavi, the Iranian military adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a warning of his own.

"We advise US politicians and military to take responsibility for the consequences of their provocative actions [in Iraq]," Gen Safavi told Tasnim.

"Any US action will mark an even larger strategic failure in the current president's record."

The US has blamed Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah for a March 11 rocket attack that killed two American troops and a British soldier in Iraq.

A day later, the US launched air strikes against the group's militants in Iraq.

On March 14, 33 Katyusha rockets were launched against Camp Taji, 27 kilometres north of Baghdad.

The attacked section of the base housed US-led coalition forces, where the strike wounded three American and two Iraqi troops.

The Iraqi military later found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets that were ready to launch in nearby Abu Izam.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks, but Washington believes Iran-backed militias were responsible.

Updated: April 2, 2020 03:20 AM

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