WASHINGTON, (PNA/RIA Novosti) -– The US State Department said Friday it had ordered the removal of some diplomatic personnel in the Middle East due to security concerns, a move that comes amid media reports that US interests could face attacks from militants as retaliation for American military action in Syria.
A drawdown of “nonemergency” US diplomatic personnel and their families in Beirut, Lebanon, has been ordered, while a similar measure has been approved for diplomats and their relatives who wish to leave the southeastern Turkish city of Adana, where the United States maintains a consulate, the State Department said.
A Friday report in the Wall Street Journal said an Iranian official has told militants in Iraq to strike US interests in Baghdad should the United States carry out military action in Syria as a response to an alleged chemical weapons attack.
The Iranian order came from Qasem Soleimani, head of the Qods Force, a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and was intercepted by American intelligence, the Journal cited unnamed US officials as saying.
The United States is watchful of an Iranian fleet of small boats in the Persian Gulf that could threaten US warships there and fears its embassy in Beirut could be targeted by Hezbollah, the newspaper cited the officials as saying.
The State Department said the removal of diplomatic staff from Lebanon and Turkey was due to “current tensions in the region, as well as potential threats to US government facilities and personnel.”
“We are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities,” it said.
US citizens in Lebanon or southeastern Turkey should limit “nonessential travel” in the respective countries and “be aware of their surroundings whether in their residences or moving about,” the State Department added.
The United States says it has “high confidence” that an apparent chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21 was carried out by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and US President Barack Obama is pushing for punitive military action that has been greeted with skepticism and condemnation both at home and abroad.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday accused Washington of using the alleged chemical attack to justify interfering in the Syrian conflict and warned that the US would “suffer loss” if it intervenes in the civil war.
“I believe the Americans are making mistakes in Syria and they have felt the impact and will certainly suffer loss,” Khamenei said in a speech to Iranian officials, Reuters reported.