The UK has raised the threat level for its troops and diplomats in Iraq amid heightened concern over potential attacks by Iran or its proxy forces. Alertness levels were also raised at UK embassies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar as tensions remained high in the Persian Gulf. The US has been building up its forces in the region for two weeks after intelligence reportedly showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards loading missiles onto small boats, potentially to be fired at American warships. The UK initially appeared to downplay concerns over Iranian activity and earlier this week a senior British general said there was “no increased threat” from Iran in Iraq or Syria. His comments were openly contradicted by the US military and on Thursday the British military raised its threat level in Iraq. “There is a range of threats to UK and coalition forces in this part of the world: that is why we have a very robust range of force protection measures. The UK has long been clear about our concerns over Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region,” a Ministry of Defence spokesman said. The decision to raise threat levels was first reported by Sky News and later confirmed by British officials. Persian gulf sabotage attacks The US has decided to withdraw diplomats from diplomatic facilities in response to threats from Shia militias. All “non-emergency” US diplomats are being withdrawn, leaving only a skeleton staff behind. The move was met with scepticism by former US officials and European allies. Officials stressed that the British embassy in Baghdad and the UK consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan remain open and that Britain is not following the US lead. Brett McGurk, a former diplomat who led the US political effort against the Islamic State (Isil), said it was the first time that such a dramatic evacuation of American diplomats had taken place. “Even when Isil was bearing down on Baghdad in 2014, the US did not trigger [an] ordered departure in light of its serious repercussions,” he said on Twitter. The White House announced two weeks ago that it had intelligence Iran was planning attacks in the Middle East and has been increasing US forces to the region and raising overall threat levels since then. Until this morning, however, I am not aware of an “ordered departure” EVER being issued for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or Consulate in Erbil. Even when ISIS was bearing down on Baghdad in 2014, the U.S. did not trigger ordered departure in light of its serious repercussions.— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) May 15, 2019 Western officials said there was a consensus that Iran had stepped up its activity in the region and was looking for a way to retaliate to US sanctions without triggering a full-blown war. The US has not made its intelligence public but the alarm was caused by images showing the missiles being put on to small dhow boats, according to the New York Times. The missiles had been assembled and US intelligence officials assessed they were meant to be fired from the boats, as opposed to being transported by sea to Iranian proxies in the region. One photograph has been declassified and could be released to the public. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival in the region, meanwhile said it held Iran responsible for a drone attack against Saudi oil facilities carried out by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The drones struck two oil pumping stations on Tuesday and Saudi-led forces responded with a wave of airstrikes on the Yemeni capital on Thursday. The Houthis claimed the strikes killed six civilians, including four children. Letters from Jerusalem RHS Saudi Arabia accuses the Houthis of being Iranian proxies. “The Houthis are indivisible part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and subject to the IRGC’s orders,” said Adel Al-Jubeir, a Saudi foreign minister. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the drone attack but deny that they are under control of Iran. Most analysts believe Iran provides some funding and arms to the Houthis but they are largely independent.
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