Saturday, May 25th, 2019

‘Time warp speed’: Congress demands urgent Iran briefing

Policymakers’ scramble for information comes as the US ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq, citing an “increased threat stream” in the region. Administration officials have been spent this week warning of rising threats to Americans from forces backed by Iran and are deploying warship, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to to the Persian Gulf to counter what the US calls a heightened threat from Iran to its soldiers and interests in the region.

Aviation ordnance men transport a missile aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The aircraft carrier strike group is being deployed to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged but still-unspecified threat from Iran.Credit:US Navy

Helicopters took off throughout the day from the vast US embassy compound near the Tigris River in Baghdad, evacuating staff, according to an Iraqi source and a diplomatic source inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

Iran described the moves as “psychological warfare”, and a British commander cast doubt on US military concerns about threats to its roughly 5000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping Iraqi security forces fight Islamic State.

President Trump, what is your strategy? Where are you headed and why aren’t you talking to Congress about it?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

The US State Department said employees at both the US embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, were being pulled out immediately.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was an “alarming lack of clarity” about the strategy in Iran.

Wants answers: Democrat Senator and Senate minority leader Chuck Shumer.Credit:AP

“Any potential increase in our military presence in the Middle East should require consultation with Congress and anything beyond that would require this body to act,” Schumer said on the Senate Floor. “President Trump, what is your strategy? Where are you headed and why aren’t you talking to Congress about it?”

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney said the solution to resolve the tensions was to “deter” Iran’s activity and threats.

‘The President made it very clear when he was campaigning that he thought the worst foreign policy mistake we’ve made ever perhaps was going into Iraq,’ Romney said. ‘There’s no appetite for going into war in the Middle East.”

Senators leaving a Wednesday meeting with senior US intelligence officials – previously scheduled to discuss next year’s defence funding – expressed concern about misinformation that could lead to miscalculation. CIA Director Gina Haspel had been expected to be at the briefing but had to go to the White House instead, said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The US Congress wants to know President Donald Trump’s plan for the Middle East.Credit:Bloomberg

Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, called for a classified briefing for the full Senate on Iran “as soon as possible”.

“We have to know what’s going on and we don’t know the details” about plans in Iran, Reed said.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said, “The administration is engaged in a series of blind escalations without any endgame.”

“This is a pin-prick event, a little needle-like jab at the maritime trade going into the Strait of Hormuz,” said Gerry Northwood, chairman of risk management and security firm MAST.

Both the US and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications “things will end well” despite the rhetoric.


Iraq is one of few countries with close ties to both the United States and Iran. It has said it will keep strong ties with Iran, and also with the United States and Arab neighbours, some of whom, such as Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran a rival.

Meanwhile, Trump has denied rumours of infighting about his Middle East policy between his top advisors. “There is no infighting whatsoever,” Trump said. “Different opinions are expressed, and I make a decisive and final decision – it is a very simple process. All sides, views and policies are covered. I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

Bloomberg, Reuters, Washington Post