The US has deployed military equipment and pulled non-essential staff from its embassy in Iraq amid tensions with Iran.
US-Iran relations have become increasingly tense since US President Donald Trump pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear capability in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
In recent months the US has designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps a “foreign terrorist organisation” and announced an end to waivers for countries wishing to purchase Iranian oil.
Washington has already deployed warships to the Persian Gulf as well as other military forces, including troops and warplanes to countries neighbouring Iran.
Here’s how the situation has escalated:
- May 6: The US deploys warships and bombers to the Middle East
The White House announced it was deploying military equipment, including an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force, to the Middle East to counter Iran and its allies.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that it was a message to the Iranian regime that any attack on US interests or its allies would “be met with unrelenting force.”
The deployment came as sources in Iran said that the US had communicated to the Iranians that they did not want a war with the country.
"Recently, senior US government officials have sent an official message to high-ranking Iranian officials stressing that they have no plan for military conflict with Iran under any circumstances," Sadollah Zareyee said in an interview with the Persian-language service of Tasnim news agency on May 4.
May 8: Pompeo’s surprise visit in Baghdad/Iran announces partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal
Pompeo landed in Baghdad at midnight after canceling a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The meeting coincided with the first anniversary of President Trump’s withdrawal from a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran.
Pompeo told Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that they had a responsibility to protect Americans in Iraq.
Responding to the visit, an advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran is confident that the US is not only unwilling but also unable to start a war with Iran.
“Washington’s unwillingness to attack Iran results from its inability,” he said.
On the same day, Iran announced that it will reduce its commitment to the nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set a 60-day deadline for the EU and world powers to rescue the current deal before it resumes higher uranium enrichment.
All other signatories of the agreement, including Russia, China, Germany, France, the UK, and the EU, remained committed to the accord even after Washington’s decision to revoke it.
- May 13: The US issues warning against travel to Iraq
The US embassy in Baghdad said that US citizens should not travel to Iraq and for those who were already there to keep a low profile.
On the same day, the New York Times reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces.
Despite the soaring tensions, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi he had felt indications from talks with both the US and Iran that "things will end well".
Earlier on the same day, Iran said it needed two to four months to restore its nuclear program to the level it was in 2015, just before the nuclear deal was agreed upon and implemented.
Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia said that two of its oil tankers were among vessels targeted by a "sabotage attack" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and condemned the incident as an attempt to undermine the security of global crude supplies.
A Norwegian oil tanker and another commercial vessel were also attacked.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry called the tanker attacks “worrisome and dreadful” and called for an investigation.
Pompeo abruptly decided to visit EU officials in Brussels to seek support from European foreign ministers against Iran. Instead, the EU ministers, who had gathered to keep the nuclear deal with Tehran alive, encouraged Pompeo and the US to calm tensions with Iran.
- May 14: The US says Iran is likely behind attacks on Saudi oil facilities
A US government source said Washington believes that Iran gave its blessing to Houthi rebels who attacked oil facilities deep inside Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Pompeo said that the Americans “fundamentally do not seek war with Iran” as he vowed to keep pressuring Iran and “respond in an appropriate fashion” if American interests were attacked.
Khamenei also said that there won’t be a war between the US and Iran, as Washington knows it is not in Washington’s interests.
He said in case of an escalation, “the US would be forced into a retreat,” and “neither we nor they, who know the war will not be in their interest, are after war.
- May 15: US pulls non-emergency staff from Iraq
The US State Department announced that all non-emergency staff had been ordered to leave Iraq, amid US concerns about the threat posed by Iranian backed forces.
“We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy,” the commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Hossein Salami said in response to the move.
Former Iraqi vice president Iyad Allawi said a US official had told him that Pompeo visited Iraq after Israeli intelligence got satellite photos of ballistic missile platforms in Basra.
Reports also emerged that Netanyahu was hesitant about getting involved in a confrontation between the US and Tehran.
- May 16: Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of ordering attacks on pipelines
Saudi Arabia accused Iran of ordering the attacks on Saudi oil tankers that were claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of King Salman, said in a tweet that the attack “proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran’s regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda.”