Iran will be held responsible for any harm to Americans in Iraq caused by 'associated militias, ' US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, announcing the US consulate in Basra will temporarily close for safety reasons.
All week, USA officials have issued increasingly ominous warnings to Iran that the United States will respond aggressively to any perceived threats to its interests in the Middle East.
It followed recent "indirect fire"-usually rocket or artillery attacks-that Pompeo said was directed at consulate in Basra, located on the Basra airport compound, by militias linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards".
A USA diplomatic outpost and major regional airport near the southwest Iraqi city of Basra was the target of a rocket attack early Friday morning, amid continuing violent civil unrest in the oil-rich city.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered all but emergency staff to leave Basra, with consular duties to be taken over by the embassy in Baghdad.
Tehran rebuffed the claim that security threats from Iran led to the removal of personnel from the U.S. consulate, calling it a 'ludicrous justification, ' according to the state-run Press TV on Saturday, citing the country's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi.
Earlier, the Iranian Foreign Ministry called U.S. allegations of inciting violence in Basra "astonishing, provocative and irresponsible".
Basra is Iraq's main port and one of its largest cities.
Later it became known that the USA imposed additional sanctions against Iran and threatened to impose them in relation to European companies that do business with him.
Earlier this month, three mortar rounds also hit the fortified Green Zone area in Baghdad, home to the USA embassy, without causing injuries and with the perpetrators unclear. He warned that the U.S. would respond to any more attacks.
Protesters in Basra ransacked and torched Iraqi government buildings this month and the Iranian consulate was set alight by demonstrators shouting condemnation of what many see as Iran's sway over Iraq's affairs.
The White House accused Iran earlier this month of failing to prevent attacks by Iran-backed militia on the consulate.
In May, Trump withdrew the United States from an global deal under which Iran was to put curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
Both the United States and Iran have strong influence in Iraq and have at times tacitly cooperated, whether in pushing back IS militants or seeking political stability in Baghdad.