Iran row: US denies evacution of personnel from Iraq

Baghdad: The US Air Force denied on Saturday that it was evacuating contractors or personnel — Lockheed Martin and Sallyport Global personnel as per the reports — from a base in Iraq amid tensions between Washington and Tehran.

In a statement, the US Central Command categorically termed it “false”. “The Balad Air Base operations continue as normal. There are no plans, at this time, to evacuate any personnel from Balad,” it said.

Air Force Colonel Kevin Walker rejected the prospect of an evacuation of people from Balad Air Base in central Iraq, Efe news reported. “Should there be increased threats to our people, the US Air Force will put measures in place to provide the protections required,” he said.

Tensions soared in the Persian Gulf region after Tehran downed an American drone and US President Donald Trump announced he had aborted an air strike against Iran, minutes before the attack.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry had a meeting on Friday with Swiss ambassador Markus Leitner, representing the US interests in Tehran. At the meeting, Mohsen Baharvand, Director General of Foreign Affairs for America, filed an official complaint about the intrusion of the US drone into Iranian airspace on Thursday.

The US claims the aircraft did not violate Iranian airspace and it was shot down in international waters. Since the end of April the US has suspended exemptions on the purchase of Iranian oil and imposed new sanctions on Tehran.

A number of incidents, such as sabotage and alleged attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, have taken place in the region.

In mid-May, the US ordered withdrawal of non-essential diplomatic personnel in Iraq, amid what it considered “indications” of activity by Iran. In September, the US decided to close consulate in Basra, after protests and gunfire in the vicinity of the building.