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Non-essential US embassy personnel ordered to leave Iraq immediately

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The US State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and also the consulate in Arbil, as tensions mount between the United States and Iraq’s neighbor Iran.

Washington has ramped up pressure on Tehran in recent days, accusing Iran of planning “imminent” attacks in the region, and bolstering the American military presence in the Gulf.

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“Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians,” a travel advisory warned.

“Anti-US sectarian militias may also threaten US citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq.”

The US last year shut its consulate in the protest-hit southern Iraqi city of Basra, blaming “indirect fire” by Iran-backed forces and warning its rival of retaliation for any damage.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week paid a surprise trip to Baghdad in a move to bolster ties with Iraq as it pushes ahead with its “maximum pressure” against Tehran – a US arch-rival, but an ally of Iraq.

‘Very specific threats’

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He told reporters he had made the trip because Iranian forces are “escalating their activity” and said the threat of attacks were “very specific.”

Pompeo met with Iraq President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, and spoke to them “about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country.”

The Pentagon said it was sending several massive, nuclear-capable B-52s to the region in response to “recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces.”

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Both Pompeo and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have this week played down fears that their countries were seeking conflict.

But National Security Advisor John Bolton warned Iran that Washington would respond with “unrelenting force” to any attack by Tehran, including by its regional allies.

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Blasts involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, the advisory added. Arbil is the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, in northern Iraq.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Carl Bernstein: There are 7-9 ‘wobbly’ Republicans who want witnesses but Mitch McConnell is trying to block them

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In a CNN panel discussion Wednesday, notorious Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein revealed that there are seven to nine Republican senators who are wavering after the compelling argument that the House has provided for the impeachment. The problem, however, is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is refusing to allow any break from the party line.

"I think this is a hugely damaging narrative that was laid out today, and that Mitch McConnell understands, and has understood for a while that this hugely damaging narrative was going to affect his members," said Bernstein. "And that his strategy -- I've talked to some Republicans about this -- #MidnightMitch is to wear out his own members so that they don't vote for more witnesses because there are six, seven, eight, nine wobbly Republicans."

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Republican Kevin McCarthy gets taken down by former top GOP colleague

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was attacked by a former Republican colleague who alleged McCarthy and his fellow members of Congress have allowed the House GOP to become the official shill for the White House.

In a profile for the New York Times, former Oversight Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) shamed the GOP House for the way that a once-respectable institution has fallen.

“Congress no longer operates as an independent branch of government, but as an appendage of the executive branch,” said Davis. “He is made for that role.”

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Former senator reveals to Maddow how one brave Democrat can reveal key document in impeachment trial

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Near the end of Wednesday's impeachment trial, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that an agreement had been made to allow senators to read supplemental testimony from Vice President Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.

The document will remain classified, despite claims that there is no classified material in the document, only evidence that is damning to the president.

"In terms of this document potentially being improperly classified, which is something that has been raised in writing by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and raised on the floor of the Senate tonight by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)," MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow noted. "Obviously, it was the vice president's office that said it was classified, they are getting publicly criticized for that. If it has been improperly classified and it should be something that the public can see, who adjudicates that?"

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