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May 19, 2019

Gulf countries approve redeployment of US forces

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May 19, 2019

RIYADH/BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON/TEHRAN: Saudi Arabia and number of Gulf countries have approved request of the United States to redeploy its forces in the waters and territories of the Arabian Gulf, Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Saturday.

The request was approved to thwart possible Iranian attacks in the region and not trigger a war with Tehran, the Saudi daily quoted informed Gulf sources as saying. “Saudi Arabia and the rest of GCC states do not wish to start a war with Iran, but they want to send a strong message to Tehran that it cannot cross the red line by continuing to provoke forces operating in the Arabian Gulf,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday.

The sources added Riyadh and the other GCC capitals do not wish to engage in a military confrontation with Iran because no party would benefit from such actions. The sources said the redeployment of US forces in the Gulf states is part of joint US-Gulf efforts to deter Iran and aimed to have better cooperation between American and Gulf military forces.

Iraqis have endured successive wars but spiralling tensions between Washington and Tehran have many convinced that new conflict looms between their key allies and that they will pay the price. In Washington, some commentators shrug off the bellicose talk towards Tehran saying it will abate when President Donald Trump reins in his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton to avoid a new -- and potentially far larger -- foreign military commitment. But in Baghdad, the Pentagon´s deployment to the Gulf of a carrier group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln accompanied by B-52 bombers has many people persuaded the US threats are very real.

The Lincoln "does not move just for the sake of exerting psychological pressure", said civil rights activist Aysar Jarjafji. "It is deployed for a reason and returns home only when it has accomplished its mission," she said. Columnist Hussein Rashid agreed. "There is no question about it, there will be war," he said. "And Iraq will be the first loser. The Abraham Lincoln bombed Iraq. We have a bad memory of that." Taxi driver Abu Hammudi too believes war is coming. It is Ramazan and the streets of Baghdad are largely deserted during the day as Muslims await the Iftar meal that marks the end of their dawn-to-dusk fast. The city is empty, it´s like wartime," he said. “I remember perfectly well how Baghdad was bombed in 1991. It was a horrific night. No one had expected it to happen but it did."

Trump strongly disapproves and has piled huge pressure on Iraq to reduce its economic dependence on its neighbour since he abandoned his predecessor Barack Obama´s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year. The Federal Aviation Administration has warned US airlines flying over the Gulf to exercise caution "due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region."

The advisory, which also covers airspace over the Gulf of Oman, comes amid rising tensions between the US and Iran. Increased tensions in the region "present an increasing inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or mis-identification, said the FAA advisory released late Thursday. The regulator also warned that aircraft flying in the area could encounter "inadvertent GPS interference and communications jamming, which could occur with little to no warning."

President Donald Trump´s administration has also ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq, citing threats from Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups. The White House however has sent mixed signals in recent days, amid multiple US media reports of infighting in Trump´s cabinet over how hard to push Washington´s arch foe. The White House and Pentagon have been under pressure to demonstrate the reason for the huge buildup in forces and heightened rhetoric of the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, Iran´s foreign minister Saturday discounted the prospect of a new war in the region because Tehran opposed it and no party is under the "illusion" the Islamic republic could be confronted. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been on the rise as the United States has deployed a carrier group and B-52 bombers over what it termed Iranian "threats". "We are certain there will not be a war since neither we want a war nor does anyone have the illusion they can confront Iran in the region," Mohammad Javad Zarif told state-run news agency IRNA at the end of a visit to China.

US President Donald "Trump does not want war but the people around him are pushing him towards war under the pretext of making America stronger against Iran," Zarif added. Iran-US relations hit a new low last year as US Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposed unilateral sanctions that had been lifted in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear programme.

The head of Iran´s powerful Revolutionary Guards said the country is currently locked in a "full-scale war of intelligence" with the US. "This is a combination of psychological warfare, cyber operations, military mobility, public diplomacy and instilling fear," semi-official news agency ISNA quoted Hossein Salami as saying. "America´s majesty is on decline and it is about to reach its end, and at the same time, we must watch out for probable dangers in such circumstances," he said.

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