In Brief

Iran tensions: UK raises threat level for personnel in Iraq

Whitehall source claims Iranian action against allied interests is likely

Ark Royal British Navy, aircraft carrier

The UK has raised the threat level for its forces and diplomats in Iraq because of an “increased security risk” from Iran, reports Sky News.

A Whitehall source says Britain believes there is a heightened likelihood of Iran or its proxies taking action against British, American or other allied interests in the Middle East. 

It is claimed that the action will be carried out against a soft target such as oil infrastructure in a way that can be plausibly denied, avoiding an all-out war.

The action would be intended to cause disruption in order to signal Tehran's anger at renewed US sanctions on Iran.

The claims are similar to contentions from Washington of a heightened security threat as tensions rise between Donald Trump's administration and Iran. On Wednesday, the US state department ordered the departure of “non-emergency employees” from Iraq. Tehran has denied Trump’s allegations against it.

The UK’s raised threat level “comes against a background of escalating tensions between Donald Trump’s administration and Tehran with the US stepping up its stringent sanctions regime against Iran over its nuclear programme”, The Guardian says.

The alleged security risk spreads beyond Iraq, with British personel and a number of civilians working in sectors such as the oil industry in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait also put on a heightened state of alert because of the Iranian threat.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's unit for Iran is said to be in “full crisis mode” because of the reported threat from Iran. The FCO is also monitoring closely the US response, after Washington moved an American aircraft carrier task group, B-52 bombers and a missile defence system into the Gulf region.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke on Wednesday evening by phone with his Omani counterpart and urged Oman to use its influence to push for calm.

The BBC’s John Simpson writes that “the worry is in London that President Trump and his national security adviser John Bolton are making a deliberate effort to work up a new war fever about Iran”.

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