September 6, 2013 - 09:42 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported citing some officials.
Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran's fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned. U.S. officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
While the U.S. has moved military resources in the region for a possible strike, it has other assets in the area that would be ready to respond to any reprisals by Syria, Iran or its allies.
Those deployments include a strike group of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and three destroyers in the Red Sea, and an amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would help with any evacuations.
The U.S. military has also readied Marines and other assets to aid evacuation of diplomatic compounds if needed, and the State Department began making preparations last week for potential retaliation against U.S. embassies and other interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
U.S. officials began planning for a possible strike on Syrian regime assets after the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus in which the U.S. says Syrian government forces killed over 1,400 people using chemical weapons.
Israel has so far been the focus of concerns about retaliation from Iran and its Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah. The commander-in-chief of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps said last week that an attack on Syria would lead to the "destruction of Israel."
The State Department issued a new alert on Thursday, Sept 5, warning against nonessential travel to Iraq and citing terrorist activity "at levels unseen since 2008." Earlier this year, an alert said that violence against Americans had decreased. That reassurance was dropped from the most recent alert.
According to the Journal, the Iranian message, intercepted in recent days, came from Qasem Soleimani, the head of Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force, and went to Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups in Iraq, according to U.S. officials.
In it, Soleimani said Shiite groups must be prepared to respond with force after a U.S. strike on Syria.
U.S. officials said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was one likely target. The officials didn't describe the range of potential targets indicated by the intelligence.
Attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad have fallen since American forces left Iraq. In the past, Iranian-trained Shiite groups have fired rockets and mortars at the embassy, at the urging of the Qods Force, a paramilitary arm of the IRGC.
Militants also have used suicide bombers and IEDs to attack Americans leaving the embassy compound, one of the largest American diplomatic facilities in the world, located in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.
Syrians could also respond with "a vicious offensive" against the opposition inside Syria, said Aaron David Miller, a former top Middle East negotiator in the State Department who now is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Such a move, he said, would be a way "to demonstrate defiance" without running the risk of hitting American targets.
Some officials believe a direct response from the Syrian or Iranian governments is less likely than reprisals from allied militant groups, such as Hezbollah.
TIran's most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the United States was using a chemical attack in Syria as a pretext to interfere in the country and warned it would suffer loss from its intervention.
"In the case of Syria, the chemical attack is a pretext and they say they want to get involved because of humanitarian issues. America has made a mistake in Syria and will certainly suffer loss," Khamenei told a meeting of the Assembly of Experts, a state body, according to Reuters.
Earlier, Khamenei warned that the U.S. intervention in Syria would be “a disaster” for the Middle East. “The region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted,” he said. “If [President Barack Obama] gets stuck in this trap, he will certainly leave behind bad memories of his presidency. The intervention of America will be a disaster for the region.”
The full Senate is expected to vote on the resolution next week. The House of Representatives also must approve the measure.