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Timeline of US-Iran tensions May 2019

Beginning on May 5 tensions have escalated between the US and Iran. This comes in the context of US claims that Iran and its proxies pose a threat to the US and its allies. It is also one year after the US withdrew from the Iran Deal (JCPOA) and in the midst of US sanctions pressure aimed at bringing Iran oil exports to zero.


Other factors play a role as well. In the last months US Department of Defense reports have shown that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, part of the official paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces, has harassed US Coalition forces. In one instance, according to the Lead Inspector General Report :


"CJTF-OIR reported to the DoD OIG that PMF units have interfered with Coalition activities during the quarter. Specifically, PMF forces gathered photo and video footage of Coalition personnel for use in spreading disinformation and narratives alleging that the Coalition is expanding its role in Iraq in order to build opposition to the Coalition presence. In addition, in February, a PMF unit confronted a joint U.S.-ISF security patrol in Ninewah province, forcing the patrol to return to its base. Also this quarter, a PMF checkpoint forced a Coalition reconnaissance unit to turn around while traveling to support a meeting with an Iraqi official near the Sinjar Mountains in Ninewah. USCENTCOM reported to the DoD OIG that some PMF units have interfered with Coalition patrol freedom of movement, although it noted that these have not significantly degraded security operations."


Iran's presence was so large in Eastern Iraq it prevented the Coalition from carrying out Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations against ISIS, the March 31 report noted.


In addition the US has added Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba to its list of terrorist groups, in March, and more importantly, also listed the IRGC in April. The following should be seen as a timeline of recent tensions.

May 5


National Security Advisor John Bolton: “Any attack on the United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The US is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the IRGC or regular Iranian forces.”


The U.S. is sending the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East


May 7


The destroyer USS McFaul and the ammunition ship USNS Alan Shepard were photographed in the Straits of Hormuz on May 7.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes unannounced visit to Iraq. It is revealed on May 15 that it "came after U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed Shi’ite militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to two Iraqi security sources."


May 8


Iran gives Europe 60 days to meet its JCPO obligations. Supreme National Security Council and President Rouhani said that “starting today, Iran does not keep its enriched uranium and produced heavy water limited.”


Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araghchi says that Iran has not left the JCPOA but that it has put “such a move on our agenda.”


Behrooz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, also told ISNA that Iran’s “strategic patience” over the last year was running out.


US Senator Marco Rubio: “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are Shia militias equipped, trained and directed by Iran’s IRGC. If they attack our 5,000 US personnel and/or our facilities in Iraq it should be considered no different than a direct attack.”


David Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Joey Hood, Charge d'affaires of the US Mission in Iraq, Steven Fagin, US Consul General in Erbil, and Lt.Gen. Paul LaCamera, Commander of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, formally known as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) meeting with Kurdistan Regional Government officials in Erbil.


May 9


Elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) transited the Strait of Hormuz with the amphibious ship Kearsarge.


B-52 flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and were supported by two KC-10s from McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.


May 10

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “The Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in an escalating series of threatening actions and statements in recent weeks. Any attacks by them or their proxies against U.S. citizens or our interests will be answered with a swift and decisive response.”


Between May 5 and 10 more arrive in the Gulf, including four B-52s sent to Qatar and a Patriot missile battery and amphibious warfare forces as well.


May 11


USS Arlington ordered to join the deployment, according too the United States Naval Institute News.


Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki released several statements warning the US against making Iraq a battlefield for its tensions with Iran.


May 12


Asaib Ahl al-Haq stressed on Sunday that they would refrain from attacking US-led coalition forces in Iraq.


Major General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attended a closed session of parliament and says the US is engaging in psychological war and that the IRGC is prepared to defend the country.


President Hassan Rouhani warns of “all out war," and notes the US is already engaged in economic war.


May 13


US President Donald Trump: “If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.”


US navy could be a "target" in Gulf, IRGC says


Brian Hook, Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Representative for Iran, in Brussels: “Tehran will be held accountable for the attacks of its proxies. They cannot organize, train, and equip their proxies and then expect anyone to believe that they had no role. And so we will not make a distinction between the Iranian Government and its proxies.”


US advises citizens not to travel to Iraq.


Pompeo travels to Brussels to discuss Iran with Europeans, shares intel with European countries.


Four ships sabotaged in the pre-dawn hours of May 13 in the Gulf of Oman off the UAE’s Fujairah port. These include: MV ALMARZOQAH – KSA Flag, MV AMJAD – KSA Flag, MVAMICHEL – UAE Flag and MV ANDREA VICTORY – Norway Flag.


May 14


Nujaba threatens attacks on the US forces in Iraq on May 14.


Pompeo travels to Sochi to meet with Russian counterpart.


Russia says it opposes US “unilateral” steps such as withdrawing from the Iran Deal.


Houthi rebel drones attack Saudi Arabia oil facilities


US media reports US reviewing possible plan to send 120,000 troops to region in case of conflict


US blames Iran for damage to ships in Gulf of Oman


Pompeo says US does not seek war


May 15


Press TV in Iran: Ayatollah Khamenei has ruled out a war


US ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq amid increasing Middle East tensions.


IRGC head Salami says Iran is ready for "full confrontation" with "enemy" and hints that local Basij militia and provincial corps have been called up.


Iran Defense Minister Hatami says country prepared for war and can defeat US-Israel alliance

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