WASHINGTON — The State Department announced Friday it had ordered the evacuation of the American consulate in Basra, Iraq, because of attacks in recent weeks by militias supported by the Iranian government.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a written statement that the consulate had come under “repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias.”
“Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks,” Mr. Pompeo said in the statement.
He blamed the security threat specifically on Iran, its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force and other militias under the control of Qassem Suleimani, the powerful commander of the Quds Force.
The State Department described the moving of the consulate’s employees as a “temporary relocation.”
Most of the estimated 1,000 employees are contractors working in security, food service and other support jobs; only a minority are diplomats.
The statement did not say whether the consulate would be closed permanently, and State Department press officers declined to provide further details.
The consulate in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, opened in 2011 and is one of three American missions in the country. The decision to evacuate it comes at the confluence of several separate events.
A new Trump administration campaign has begun highlighting Iranian military activity in the region. In Basra in August and September, violent protests by local residents led to the burning of the Iranian consulate and conspiratorial declarations by some people that American officials had incited the protests.
Additionally, the State Department has been internally debating for more than a year whether to shut down the Basra consulate to save money.
Basra is in Iraq’s far south, in a region of rich oil fields near the Persian Gulf. The vast majority of the people are Shiite Arabs, and Shiite political parties dominate. Some of those parties, as well as some militias, are supported by Iran, which is majority Shiites.
In August and early September, thousands of residents took to the streets of central Basra to call for the Iraqi government to deliver crucial services, including power and clean water. Frequent blackouts take place across the city in the summer months, when the region is sweltering.
This year, many of the protesters also criticized Iran’s influence in Basra, and some stormed the Iranian consulate on Sept. 7, setting it on fire. Protesters also have been killed and injured in clashes with Iraqi security forces.
The United States consulate is inside the perimeter of the Basra airport and far from the city’s center and protest sites. On Sept. 8, three rockets landed by the airport perimeter, but no one was injured or killed, according to a Reuters report from Iraq.
Four days later, the White House blamed militias supported by Iran for the attack. That attack and a similar one this week were typical of strikes that occurred regularly around the United States Embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq war.
The Trump administration has sought to highlight Iran’s military activities across the Middle East. It is part of a campaign to contain Iran and justify President Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration forged in 2015 with Iran and world powers.
The European Union, China and Russia have called for sticking with the agreement and say they will work with Iran to avoid economic sanctions imposed by the United States.
Separately, senior State Department officials have been debating for more than a year whether to close down the Basra consulate, mainly to save money, according to three former State Department officials. The consulate costs at least $200 million to operate each year; some estimates put that number at $350 million.
Before he left office in March, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson demanded deep budget cuts from bureaus across the department. As a result, senior officials at its Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs began to consider closing the Basra consulate, the former officials said.
The consulate was put under a security review process, which meant that each year officials would assess the security situation to determine whether it was safe to keep it open.
Press officers at the State Department did not reply on Friday to an emailed question asking about the debate.
This spring, a small group of officials in Washington held a vote on whether to keep the bureau open, and those favoring continuing the operations narrowly won out. In June, John J. Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, decided to keep the consulate open for at least this year.
Andrew Miller, a former State Department official in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau, said that before the current Basra unrest, the debate took place mainly because of budget concerns, though some of the costs were because of the security requirements of the mission.
The head of the bureau, David M. Satterfield, and Stuart E. Jones, the former ambassador to Iraq, were in favor of closing the consulate.
“From a purely informational perspective, closing it would be detrimental to U.S. interests and maintaining contact with people in the community there,” said Mr. Miller, now deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy.