US orders all staff to evacuate Iraq immediately amid fears of an Iranian attack in the Gulf

THE US Embassy in Iraq has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to immediately leave the country amid escalating tensions with Iran.

The alert comes after the US last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans.

The alert was published on the embassy's website on Wednesday, and has been issued by the US State Department.

On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing "heightened tensions."

Iran's supreme leader Hassan Rouhani claims that enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels would not be a difficult task for the country.

Tensions have riled the region amid the unravelling of the nuclear deal.

State-owned Iran Daily quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as telling a group of officials during a meeting on Tuesday night that "achieving 20 percent enrichment is the most difficult part.

"The next steps are easier than this step."

Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the 3.67 percent permitted by the current deal between Tehran and world powers.

The Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year.

Iranian officials have said that they could reach 20 percent enrichment within four days.

Though Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90 percent threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20 percent.

Recently, Iran used explosives to blow huge holes in four ships – including two Saudi oil tankers – anchored in the Persian Gulf, a US official has claimed.

The ships now reportedly have ruptures measuring up to ten foot across  in their hulls as a result of  Sunday's sabotage attacks.

However, the Pentagon had already warned ships that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region.

America is now deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, still-unspecified threats from Tehran.

In chilling echoes of the invasion of Iraq, US defence chiefs have reportedly drawn up fresh military plans that would see a huge response to Iranian aggression.

More to come…

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