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Seeking to rein in soaring tensions between the US and Iran, Iraq is planning to send urgent delegations to Washington and Tehran, its prime minister said Tuesday.

Baghdad “will very soon send delegations to Tehran and Washington to push for calm,” Adel Abdel Mahdi told reporters in the Iraqi capital.

Washington and Tehran have been exchanging bellicose rhetoric in recent weeks, and the Americans deployed a naval strike group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over unspecified Iranian “threats.”

The standoff has raised fears of the consequences for Iraq, which has tried to balance its ties between the bitter foes.

On Sunday, a Katyusha rocket was fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government offices and embassies including the US mission, days after Washington evacuated staff from Iraq, citing Iranian threats.

Abdel Mahdi stressed the need to “avoid giving other parties the space to inflame the situation.”

He said, “We will not allow Iraq to be a war zone or a launchpad for a war against any state.”

Calming the situation would “serve both the interests of Iraq and its people and those of the region in general,” he added.

The premier said Iraq “does not have the option of distancing itself” from US-Iranian tensions, and said Baghdad was working with European and Arab states to calm the situation.

Another Iraqi official, who asked not to be named, told AFP that Baghdad would be a suitable place for US-Iranian talks.

“The United States considers Iraq the only country able to bring the two countries together for negotiations,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US defense chief on Tuesday stressed that President Donald Trump’s administration was seeking to deter Iran but not start a war.

“This is about deterrence, not about war. We are not about going to war,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters after leaving a private meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

– with reporting by AFP

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