The US has intercepted an order from Iran to terrorists in Iraq to attack the US Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper quoted US officials as saying they are on alert for Iran's fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned. US officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the US Embassy in Beirut.
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According to the report, the US 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 US embassies and other interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
Washington began planning for a possible strike on Syrian regime assets after the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus in which the US says Syrian government forces killed over 1,400 people using chemical weapons.
That process slowed last weekend when President Barack Obama said he would first seek an authorization for using military force from Congress.
US officials said a delay in a US strike would increase opportunities for coordinated retaliation by groups allied with the Assad government, including Shiite militias in Iraq.
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Israel, The Wall Street Journal said, has so far been the focus of concerns about retaliation from Iran and its Lebanese terrorist 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 warning against nonessential travel to Iraq and citing terrorist activity "at levels unseen since 2008."
The Iranian message, intercepted in recent days, came from Qassem Suleimani, the head of Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, and went to Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups in Iraq, according to US officials.
In it, Suleimani said Shiite groups must be prepared to respond with force after a US strike on Syria.
Iranian officials on Friday denied their government was plotting attacks in Iraq against the US, the report said.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran's United Nations mission, said the allegation was baseless and meant to "provoke the Congress" into authorizing a strike on Syria.
"We should remember that relying on US intelligence reports from anonymous officials will repeat the tragedy of Iraq," he said.
Iraqi Shiites have been sympathetic to the Alawite-dominated government of Syria and oppose US strikes against Assad's regime.
The Wall Street Journal said some officials believe a direct response from the Syrian or Iranian governments is less likely than reprisals from allied militant groups, such as Hezbollah.
Hezbollah could be used to launch rocket attacks against US military assets or American allies, including Israel, the officials said.
According to the report, French officials said they are concerned Hezbollah could target the hundreds of French troops taking part in a UN-backed peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.
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