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ConflictsMiddle East

US gets personnel out of Iraq, warns citizens not to visit

October 23, 2023

The State Department has ordered embassy personnel to leave Iraq and issued warnings that US citizens not travel to the country as regional tensions soar after Hamas' terror attack on Israel.

A man holds a placard with a picture of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during protests near the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq
Washington fears Iran will seek to exploit regional tensions by having its proxies attack US interests and troopsImage: Ameer Al-Mohammedawi/dpa/picture alliance

The US State Department on Sunday ordered the departure of all non-emergency embassy personnel and their families from its Baghdad and Erbil embassies in Iraq, "due to increased security threats against US personnel and interests."

The State Department also issued a travel advisory to US citizens, warning them not to go to the Middle Eastern country. "Do not travel to Iraq due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and Mission Iraq's limited capacity to provide support to US citizens," read the advisory.

The statements come as attacks against US forces have spiked in the wake of a widening conflict between the Islamist terror organization Hamas and the Israeli military.

The State Department cautioned that anti-American militias, "threaten US citizens and international companies" across Iraq.

Smoke billows from the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, after an attack on January 1, 2020
The US accused Iran of instigating a previous attack on its Baghdad embassy in 2020Image: Adrian Weale/Planetpix/Planet Pix via ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

US officials warn Iran likely to exploit Hamas-Israel conflict

Both US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned of an escalated threat to Washington's interests across the Middle East, adding that Iran could seek to exploit tensions by widening the conflict in Gaza.

Israel has already been tackling Iran-backed Hezbollah militants at its border with Lebanon, and Tehran is also a key ally of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Last week, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched more than a dozen drones and four cruise missiles at a US warship in the region, all of which were downed by the US vessel.

Blinken on Sunday said he expects, "escalation by Iranian proxies directed against our forces, directed against our personnel," adding, "we are taking steps to make sure that we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively if we need to."

The latest tensions stem from Hamas' brutal October 7 invasion of Israel in which fighters from the group — which Israel, Germany, the EU, UK and US all designate as a terrorist organization — slaughtered some 1,400 Israeli civilians and took more than 200 hostage in a surprise attack.

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have responded with a devastating counteroffensive that Palestinian officials claim has killed more than 4,700 people.

As a result, the US, a staunch ally of Israel, quickly dispatched heavy naval power — including two aircraft carriers and support ships — to the region.

The Pentagon has also deployed some 2,000 marines to the region and will soon be sending Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot air-defense system battalions as well.

Israel carries out airstrikes in Gaza and Lebanon

js/jsi (AFP, AP, Reuters)