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01 Jan 2020 | 10:02 PM UTC

Iraq: US Embassy suspends operations in Baghdad January 1 /update 4

Representatives of the US Embassy in Baghdad announce the suspension of all public consular operations as of January 1; monitor the situation

security
transportation
IRQ

Event

The US Embassy in Baghdad announced on Wednesday, January 1, that it has suspended all public consular operations until further notice following the militia attacks on its compound on Tuesday, December 31. It has also advised US citizens not to approach the Embassy, however, the US General Consulate in Erbil remains open. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the US government does not intend to remove embassy staff or troops from Baghdad. Pompeo has, however, reportedly issued a memorandum prohibiting most government officials and members of Congress from traveling to Iraq or Syria until Wednesday, January 15.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella organization for Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups called on its supporters on Wednesday to withdraw from the Embassy after violent demonstrations broke out on Tuesday. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that 750 troops will deploy to the region in the coming days to protect US personnel and facilities.

A heightened security presence and transportation disruptions are likely to continue over the near term.

Context

Hundreds of supporters of the PMF gathered outside the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 31 to protest the recent US airstrikes on militia compounds in Al-Qa'im that resulted in 25 deaths. Protesters reportedly stormed the Embassy and set fire to a security post, prompting staff and the US Ambassador to evacuate. Iraqi special forces and other security personnel deployed tear gas and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators, injuring at least 12 Iraqi militiamen.

The US military carried out airstrikes on multiple locations in Iraq, and in Syria, that were linked to the Kataib Hezbollah militia group on December 29. The operation came two days after a US civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on the K1 Iraqi military base near Kirkuk. US officials have blamed the Iranian-backed militia group for the incident.

Advice

Individuals in Baghdad are advised to avoid the area, monitor the situation, avoid all protests due to the risk of violence, contact your Embassy for more information, and adhere to any instructions issued by local authorities.

The security environment in Iraq remains complex. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to all travel.