State Department orders some US personnel out of Iraq
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 26, 2020
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The State Department has ordered some U.S. government employees at diplomatic facilities in Iraq to leave the country, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Thursday, hours after two rockets hit the Green Zone.
“Designated U.S. Government employees” were ordered to depart the embassy and the diplomatic support center in Baghdad, as well as the U.S. Consulate General in the northern city of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the embassy said in an alert sent to U.S. citizens. Security concerns and restricted travel options resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic were cited as reasons for the guidance.
The alert encouraged U.S. citizens to depart Iraq as quickly as possible. A second message issued minutes later said diplomatic officials were working to find options for U.S. citizens to leave “on the next available commercial flight opportunity,” citing travel disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
Hours before the messages were sent out, two rockets struck near an operations center that coordinates Iraqi security forces, just a few hundred yards from the U.S. Embassy inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, The Associated Press reported, citing a military statement.
The embassy, which has been a frequent target of indirect fire attacks, has not been providing public services, the State Department alert said. Visa services were suspended at both the Baghdad and Irbil posts.
Thursday’s attack followed one last week, when three rockets hit near the American embassy, and a deadly attack earlier this month on a U.S.-occupied base north of Baghdad. Two American troops and a British combat medic were killed and more than a dozen wounded in that attack.
The U.S. has blamed Iranian proxy group Kataeb Hezbollah for some of the more than a dozen rocket attacks in Iraq since last year, when the Trump administration began using punishing sanctions to try to pressure Tehran into renegotiating an Obama administration-era nuclear deal.
The latest attack came as Iraqi officials said the U.S. had renewed a waiver from sanctions that has allowed Iraq to import gas and electricity from Iran, but for a shorter period than a 45-day waiver granted in February, the AP reported.
Iraq will be spared penalties for dealing with Iran for 30 days but will have to show progress toward energy independence, the report said. U.S. officials have not confirmed those details, it added.