The US State Department has ordered the evacuation of non-essential staff from the consular facilities in Baghdad and Erbil, and has issued an updated ‘do not travel’ advisory to all Americans.

The State Department has claimed there is an ‘imminent’ threat to Americans from Iran-backed groups in the region, and links have been drawn between this threat and the attack on oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf and the drone bombing of a Saudi pipeline. US authorities reportedly believe Iran to be involved in both incidents. (For more of our coverage on Iran, please click through here.)

However, British Major General Chris Ghika told reporters on Tuesday that there ‘has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.’ He was talking to the press in a video conference call from the Baghdad headquarters of Operation Inherent Resolve. His comments have been disputed by the US military Central Command.

Given the political backdrop of increased antagonism and tension between the Trump administration and Iran, it is unclear as to the veracity of this threat. However, if you are in or planning travel to Iraq, make sure you have factored heightened tensions and potential attacks into your travel risk management plan. If you are being sent to Iraq for work, your company should have provided you with up to date security briefings and adequate training. If you do not feel prepared for your trip, talk to your boss as soon as possible. it is worth noting that Germany and the Netherlands have suspended their training missions in Iraq in response to the increased tensions.

Travel advice

  • Subscribe to alerts from your country’s embassy, and register with their overseas support services. You might also want to consider subscribing to information from the US State Department, as it remains a major actor in the situation regardless of your nationality.
  • Minimise your travel, especially around large cities or areas of unrest.
  • Remain aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep an eye out for things that seems suspicious and trust your instincts. If a situation feels wrong, try to leave as quickly and unobtrusively as you can. 
  • You should avoid demonstrations, large crowds of people and public events. Do not attempt to film or photograph any gatherings.
  • Be aware that terror attacks are extremely likely and avoid areas that are potential targets.
  • Be aware that if the security situation deteriorates, commercial flights will likely be suspended and border crossings could be closed. You should consider leaving the country now, in order to avoid this outcome.
  • Review your travel risk management plan, so you know exactly what to do in an emergency.
  • Make sure you have important contact information stored in a secure offline location.
  • Monitor local media.
  • Set aside some supplies of food and bottled water. Make sure you know where your first aid kit is and review the contents.
  • Keep your devices charged. Do not travel without a fully charged device. 
  • Check in regularly with friends and family. Agree check in times in advance and set up a plan for what to do if you miss a check in time. 
  • If something does happen, contact your local embassy as soon as it is safe to do so.

Official travel advice

From the US State Department travel advisory, issued on May 15th 2019

Do not travel to Iraq due to terrorismkidnapping, and armed conflict

U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq is extremely limited. On May 15, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil; normal visa services will be temporarily suspended at both posts.  On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the temporary suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah. The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.

U.S. citizens should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict, where they would face extreme personal risks (kidnapping, injury, or death) and legal risks (arrest, fines, and expulsion). The Kurdistan Regional Government stated that it will impose prison sentences of up to ten years on individuals who illegally cross the border. Additionally, fighting on behalf of, or supporting designated terrorist organizations, is a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States. 

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within or in the vicinity of Iraq, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and/or a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR). For more information, U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page

If you decide to travel to Iraq:

  • Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
  • Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
  • Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.
  • Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs if you are unable to return as planned to the United States. Find a suggested list of such documents here.
  • Establish your own personal security plan in coordination with your employer or host organization, or consider consulting with a professional security organization.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Iraq.
  • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Last Update: Reissued with updates reflecting the ordered departure of U.S. government personnel from U.S. Embassy Baghdad and Consulate Erbil.

Please click through here for the rest of the advisory, including contact information.

Further news and information

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