US to downsize number of embassy staff in Baghdad with Iran tensions mounting

A US Marine reinforcing the Baghdad Embassy Compound in Iraq, Jan. 3, 2020. (AFP)

The United States is preparing to downsize the number of employees and staff at its embassy in Baghdad, sources familiar with the decision said Wednesday, ahead of the one-year anniversary since Iran’s Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US drone.

Apart from the increased level of preparedness, US troops have been on high alert since a top Iranian nuclear scientist was killed last week while driving in Tehran.

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Iraq has been a point of targeted attacks against US troops and bases by Iranian-backed militias and proxies.

Following the uptick of attacks on US interests in Iraq, US Secretary of State Pompeo delivered a strongly-worded statement to Iraqi leaders earlier this year, threatening to close down the embassy and withdraw US forces from the capital.

Read more: US threatens Baghdad with sanctions over Iran-backed militia attacks in Iraq: Sources

Asked about the decision to downsize embassy staff temporarily, a State Department official told Al Arabiya English that the US “continually adjusts its diplomatic presence at Embassies and Consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, the health situation, and even the holidays.”

The official noted that US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller would remain in Iraq. “The embassy would continue to operate,” the official said.

But the official said the State Department does not comment on details of any adjusts, but that the US remained committed to a strong diplomatic partnership with Iraq.

The Washington Post first reported news of the US decision.

As for fear of an Iranian attack on US forces or interests in Iraq, the official said: “Ensuring the safety of US government personnel, US citizens, and the security of our facilities, remains our highest priority.”

On Nov. 27, Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in Iran.

Fakhrizadeh was long described by Western, Israeli and Iranian exile foes of Iran’s clerical rulers as a leader of a covert atomic bomb program halted in 2003.

Iran accused Israel of being behind Fakhrizadeh’s killing, and various Iranian newspapers published stories on the need to respond.

“US security officials have been concerned about an increase in Iranian rocket attacks on US assets in Iraq ahead of Jan. 3. These concerns took on a sense of urgency in the aftermath of Fakhrizadeh's assassination in Iran,” Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute Randa Slim told Al Arabiya English.

Read more:

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Last Update: Thursday, 03 December 2020 KSA 01:47 - GMT 22:47
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