Security boosted at U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, some personnel are relocated

The Defense Department has sent a contingent of about 50 Marines to provide security for the massive U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and the State Department on Sunday ordered some embassy personnel to relocate to safer parts of Iraq or to leave the country.

“As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “some” of the more than 5,000 embassy personnel are being sent to consulates in Basra, in the far south, and Irbil, in the northern Kurdish region. Others are being relocated to the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Jordan.

“Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the Embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission,” Psaki said in a statement.

The announcements came as Secretary of State John F. Kerry made calls to his counterparts in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to discuss the crises in Iraq and Syria.

Both the State and Defense departments emphasized in statements that there has been no request for the military to help evacuate personnel and that the relocations are being done by commercial, charter and government aircraft. The State Department maintains its own aircraft in Iraq, in addition to ground vehicles, to travel between the embassy and consulates.

“The U.S. military has airlift assets at the ready should State Department request them, as per normal inter-agency support arrangements,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. Substantial U.S. air and sea assets are based in the Persian Gulf region, and a U.S. aircraft carrier entered the gulf Friday night.

In response to a State Department request for additional security in Baghdad, about 50 Marines have already arrived at the embassy, according to a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details.

After the withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011, the U.S. military presence has consisted of a defense group to handle equipment sales and an advisory group, including Special Operations personnel, working with the Iraqi government on a ministerial level. Early this year, Special Operations troops began training Iraqi counterterrorism forces in Jordan.

Psaki said the embassy relocations were temporary. “The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders — supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats,” she said in the statement.

American contractor personnel were evacuated beginning late last week from two major Iraqi bases, in Balad and Taji, north of Baghdad, and from an oil refinery and power plant in Baiji, also north of Baghdad.

The State Department on Sunday advised all U.S. citizens in Iraq to “exercise caution and limit travel” to Anbar, Nineveh, Salahuddin, Diyala and Kirkuk provinces in northwest and central Iraq and to “make their own contingency emergency plans” and “maintain security awareness at all times.”

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.
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