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What’s happening with the U.S. diplomats and contractors in Iraq?

U.S. diplomatic offices in Iraq were operating as usual as of Thursday, but American contractors began evacuating their employees from the Baghdad region as insurgent fighters threatened to advance on the capital after capturing key cities in the North.

The State Department said Thursday that American contractors are “being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area.” But spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that staffing for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq has not changed. 

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on the situation in Iraq, where Islamic militants have stormed into the northern part of the country, leaving it on the brink of collapse. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

The U.S. has kept its diplomatic mission in Iraq open for the past few years despite growing violence and increasing signs that the government cannot control the unrest.

A May 2013 report from the State Department’s inspector general said the diplomatic mission there is a test bed for “a new approach to U.S. overseas presence, often called expeditionary diplomacy,” which requires “an unprecedented level of security and life support.” 

U.S. personnel in Iraq largely consist of diplomats and embassy staff, as well as private security personnel and military advisers to the Iraqi government, according to an article in The Washington Post’s Checkpoint blog.

The State Department said in January that it had about 5,500 contractors, including 2,000 U.S. citizens, working at the Embassy in Baghdad, according to a Foreign Policy report.

Roughly 200 U.S. Marines and private security contractors guard the embassy, according to a Checkpoint article.

Pentagon officials have said that about 250 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, with about half of them being Marine Corps security guards for the embassy. Many of the others are there to advise the Iraqi military.

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Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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