With Baghdad threatened by the advance of an al-Qaida-inspired insurgency, the State Department is reinforcing security at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq’s capital — and sending some personnel out of town.
Much of the embassy staff will stay in place, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement released Sunday. The statement did not say the number of personnel affected. The embassy, along the Tigris River in Baghdad’s Green Zone, has about 5,000 personnel and is the largest U.S. diplomatic post in the world.
Some embassy staff members were being temporarily moved elsewhere to more stable places at consulates in Basra, in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq, and Irbil, in the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northeastern Iraq, and to Jordan, she said.
“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,” she said.
U.S. travelers in the country were encouraged to exercise caution and limit travel to certain parts of Iraq.
“Due to the relocation of personnel from Baghdad, the embassy will only be restricted in its ability to offer all consular services; but emergency services are always available to U.S. citizens in need at any embassy or consulate anywhere in the world,” Psaki said.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement that a “small number” of military personnel are helping to keep State Department facilities in Baghdad safe. He said embassy personnel are being moved by commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, adding that the U.S. military has “airlift assets at the ready” should the State Department request them.
A U.S. military official said about 100 Marines and Army soldiers have been sent to Baghdad to help with embassy security.
The State Department acted as the Iraqi government sought to bolster its defenses in Baghdad on Sunday. Despite the added security, a string of explosions killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 30 in the city, police and hospital officials said. The militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, posted graphic photos that appeared to show its fighters massacring dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers.
Psaki said the State Department could not confirm the reports, but “we condemn these tactics in the strongest possible terms and stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people against these horrendous and senseless acts of violence.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was briefed on the situation Sunday by National Security Adviser Susan Rice as he was spending Father’s Day in Rancho Mirage, California.
Secretary of State John Kerry made calls to foreign ministers in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss the threat and the need for Iraqi leaders to work together.
ISIL surprised Western intelligence organizations last week and took control at least two major Iraqi cities. On Monday, militants captured Tal Afar, a town with a population of about 200,000 people located 260 miles (420 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the USS George H.W. Bush from the northern Arabian Sea and it has arrived in the Persian Gulf as the president considers possible military options for Iraq. Kirby said the move will give Obama additional flexibility if military action were required to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq.