WASHINGTON — Security at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was bolstered and some staff members were being moved out of Iraq’s capital city as it was threatened by the advance of an al-Qaida inspired insurgency, a State Department spokeswoman said Sunday.
Jen Psaki said in a statement that much of U.S. embassy staff will stay in place even as parts of the country experience instability and violence. She did not say the number of personnel affected. The embassy is within Baghdad’s Green Zone. It has about 5,000 personnel, making it the largest U.S. diplomatic post in the world.
“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.
Some embassy staff members have been 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.
U.S. travelers in the country were encouraged to avoid all by essential travel and exercise great caution.
The State Department issued a travel warning for Iraq Sunday night that cautioned U.S. citizens to avoid “all but essential travel to Iraq. Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation.”
“U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence,” the travel warning said. The warning said that certain areas of Iraq are more dangerous than others, such as areas north of Baghdad and near the Syrian, Turkish or Iranian borders. Violence in many regions of the country is as intense as it’s been since 2007, the warning said.
It warned of the dangers of a variety of improvised explosive devices, mines placed on or concealed near roads, mortars and rockets, and shootings using various direct-fire weapons. The attacks “often occur in public gathering places,” the warning said.
Psaki said the movement of embassy personnel will cause the embassy to 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.”
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement that a “small number” of military personnel are helping to keep State Department facilities safe in Baghdad. He said embassy personnel are being moved by commercial, charter and State Department aircraft. But, Kirby says, 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. And, an Islamic militant group behind the strife. the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, posted graphic photos that appeared to show its fighters massacring dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers.
U.S. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said the ISIL militants’ claim of killing the Iraqi troops “is horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that those terrorists represent.”
She added that a claim that 1,700 were killed could not be confirmed by the U.S.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama on Sunday was briefed on the situation by National Security Adviser Susan Rice as he was spending Father’s Day in Rancho Mirage, California.