The United States will temporarily withdraw some staff from its embassy in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller confirmed on Thursday.
Tueller announced the move in a video posted to U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page following reports that the withdrawal was out of concern for retaliation around the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-ordered airstrike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“Many of my Iraqi friends have contacted me to ask about press reports . . . I have been able to assure them that I will continue to carry out my normal duties from the Embassy. I will do so with the support of a core team of American diplomats and U.S. advisors to the Iraqi military,” Tueller said.
He did not say how many personnel were to leave the embassy and did not give any reasons for the move.
Tueller did stress that the reduction would not affect the embassy’s work, and that he will remain in Baghdad to carry out his duties “for the foreseeable future.”
He added that the U.S. commitment to Iraq “is as strong as ever and that the important work we’re doing here in Baghdad is continuing.”
Washington made the decision due to concerns over a possible Iranian retaliatory strike after Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed last week, as well as the killing of Soleimani, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
Fakhrizadeh — a nuclear scientist who Israel and western nations have claimed was heading a program to possibly build a nuclear weapon — was shot while in a vehicle in the town of Absard, according to Iranian state media. Iran has accused U.S. ally Israel of killing the scientist, though the country has declined to comment on the attack.
Soleimani was killed along with several senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport on Jan. 3 in a drone strike.
Following Soleimani's death, Iran launched missile attacks at Iraqi bases holding U.S. troops, resulting in more than 100 U.S. service members suffering traumatic brain injuries.
In addition, destabilizing actions by Iran have continued and “increased in scope and severity” since then, U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie said last month.
CNN reported earlier this week that the withdrawal was scheduled to last until mid-January after the anniversary of Soleimani’s death passes.