State Department pulls employees out of Iraq amid tensions with Iran

State Department pulls employees out of Iraq amid tensions with Iran
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The State Department moved Wednesday to evacuate non-emergency personnel from Iraq and urged U.S. citizens not to travel to the country amid heightened tensions with Iran.

"The U.S. State Department has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil," the department said in a security alert posted on its website.

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"Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended," it added. "The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq."

The department on Wednesday also warned travelers to avoid Iraq due to a heightened risk of terrorism, kidnapping and armed conflict.

"U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping," an advisory reads. "Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq."

The developments come amid weeks of increased tensions between Washington and Iraq's neighbor Iran and the deployment of a U.S. carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf in order to respond to heightened threats to U.S. personnel.

National security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonLiz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Trump needs a national security adviser who 'speaks softly' MORE announced the deployment last week, saying that it was necessary to address "troubling and escalatory" indicators in the region.

"In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force," Bolton said last Sunday.

"The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces," he added at the time.