Officials with the U.S. embassy in Baghdad warned American citizens to leave Iraq immediately Friday in the wake of a U.S. airstrike that claimed the life of a top Iranian military commander and stoked tensions in the Middle East.
"Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we urge U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately," State Department officials said in a tweet.
Embassy officials said in a security alert that U.S. citizens "should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land."
“Do not travel to Iraq,” officials said in the alert. “Avoid the U.S. Embassy.”
The warnings came after President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. The airstrike marked a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
Defense Department officials said in statement Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” prompting Friday’s airstrike.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death, and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's deputy, to replace him as head of the elite Quds force.
Officials with the French government warned citizens in Iran to stay away from public gatherings “and to behave with prudence and discretion and abstain from taking pictures in public places” as the mourning commences, according to Reuters.
Officials with the U.S. State Department said Friday that the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and other protesters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended. Unidentified Iraqi security sources told CNN an area including the embassy was locked down “to prevent any emergency” following Friday’s airstrike. Americans seeking visa or other services were told to speak to officials at the U.S. Consulate in Erbil.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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