Security: US advises nationals to leave Iraq Jan. 3 after killing of Iranian general. Reprisal attacks, associated disruptions likely.
Severity: Critical Alert
This alert affects Iraq.
This alert began 03 Jan 2020 13:45 GMT and is scheduled to expire 05 Jan 2020 23:59 GMT.
- Incident: Department of State Advisory
- Location: Nationwide (map)
- Time/Date: Jan. 3
- Impact: Increased security measures, possible retaliatory attacks, additional violence, localized transport and business disruptions
The US Department of State has advised its citizens to leave Iraq immediately, following the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and several prominent Iraqi Shi'a militia leaders, including Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, in an airstrike near Baghdad International Airport (BGW) early Jan. 3. Other Western governments will likely issue similar advice for nationals in the coming days.
The US Department of Defense confirmed that it was behind the airstrike. Senior Iranian officials have vowed to retaliate, though it is currently unclear what form such action will take. Nevertheless, the US military, as well as the Iraqi military, will likely be placed on high security alert due to the fear of retaliatory attacks by Iranian proxies in the country. One of the leaders of the Iranian-backed Shi'a Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) has already called on the group's fighters to be ready to retaliate. Iraqi authorities will likely maintain a heightened security presence in Baghdad and throughout the southern and central areas of Iraq amid fears of further rocket attacks and additional violence.
Followers and supporters of Shi'a militias in Iraq could conduct retaliatory attacks against US military personnel and interests. Supporters of Shi'a militia groups will likely hold nationwide rallies and demonstrations outside US military installations and diplomatic missions, resulting in transport and business disruptions. Violence between security forces and demonstrators cannot be ruled out.
Background and Analysis
Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force, which is the external wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and focuses on special and clandestine operations outside Iran. Soleimani was the main architect of Iran's military adventures and played a pivotal role in the country's activities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Soleimani was also Iran's most formidable military leader and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's favorite commander. In March 2019, Khamenei awarded Soleimani with the Order of Zulfiqar, the country's most prestigious award, which no military commander had received since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
The recent incident comes a few days after hundreds of Shi'a militia supporters stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad, setting several parts of the facility on fire, Dec. 31. The attack against the embassy prompted the US to deploy additional security forces to the facility. The attack also brought about the suspension of all consular operations until further notice by the US Department of State. According to the US Department of Defense, Soleimani was planning further attacks on American assets and positions in Iraq and the wider region.
The recent incident marks a significant escalation in US-Iran tensions in the region. US President Donald J. Trump accused Iran of having orchestrated the attack against the US Embassy and pledged retaliation against any further anti-US action. Iran has denied the accusation.
The trigger for the recent series of incidents was a rocket attack against the K-1 Airbase in Kirkuk, killing one US defense contractor and injuring four military personnel. Following the rocket attack, the US conducted airstrikes against Kata'ib Hizballah (KH) military bases in Iraq and Syria Dec. 29, which left 25 members of the group dead and more than 50 others injured. The US deemed KH responsible for the attack against K-1 Airbase.
Avoid all gatherings and rallies. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Plan for delays to diplomatic services and Iraqi government operations across the country in the coming days. Reconfirm business appointments. If incoming artillery fire is reported in the general vicinity, stay indoors, away from windows and exterior walls, and, if possible, move to a ground floor or basement. Check flight status before departing for the airport if traveling via BGW. Do not check out of accommodations until onward travel is confirmed.
US Embassy in Iraq: iq.usembassy.gov
Baghdad International Airport: www.baghdad-airport.com
Related Advice: General guidelines to protect yourself against terrorism.