Security: Several Western governments issue travel advisories urging nationals to avoid travel to Iraq, Iran amid US-Iran tensions, as of Jan. 7.

Severity: Warning Alert

The locations affected by this alert are:

  • Iran
  • Iraq

This alert began 08 Jan 2020 00:02 GMT and is scheduled to expire 20 Jan 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Event: Travel advisories
  • Locations: Iran, Iraq (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Increased security measures; possible retaliatory attacks, additional violence; localized transport and business disruptions

Summary
The governments of several western nations have updated their advisories concerning travel by their citizens to Iraq and Iran following the Jan. 3 killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and several Iraqi Shi'a militia leaders in a US air strike in Baghdad. As of Jan. 7, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is urging French citizens to avoid travel to Iraq and Iran. At the same time, the government of Australia began advising its nationals to reconsider travel to Iran due to the volatile security situation in that country; on Jan. 5, Canberra encouraged Australians not to travel to Iraq, urging its citizens already in the country to leave, if it is safe to do so.

The US Department of State has advised its citizens to leave Iraq immediately and has suspended consular services at its embassy in Baghdad. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated its travel advisory for Iraq Jan. 4 and now advises against all travel to Iraq, except for the Kurdistan Region, where it advises against all but essential travel. Other governments will likely issue similar advisories and directives for their nationals in the coming days.

Iraqi authorities will likely maintain a heightened security presence in Baghdad and throughout the southern and central areas of Iraq amid concerns over retaliatory attacks by pro-Iranian elements in the country, including followers and supporters of Shi'a militias. Rocket and mortar attacks against Iraqi military bases housing US troops have increased nationwide in the wake of Soleimani's killing. Several rockets have also impacted in Baghdad's International (Green) Zone. Iraqi Shi'a militias have also warned the country's security forces to steer clear of the Iraqi bases housing US troops; other US facilities and installations could also be targeted. Similar attacks on the assets of allied Western nations cannot be ruled out.

Supporters of Shi'a militia groups could also hold nationwide rallies and demonstrations outside US military installations, diplomatic missions, and commercial buildings with ties to US companies, resulting in transport and business disruptions. Violence between security forces and demonstrators cannot be ruled out.

Background and Analysis
Western governments have regularly issued travel advisories requesting that their nationals reconsider travel to Iran. These advisories are generally prompted by US-Iran tensions or the arrest and imprisonment of foreign visitors to Iran, particularly Westerners of Iranian origin.

Iranian security forces regularly detain and arrest foreigners of Iranian origin on security and espionage charges. Foreign travelers to Iran, particularly Western visitors, continue to face questioning, detention, and imprisonment, especially if they have any ties to military or government agencies. Iranian security officials have always been suspicious of Western travelers and Iranians who travel between their adopted countries and Iran. In light of the recent tensions with the US and its allies, Iran is likely to intensify scrutiny of foreigners and dual citizens visiting the country. The threat of arbitrary detention and imprisonment of foreign nationals will likely persist in Iran for the foreseeable future.

Advice
Maintain contact with your country's diplomatic mission, if operating in Iran or Iraq. Plan accordingly for delays to diplomatic services and Iraqi government operations across the country in the coming days. Avoid all gatherings and rallies. 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.

Resources
US Embassy in Iraq: iq.usembassy.gov
British Embassy in Baghdad: www.gov.uk/world/organisations/british-embassy-baghdad
British Consulate General in Arbil (Erbil): www.gov.uk/world/organisations/british-consulate-general-erbil
French Embassy in Iraq: iq.ambafrance.org

Related Advice: General guidelines to protect yourself against terrorism.