US orders non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq (Lead)
Washington, May 15 (IANS) The US State Department on Wednesday ordered the departure of non-emergency US government employees from Iraq amid increasing tensions with Iran and warned American citizens not to travel to the country, citing a "high risk for violence and kidnapping".
The announcement comes on the heels of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's unannounced trip to Iraq where he said he spoke to officials about the country's ability to protect Americans.
The action also represents the latest manoeuvering by the Donald Trump administration in the Middle East, where the Pentagon has positioned a carrier strike group and a bomber task force, CNN reported.
The department said in a statement that employees working in the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US Consulate in Erbil were instructed to leave Iraq and that "normal visa services will be temporarily suspended at both posts".
According to the statement, American Citizens Services employees who were working in the Embassy in Baghdad "will continue to provide consular services to US citizens in Basra".
The department said the sudden changes came due to the US government's "ability to provide routine and emergency services to US citizens in Iraq is extremely limited" and that as a result, the threat of "terrorism, kidnapping and armed conflict" aimed at Americans in the country was too great a risk.
It added that Americans "should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict" as they may face similar threats there and face "legal risks" from both Washington and Damascus.
The orders from the State Department come a day after US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, said that the Pentagon has increased the threat risk for US troops in Iraq and Syria.
There is a tense situation in the Middle East after President Trump decided not to re-issue the sanctions waivers for major importers to continue buying Iran's oil when they expired in early May.