On Wednesday, Jan. 1, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs issued a warning to U.S. citizens about the escalating conflict in Iraq.
“U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians,” the statement said.
“Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq,” the letter continued, explaining that public consular services had been suspended following a terrorist attack on the embassy, which was supported by Iran.
Prior to Friday, Jan. 3, air strikes, which resulted in the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the State Department urged U.S. citizens to refrain from traveling to the country given the high risks that threaten its integrity.
“U.S. citizens should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict, where they would face extreme personal risks (kidnapping, injury, or death) and legal risks (arrest, fines, and expulsion),” the statement said.
The State Department also warned that “fighting on behalf of or supporting designated terrorist organizations is a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States.
Friday morning the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad urged all citizens who are in the country to leave immediately “due to the increase of tensions in Iraq and in the region.
The message issued by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was made after the announcement that confirmed the death of Soleimani, as well as that of the vice president of the Iraqi Shiite militias known as the “Popular Crowd,” Abu Mahdi al Mohandes.
Meanwhile, the communiqué issued on Jan. 1, 2020, also stated that the Federal Aviation Administration had put airmen operating in or near Iraq on alert.
Finally, the report ends with a series of recommendations for those who decide to travel to the Middle Eastern country:
- Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
- Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
- Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.
- Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs if you are unable to return as planned to the United States. Find a suggested list of such documents here.
- Establish your own personal security plan in coordination with your employer or host organization, or consider consulting with a professional security organization.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
- Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Iraq.
U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.