U.S. Moves To Evacuate Some Embassy Personnel From Baghdad
The United States plans to evacuate some personnel from the massive, sprawling U.S. Embassy in Baghdad:
ERBIL, Iraq — The American Embassy in Baghdad plans to evacuate a substantial number of its personnel this week in the face of a militant advance that rapidly swept from the north toward the capital, the State Department announced on Sunday.
The embassy, a beige fortress on the banks of the Tigris River within the heavily secured Green Zone, where Iraqi government buildings are also situated, has the largest staff of any United States Embassy.
The exact number of people being evacuated from Baghdad — the American government prefers to say they are being “relocated” — was not disclosed. But the embassy will remain open, and most of its staff will remain, according to the State Department.
The United States has a staff of about 5,500 at the embassy and at two consulates in the north and south of Iraq.
“Some additional U.S. government security personnel will be added to the staff in Baghdad; other staff will be temporarily relocated — both to our consulate generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman,” Jordan, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“Over all, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place, and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission,” Ms. Psaki added.
An American military official said that fewer than 100 Marines and other military personnel had arrived in Baghdad to reinforce the embassy’s security. The embassy staff members who are being evacuated are leaving on charter aircraft or commercial flights. But the military has planes available if necessary, the Pentagon said.
Other Americans in Iraq, particularly contractors working for companies that had been training the Iraqi military on weapons systems purchased from the United States, have already left.
It’s not exactly helicopters leaving the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, but this does seem to be a prudent move given the forces advancing on Baghdad, what appears to be an impending battle on the outskirts of the city, and the probability that there’s likely to be an uptick in terror attacks inside of Baghdad itself.
That prudence only seems to be reinforced by the news overnight that another Iraqi city has fallen to ISIS forces:
Fighters affiliated with an extremist Al Qaeda-inspired faction seized control of another town in the northwest of Iraq on Monday, beating back pro-government forces scrambling to stop the group’s advance.
Tal Afar, an ethnically diverse town of Sunni Muslims and Turkmen, was overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, after heavy clashes with Iraqi army units and Turkmen tribal fighters, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency. Pro-government activists in Tal Afar, however, asserted on social media that the fight was continuing, with heavy airstrikes against the militants’ positions.
The latest ISIS onslaught sent hundreds of families fleeing, Anatolia reported. The radical Sunni Muslim group is known for its barbaric treatment of foes, especially Shiite Muslims. The fall of Tal Afar, about 260 miles northwest of the capital, Baghdad, came a day after the group posted online images depicting the gruesome executions of dozens of captive Iraqi troops.
Tal Afar is north of Mosul, and thus not on the road to Baghdad, but its capture does cement the militant’s control in the northern areas that the Kurds haven’t moved into. No doubt, its capture has also added to the stock of military equipment that ISIS has been using to wage a campaign that, to date at least, seems largely unopposed by any real Iraqi resistance. That will change, of course, as fighting gets closer to Baghdad and the areas where Shiite militias are more prevalent.
More to come, I’m sure.