The United States is partially withdrawing some staff from its embassy in Baghdad as tensions with Iran and Iraqi militia groups spike.
U.S. Ambassador Mathew Tueller confirmed on December 3 a “temporary reduction” in staff at the mission following recent media reports of the change.
In a video posted on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page, Tueller said he and a core team of diplomats and military advisors would continue to carry out duties for the “foreseeable future.”
It was unclear how many of the several hundred diplomats at the largest U.S. embassy had been pulled out.
The drawdown comes as President Donald Trump ramps up pressure on Iran ahead of a transition to President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he will try to revive diplomacy with Iran upon entering the White House in January. Biden is expected to try to rejoin the Iran nuclear accord that Trump quit in 2018 and work with allies to strengthen its terms, if Tehran first resumes compliance.
Tension have spiked across the region following last week’s assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran. Iran has blamed Israel and, indirectly, the United States, raising the possibility that Iran or one of its regional proxies will retaliate.
U.S. officials have also voice concern that Iran or allied Iraqi militia may carry out retaliatory action on the first anniversary of a U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport on January 3.
The partial withdrawal from the embassy is taking place against the backdrop of the Trump administration last month ordering a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by mid-January.
In September, the Trump administration warned Iraq that it will close its embassy in Baghdad in response to repeated rocket and other attacks by Iranian-backed militias on American and allied interests in the country.