The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory on Sunday, strongly discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to Iraq. This advisory is a response to recent attacks on American troops and personnel in the region. The advisory specifies that the reasons for this recommendation include the threat of terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and the limited capacity of the U.S. Mission in Iraq to provide support to American citizens.
The region has experienced a notable increase in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, particularly since the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza began. Just last week, a U.S. warship intercepted and shot down over a dozen drones and four cruise missiles that were launched by Iranian-backed Houthis from Yemen.
The U.S. State Department issued the advisory after mandating the departure of eligible family members and non-essential U.S. government personnel from both the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil. This decision was made in response to heightened security threats against U.S. personnel and interests in the region. The State Department also highlighted that anti-U.S. militias pose a threat to both U.S. citizens and international companies across Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed concerns about the potential for a significant escalation in attacks on American troops in the Middle East and suggested that Iran might aim to expand the Israel-Hamas conflict. In light of these tensions, the United States is closely monitoring activities by Iran-backed groups in the region.
The Israel-Hamas conflict began after the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas initiated an attack on Israel on October 7. The conflict has resulted in a significant loss of life, with Israel responding to Hamas attacks with deadly air strikes on Gaza, a territory within the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
Due to security concerns, U.S. government personnel in Baghdad have been instructed not to use Baghdad International Airport. The United States has also deployed substantial naval assets to the Middle East, including two aircraft carriers, support vessels, and around 2,000 Marines. Furthermore, the Pentagon has announced plans to send a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air defense missile system battalions to the Middle East in response to the escalating regional tensions.