Members of Iraqi security forces chant slogans in Baghdad. Credit: Reuters
The United States is beefing up security at its embassy in Baghdad and will evacuate some workers out of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. State Department said on Sunday.
The State Department said U.S. citizens in Iraq were advised to exercise caution and limit travel in five provinces including restive Anbar in the west and Kirkuk in the north.
The moves came as Iraqi government forces battled to hold off insurgents with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, the Sunni militant group that has seized control of parts of northern Iraq. [ID:nL5N0OW0H2]
The State Department said the Baghdad embassy was reviewing staffing requirements but that a "substantial majority" of the embassy presence in Iraq would remain in place.
"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 Arbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman," the State Department statement said.
The heavily fortified U.S. embassy occupies a sprawling swathe of land along the Tigris River in Baghdad, inside the secure Green Zone, where many Iraqi government buildings are located and which is off-limits to most Iraqis.
When the embassy opened in 2009, it had 1,200 employees, including diplomats, servicemen and women, and officials from 14 U.S. government agencies.
Dubbed the 'mega-bunker of Baghdad,' its size reflected the scale of the U.S. investment in Iraq following the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, and an expectation the United States would have some sort of major long-term presence there.
The embassy's staff was later trimmed in line with the U.S. transition out of Iraq, which U.S. troops departed in late 2011.
U.S. officials have declined to say how many staff work there today. But according to a 2013 State Department inspector general report, the embassy was moving to reduce its headcount from over 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 in January 2014.
In 2013, the United States also had diplomatic outposts in Arbil, Basra, and the contested city of Kirkuk.
Speaking to reporters last week, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for Iraq, had "assets and resources" and existing plans should the United States need to evacuate personnel.
"But we’re not there yet,” he told reporters on Friday. He also said that any evacuation might not be carried out by the U.S. military.