ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US Mission in Iraq is restricting its movements in the country’s major cities and advises Americans to avoid traveling to Iraq throughout the month September as religious events are set to take place, and protests over the lack of public services and corruption continue.
“The United States Mission in Iraq is restricting its movements during the month-long celebration of the Muslim holiday Muharram, particularly around the commemoration of Ashura, on Tuesday, September 18 through Friday, September 21 due to expected road closures and unpredictable crowds,” read the statement issued late Saturday evening by the US Embassy in Baghdad.
The security alert also coincides with protests resuming in the capital and the oil-rich city of Basra, located in the south of the country, over the lack of public services and widespread corruption in state institutions as Iraqi lawmakers have yet to form a new government.
Over the past week-long demonstrations in Basra, 15 people were killed and 190 more wounded in clashes with security forces, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Health.
“In addition, some protests in Basrah [Basra] have turned violent, leading to deaths and injuries to protesters and security forces. US government employees in Basrah are generally avoiding any area where demonstrations could occur, including the Basrah central business district,” the US embassy’s statement added.
In the past few months, radical Iraqi Shia militias backed by neighboring Iran have repeatedly threatened US troops in the country, urging Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to order the withdrawal of the foreign forces or face being treated as “occupying forces.”
“We will deal with them [foreign troops in Iraq] as occupying forces, and we will exercise our legitimate rights by using all possible means to force them out of the country,” ten Iraqi Shia militia groups said in a joint statement issued on Sep. 4.
The US currently has some 5,200 troops in the country that were deployed as part of the US-led coalition following the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014 in northern Iraq.
Editing by Nadia Riva