US embassy in Iraq issues alert to American citizens, amid ongoing protests

The US embassy in Iraq advised Americans resident in Iraq to take precautions and remain alert, as widespread protests are planned for Baghdad and Najaf this week, starting on Tuesday.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US embassy in Iraq advised Americans resident in Iraq to take precautions and remain alert, as widespread protests are planned for Baghdad and Najaf this week, starting on Tuesday.

An embassy announcement explained, “According to reports, large-scale demonstrations, events, and processions are expected to take place in Baghdad on February 11-13, as well as in Najaf on February 14.”

The alert explained that the situation would likely be similar to prior demonstrations and would lead to “road closures, including in the Baghdad International Zone and in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport.”

The alert also stated that US consular operations in Baghdad would remain suspended.

It instructed US citizens not to approach the embassy, with the exception of the US Consulate in Erbil.

“The US Consulate General in Erbil is open for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance,” it said.

The statement also advised US nationals “not to travel to Iraq as per the January 11, 2020, travel advisory.” Those already in Iraq, except for those in the Kurdistan Region, should avoid “areas of demonstrations, and monitor local media for updates.”

The embassy frequently warns US citizens in Iraq to maintain a heightened awareness of security issues and take appropriate measures at all times when living and working in the country.

Since the widespread protests began in Iraq in early October, widespread protests, they have, not infrequently, turned violent, because of clashes with riot police and security forces.

The violence escalated again last week as followers and militiamen, called “blue hats,” of the Sadrist Movement, led by firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, allegedly killed at least eight protesters and wounded dozens more, as they stormed areas where demonstrations were being held in the southern Shiite shrine city of Najaf.

As the protests began in October, Sadr first announced his support for them. But over the past weeks, he has switched positions multiple times, leading to questions about his initial motives for backing the demonstrations.

On Feb. 1, Iraqi President Barham Salih officially nominated Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as Iraq’s new prime minister, following the resignation of the former prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi, in late November, when he announced that he would leave his post, after two months of near-continuous protests. However, the prime-minister designate still awaits a vote of confidence by the national legislature.

Following Allawi’s designation as Iraq’s next prime minister, Sadr expressed support for him. He turned against the demonstrators, calling on his supporters to withdraw from the protests and, instead, to attack those still voicing their opposition to Allawi, whom they consider to be part of a ruling elite that has mismanaged the country since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his regime, some 17 years ago.

Many of the protestors do not recall Saddam’s rule. They are extremely frustrated with a government that they view as corrupt and which does not provide the most basic services to the people.

Editing by Laurie Mylroie