The State Department has ordered all of its "nonemergency" employees in Iraq to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil amid escalating tensions with Iran.
The department further said Iraq was not a safe place for all American citizens in a Level Four travel advisory issued Wednesday.
"U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping," the advisory explained. "Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad."
Wednesday's news arrives as President Donald Trump's administration is weighing military options against Iran that could even include war, according to the New York Times. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan reportedly detailed a plan last week at a gathering of national security officials, which includes deploying up to 120,000 armed forces to the Middle East. The hypothetical plan would reportedly be implemented if Tehran speeds up its nuclear weapons program — or in the event American troops are attacked by Iran. It is mainly a revision of previous plans, with updates allegedly called for by administration hawks led by Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton.
In possibly related news, four oil tankers in the Middle East — two owned by Saudi Arabia, one owned by the United Arab Emirates and one owned by Norway — were recently damaged by what Saudi and U.S. officials described as "sabotage" attacks, according to CBS News. On Monday, U.S. officials told CBS News their preliminary assessment was either that Iran or Iranian-backed proxies used explosives to damage the vessels.
From pulling the U.S. out of the Iranian nuclear deal last year to cracking down on Iranian petroleum exports last month, the Trump administration has continued to take aggressive stances toward Iran.
Trump's views on the Middle Eastern country have put him at odds with former U.S. intelligence officials at the highest levels.
"The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but a source of potential danger and conflict. They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!" Trump tweeted in January.
Former CIA chief John Brennan responded by tweeting, "Your refusal to accept the unanimous assessment of U.S. Intelligence on Iran, No. Korea, ISIS, Russia, & so much more shows the extent of your intellectual bankruptcy. All Americans, especially members of Congress, need to understand the danger you pose to our national security."