@StateDept Orders Evacuation of Designated USG Employees From US Embassy Baghdad, USCG Erbil, and BDSC

 

On March 26, the State Department updated its Iraq Travel Advisory, a Level 4 Do Not Travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, the Global Health Advisory, and Mission Iraq’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.”
The updated advisory announced the mandatory departure of designated U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC), and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil on March 25 “due to security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Excerpt below:

U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.

On March 25, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of designated U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic support Center, and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil due to security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On December 31, 2019, the Embassy suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the Embassy compound. U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open and continues to provide consular services. On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah. That institution has not reopened. Due to security concerns, U.S. Embassy personnel in Baghdad have been instructed not to use Baghdad International Airport.

U.S. citizens should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict, where they would face extreme personal risks (kidnapping, injury, or death) and legal risks (arrest, fines, and expulsion). The Kurdistan Regional Government stated that it will impose prison sentences of up to ten years on individuals who illegally cross the border. Additionally, fighting on behalf of, or supporting designated terrorist organizations, is a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States.

Read in full here.

DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations in Baghdad, Iraq

 

This is a follow-up to a 2017 case about a former government contractor sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a government contract kickback scheme that caused a loss of more than $3.4 million to the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Wesley Aaron Struble, 49, a U.S. citizen of Batangas, Philippines, engaged in a conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Act in 2011 and 2012 while employed in Iraq as a government contractor. Initially employed by a business identified in court documents as Company B, Struble learned that another business, identified in court documents as Company A, was seeking a lease of real property for use related to a U.S. Department of State contract. Struble knew that Company B was paying approximately $124,000 per month to a third business, identified in court documents as Company C, for a lease of real property. According to court documents, Struble became a manager for Company A, and together with another manager for Company A, engaged in a conspiracy with associates of Company C to make the lease of property available to Company A at an inflated rate of $665,000 per month.

(See That time when a real property lease in Iraq jumped from $124,000/mo to $665,000/mo).
Last month, USDOJ announced that DynCorp Pays $1.5M to Resolve Kickback Allegations:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – DynCorp International, LLC (DynCorp), located in McLean, has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle civil fraud allegations involving two former DynCorp officials, Wesley Aaron Struble and Jose Rivera, who solicited and accepted kickbacks from an Iraqi subcontractor in connection with DynCorp’s lease of property for its operations in Baghdad, Iraq on behalf of the U.S. Department of State.

Struble and Rivera previously pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to violating the Anti-Kickback Act for their role in soliciting and accepting at least $390,000 in cash kickbacks from the Al-Qarat Company in exchange for influencing DynCorp’s lease of property in Baghdad at a lease amount higher than the previous lease. The lease costs were included with services for international civilian policing that DynCorp billed under a U.S. Department of State contract in 2011 and 2012.

The settlement resolves the alleged liability of DynCorp for violation of civil penalties under the Anti-Kickback Act and the civil False Claims Act arising out of Struble’s and Rivera’s fraudulent conduct while employed by DynCorp.

The resolutions obtained in this matter were the result of a coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Department of State Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The matter was investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Roushdy. The civil claims settled by this False Claims Act agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of civil liability.

The original announcement is available here.

US Letter to Iraq on Troops Withdrawal, a Poorly Worded Draft Seen Around the World

 

 

Iraqi Parliament Votes to Remove US Troops From Iraq, Trump Threatens With “Very Big Sanctions”

 

Pompeo’s New Songs Bring Back the Old Times With #BaghdadBob

 

 

New Year Opens With Security Alerts Issued For U.S. Embassies in Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia

Updated: 2:44 pm PST

US Embassy Iraq issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016:

Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately.  U.S. citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land.  Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice.  U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.  The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil is open for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance.  U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.

Do not travel to Iraq; Avoid the U.S. Embassy; Monitor local and international media for updates 

US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016:

In light of regional events, there is potential for spontaneous demonstrations or unrest to take place in Bahrain over the coming days, and possibly beyond.  While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.  We remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to local authorities.

U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3:

Heightened Tensions in the Region

The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait is aware of heightened security tensions in the region.  Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy is increasing its security posture. The Embassy will remain open during regular business hours for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance.

We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.  Nonetheless, this situation serves as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance, and the Embassy advises U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans and remain alert to their surroundings at all times.

U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3:

Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.

Actions to Take:

The State Department also tweeted a Security Alert for Morocco:

: Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we encourage US citizens in Morocco to maintain a high level of vigilance. We are not aware of specific threats against US citizens in Morocco. US citizens are urged to enroll in STEP to receive security alerts.

U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia has now issued its own Security Alert:

In light of events in the region, the Mission wishes to remind the American community to maintain heightened security awareness and follow sound security practices while in Saudi Arabia.  The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.  In the past, regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted missile and drone attacks against both civilian and military targets inside the Kingdom.  U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Eastern Province and areas near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attack.

Iraqi Protesters Breach U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s Compound

Media reports indicate that Iraqi protesters, identified as Iraqi Shiite militia members and their supporters, stormed the U.S. Embassy Baghdad on December 31, in protest of the deadly air strikes conducted by U.S. forces over the weekend. Reports note that the Sunday strikes killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55.
On December 30, SecDef Mark Esper announced that “the Department of Defense took offensive actions in defense of our personnel and interests in Iraq by launching F-15 Strike Eagles against five targets associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group.  The targets we attacked included three targets in Western Iraq and two targets in Eastern Syria that were either command and control facilities or weapons caches for Kata’ib Hezbollah.”
On December 27, a rocket attack at an Iraqi base killed one U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. troops. See 
According to the AP, the State Department has stated that all U.S. personnel at Embassy Baghdad are safe and that there are no plants to evacuate.
This morning, U.S. Embassy Baghdad issued a security alert advising “U.S. citizens not to approach the Embassy.  U.S. citizens should keep in touch with family members.  In an emergency, U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.”

 

U.S. Mission Iraq Gets a New Ambassador After Mandatory Evacuation of Non-Emergency Personnel

 

 

On May 16, the day after the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Ambassador Matthew Tueller as the next Ambassador to Iraq. State  also issued a new Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory for Iraq due to “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”

We could not recall Mission Iraq  ever going on “ordered departure” (mandatory evacuation).  On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel from Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan).  In August 2014, it relocated additional Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan). Note that these “temporary relocations” occurred around the targeted airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists. The State Department went out of its way to avoid the use of the words “authorized departure”, “ordered departure” or for that matter “mandatory evacuation” in describing the movement of its staff that summer.  In September 2018, there was a Mandatory Evacuation For US Consulate General Basrah but limited to Southern Iraq.

As recently as March 31, 2019, in the LEAD IG REPORT TO THE U.S. CONGRESS says:

USCENTCOM reported to the DoD OIG that Iranian activity in Iraq has not changed from last quarter.404 Iranian-backed groups continue to monitor Coalition operations, personnel, and facilities, publish false or misleading stories about Coalition activity in the media, and, through allies within the Iraqi Council of Representatives, support legislation to compel the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.405 CJTF-OIR reported that Iran and Iran-backed groups prefer to try to diminish U.S. and Coalition presence in Iraq through soft power means rather than through direct military confrontation.406

404. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
405. CJTF-OIR, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
406. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/25/2019

 

Career Diplomat Matthew Tueller to be U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

 

On November 7, the White House announced the president’s intent to nominate Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The WH released the following  brief bio:

Matthew H. Tueller of Utah, to be to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iraq.

Ambassador Tueller, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently United States Ambassador to Yemen. Previously, he served as United States Ambassador to Kuwait, Deputy Chief of Mission at  United States Embassy Cairo, Political Minister Counselor at United States  Embassy Baghdad, Deputy Chief of Mission at  United States Embassy Kuwait, Counselor for Political Affairs at  United States Embassy Riyadh, and Deputy Director for the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs in the Department of State.  Ambassador Tueller received his B.A. from Brigham Young University and his M.P.P. from Harvard University. He is the recipient of the CIA Director’s Seal Award, two Presidential Meritorious Honor Awards, and the Department of State’s Baker-Wilkins Award for Outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission.  Ambassador Tueller is fluent in Arabic.

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Mandatory Evacuation On For US Consulate General Basrah in Southern Iraq

In June last year, we blogged about the Tillerson State Department’s plan to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).

On September 28, the State Department announced Secretary Pompeo’s determination to place the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah on “ordered departure” status. That means post is now under mandatory evacuation. Media reports elsewhere notes post’s “temporary” closure but we could not find a formal announcement for temporary closure, post closure, or suspension of operation.

Per 2 FAM 410, the final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management, a position that remains vacant.

A statement from Secretary Pompeo talks about the “temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel“, blames Iran, and cites “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

Basrah is located in the southern-most province of Iraq, near the border with Kuwait and Iran and serves the four provinces of the region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The U.S Consulate General is adjacent to the Basrah International Airport and the facility, an interim project cost at least $150 million (this includes security and facility upgrades).  Post did not provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  Its consular services were limited to emergency American citizen issues.

CIA map

An updated Iraq Travel Advisory says:

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq is extremely limited.  On September 28, 2018, the Department of State ordered the departure of U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.

A 2013 State/OG report notes the following about Basrah:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.

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