UK advises against travel to most of Iraq due to militia tensions and political crisis

The British Foreign Office has issued a travel alert advising its citizens against any non-essential visits to almost all of Iraq except the Iraqi Kurdistan region because of the tension between the country’s militias in the political chaos that has plagued the nation for months.

“Iraq remains subject to regional tensions. Militia groups opposed to the Western presence in Iraq continue to pose a threat to the UK and other interests in Iraq, including through attacks on Global Coalition military bases, diplomatic facilities and foreign nationals,” according to a statement from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Beyond the regional conflict, the FCDO also warns of the aforementioned “rising” internal tensions due to protracted negotiations over government formation following elections held in October 2021.

Iraq has been the scene in recent days of new mobilizations, coinciding with the third anniversary of the October 2019 protests, which resulted in at least 600 deaths across the country due to the reaction of the Iraqi Police and pro-Iranian militias. The protests were active for several months to demand an end to the system of government in place since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an end to corruption, better basic services and employment.

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The protests resulted in the resignation of the then prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was replaced — after the rejection of several nominees — by Mostafa al Kazemi, who initiated a series of reforms and called for early elections, held on October 10, 2021.

The strongman of Iraq, the cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose party won last year’s elections, has ordered in the last hours the armed groups under his control to suspend their activities in almost the entire country in order not to increase the tension after weeks of heavy clashes in the province of Basra between the forces of the religious and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of pro-Iranian militias.

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The FCDO recalls in the communiqué that “protests have taken place in Baghdad’s Green Zone” which houses the seats of government and international embassies “and the security situation risks deteriorating. The situation remains uncertain and could worsen further in the short term.”

For all these reasons, the FCDO recommends that British citizens “remain vigilant, make contingency plans, keep them constantly under review and keep abreast of the latest developments in the country.”

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