Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Iraq

Newsline: Death in Australia’s embassy in Iraq investigated

Queensland coroner Terry Ryan is to hold a full inquest into the death of Christopher Betts, 34, the elite former soldier shot dead in mysterious circumstances in Australia’s embassy in Iraq more than three years ago. At a pre-inquest conference held in the presence of Betts’s ­family in Brisbane Magistrate’s Court this week, the coroner also announced he will examine whether Betts’s employer, private security firm Unity Resources Group, had appropriate safety and weapons-handling procedures in place in Baghdad and whether the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had adequate oversight of the company. (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/at-last-inquest-into-embassy-death/news-story/d0acf1af4038ebe89ee7629355b6313c) More than a dozen witnesses, including those flown in from overseas, will be called to give ­evidence and the Betts family lawyer, Patrick McCafferty QC, has been granted leave to question them on the stand. hris Betts had been working as a highly trained private security guard in the Baghdad embassy when he died in the early hours of May 12, 2016, after a gun was fired in a room in the compound. Reports from work colleagues in the hours that followed suggested that Betts and his colleague, a former commando, Sun Mackay, had been drinking and playing video games about 2.30am when the firearm discharged and killed Betts. Mackay has not spoken publicly about what occurred and it is not known what he told investigators. Some colleagues who spoke to The Australian at the time reported he had described it as a terrible ­accident while others said he claimed Betts had committed ­suicide. Betts’s parents, Rae and Colin, did not just lose their only son that night: Chris’s young wife, Angela, devastated by her grief, took her own life just a few weeks later.

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Newsline: Turkish diplomat and Iraqi civilian shot dead in Iraqi Kurdistan

A Turkish diplomat was among two people shot dead on Wednesday in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. The victims, who were eating at a restaurant when gunmen opened fire, were reportedly Turkey’s deputy consul in the city and an Iraqi civilian. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the “heinous attack”. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-49020786) No-one has so far said they were behind it. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought Turkey for decades and has bases in Iraq, has denied any role.

Newsline: US Embassy in Baghdad accused of serving as headquarters for Mossad, ISIS

Senior Iraqi parliament member Hassan Salem issued a warning about the US embassy’s “suspicious activities,” saying that it hosts Mossad and ISIS agents. Salem claimed that “the US embassy in Baghdad has turned into a center for Israel’s Mossad” and ISIS terrorists, additionally claiming that the embassy is “interfering in the country’s internal affairs by spying, spreading rumors and hatching plots,” Fars News reported. The lawmaker further claimed that the embassy should be closed down for its illegalities. “The US embassy’s violation of laws and forgetting its responsibilities based on the international laws mean that the center could not be called an embassy and therefore, its closure is legally necessary,” Salem said. (https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iraqi-PM-US-embassy-hosts-Mossad-agents-ISIS-terrorists-595644) Salem has previously accused the US of providing a terrorist with protection. In February, he said that the US have ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in their care in the western desert of the Iraqi Anbar province. “Al-Baghdadi is using the Anbar desert as a safe haven, while the US forces provide him with all means of support from their station at the Ain Al-Assad military base in the Anbar province,” Salem said.

Newsline: Pompeo Seeks to Make Baghdad Embassy Pullout Permanent

In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered a partial evacuation of diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq amid escalating tensions with Iran. Now, several State Department officials say they are being told the drawdown in embassy staff will effectively become permanent, a move that could leave the U.S. Embassy short-staffed to undertake important tasks like countering Iran on the diplomatic front—and in the short-term has marooned hundreds of diplomats in the Washington area without an embassy to go back to. A State Department spokesman said this characterization of the drawdown is “inaccurate.” He said: “No decision on permanent staffing levels have been made, but a review of staffing is in process.” But three other State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the staffing levels at the Baghdad embassy reached after the evacuation in May are being treated as a de facto permanent cap on State Department personnel in Iraq. “They’ve already quietly made the policy decision that they’re not sending these people back,” a senior State Department official familiar with internal deliberations told Foreign Policy. “But they’re not actually calling it a drawdown, they’re just saying they’re reviewing the ordered departure,” the official said. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/12/pompeo-seeks-to-make-baghdad-embassy-pullout-permanent-officials-say-state-department-diplomacy-middle-east-iran-tensions-embassy-drawdown-evacuation/) The embassy still has an estimated thousands of personnel in place, but only a small portion of staff at the embassy work directly on core diplomatic functions, including political officers, economic officers, and public diplomacy officers. The majority are contractors, security personnel, or officials from other federal agencies, including the intelligence community. After the partial evacuation, two officials told Foreign Policy, the embassy has less than 15 State Department officials left working directly on core diplomatic functions.

Newsline: Bahrain recalls ambassador to Iraq over embassy attack

Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Iraq for consultations after demonstrators broke into the courtyard of the kingdom’s embassy in Baghdad and took down the flag to protest a U.S.-led meeting in Bahrain on Israeli-Palestinian peace. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-plan-bahrain/bahrain-recalls-ambassador-to-iraq-over-embassy-attack-statement-idUSKCN1TS36F) “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain condemns the attack on the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the Republic of Iraq by the demonstrators (which) led to sabotage in the embassy building,” said a statement on the ministry’s website.

Newsline: Rocket attack targets U.S. Embassy in Iraq

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was the target of a rocket attack late May 19, days after the Trump White House ordered American diplomatic personnel to pull out of the country. Iraqi military officials confirmed a single Katyusha rocket landed near the parade grounds inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, which is home to the U.S. embassy as well as the main headquarters for the American-led coalition battling the Islamic State. (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/may/19/us-embassy-iraq-targeted-rocket-attack/) But eyewitnesses claim a second rocket also landed inside the Green Zone, according to unconfirmed reports. No casualties were reported and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the first against a U.S. diplomatic post in Iraq since the American mission in the southern port city of Basra was hit last September.

Newsline: State Department orders non-emergency employees to leave Iraq amid Iran tensions

The State Department ordered on May 15 the departure of non-emergency US government employees from Iraq amid increasing tensions with Iran and warned US citizens not to travel to the country, citing a “high risk for violence and kidnapping.” The announcement comes on the heels of an unannounced trip to Iraq by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo where he said he spoke to officials about he country’s ability to protect Americans. The action also represents the latest maneuvering by the Trump administration in the Middle East, where the Pentagon has recently positioned a carrier strike group and a bomber task force. (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/15/politics/state-department-iraq-travel/index.html) The department said in a statement that employees working in the US embassy in Baghdad and the US consulate in Erbil were instructed to leave Iraq, and that “normal visa services will be temporarily suspended at both posts.” It added that American Citizens Services employees who were working in the embassy in Baghdad “will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.” The department said the sudden changes were because the US government’s “ability to provide routine and emergency services to US citizens in Iraq is extremely limited” and that as a result, the threat of “terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict” aimed at Americans in the country was too great a risk.