Philippines prepares to evacuate citizens from Iraq and Iran

President Rodrigo Duterte wants plans to be drawn up amid growing fears of conflict

In this Jan. 5, 2020, handout photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, talks with security officials at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines. Duterte has ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships "at any moment's notice" to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran should hostilities erupt there. (Alfred Frias/Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division via AP)
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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told his country's military to prepare to send its aircraft and ships “at any moment’s notice” to bring thousands of Filipino workers home from Iraq and Iran.

With large groups of workers from other South-East Asian countries also living in the Middle East, several governments may consider making similar decisions due to last Friday’s US air strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said last week it would increase the security of about 1,600 of its citizens in Iraq, where they work mostly on construction sites.

India’s foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said India was not yet planning to tell its citizens to evacuate the region.

Mr Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defence secretary and top military and police officials on Sunday to discuss evacuation plans.

“President Duterte ordered the armed forces of the Philippines to be prepared to deploy military assets to repatriate overseas Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Iraq, at any moment's notice,” Christopher Lawrence Go, a Filipino senator at the meeting, said.

Iran claimed it would retaliate for the strikes and US President Donald Trump said US forces would hit back at 52 Iranian targets if Americans come under attack.

Iraq's parliament has also called for the expulsion of all US troops from Iraqi soil, which some have warned could lead to the revival of ISIS in the country.

Filipino military chief of staff Lt Gen Felimon Santos Jr said the country's forces identified possible evacuation routes not only in Iraq and Iran but other hotspots such as Israel.

“We are improving our plans just to cover everything just in case something happens,” Gen Santos said.

A protester shouts slogans during a rally opposing the recent U.S. attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Manila, Philippines, Monday Jan. 6, 2020. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships "at any moment's notice" to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran should hostilities erupt there. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Filipinos protest in Manila  on January 6, 2020 against the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. AP Photo

There are more than 7,000 Filipino workers and their dependents living in Iraq and Iran, including many who work in foreign facilities and commercial establishments in Baghdad, the Philippines Department of National Defence said.