US military denies contractors to be evacuated from Iraq air base

Security measures have been stepped up at one of Iraq's largest air bases

In this February 13, 2018 file photo, an Iraqi army soldier stands guard near a US-made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base, Iraq. AP
In this February 13, 2018 file photo, an Iraqi army soldier stands guard near a US-made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base, Iraq. AP

The US military denied on Saturday that it was to evacuate contractors from one of Iraq's largest air bases

Col. Kevin Walker, US Air Forces Central Command Director of Force Protection, refuted the reports of evacuations plans at Balad air base, located north of Baghdad, in a statement.

"Operations at Balad Air Base are continuing as normal. Claims that personnel are being evacuated are categorically false. There are no plans at this time to evacuate any personnel from Balad," he said.

"The safety and security of all Air Force personnel and those that provide services to the US Air Force are constantly evaluated, and should there be increased threats to our people, the US Air Force will put measures in place to provide the protections required."

Instead, security measures were increased at the base that houses American trainers following a rocket attack last week.

The new measures come amid sharply rising tensions in the Middle East between the United States and Iran.

The current regional crisis is rooted in the US withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Washington subsequently re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall and cutting deeply into its oil exports.

General Falah Fares told The Associated Press by telephone that the measures include a night-time curfew, boosting security inside and near the base as well as surveillance of nearby areas. He said these measures are being carried out in coordination with the US.

"All unnecessary movements have been reduced," Gen Fares said, adding that the curfew now lasts from sunset until sunrise. He said the change was made after Balad air base, home to a squadron of Iraqi F-16 fighter jets, was hit with three mortar shells last week without inflicting casualties. The curfew had previously been from midnight to sunrise, he said.

Elsewhere in the Iraqi capital, a bomb blast killed seven people at a Shiite Muslim mosque in eastern Baghdad on Friday and wounded more than 20, police sources told Reuters.

The explosion took place in the Baladiyat neighbourhood. A senior police source said that either a suicide belt or improvised explosive device had been used in the attack, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The source said the death toll was expected to rise with many of those wounded in serious condition.

It was a rare attack on a Shi'ite place of worship in the Iraqi capital.

Updated: June 22, 2019 04:59 PM

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