The U.S. Embassy in Iraq confirmed Wednesday the State Department has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff to leave the country immediately as tensions with neighbouring Iran increase.

Employees from both the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil will be affected by the order.

The alert, published on the embassy website, comes after Washington last week said it had detected new and urgent threats from Iran and its proxy forces in the region targeting Americans and American interests.

On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing “heightened tensions.”

Referring to the embassy and the U.S. consulate in Erbil, the statement from the embassy said “normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended”.

It added: “The US government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in Iraq.”

The statement recommended those affected “depart by commercial transportation as soon as possible.”

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the decision to withdraw non-emergency staff in Iraq was based on a security assessment, but would not give details on how many personnel were leaving.

“Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority and we are confident in the Iraqi security services’ (ability) to protect us,” he said.

“But this threat is serious and we want to reduce the risk of harm.”

Despite the growing local tensions, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly argued for avoiding long-term conflicts in the Middle East.

On Tuesday he discounted a New York Times report that the U.S. has updated plans that could send up to 120,000 troops to counter Iran if it attacked American forces.

“I think it’s fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” the president told reporters on the White House’s South Lawn ahead of his trip to Louisiana.

Reinforcing Trump’s denial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a joint news conference in Sochi with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “We fundamentally do not seek war with Iran.”

AP contributed to this report

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