The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks inherent in travel to Iraq and recommends against all but essential travel within the country given the fluid security situation. Numerous insurgent groups remain active throughout Iraq. Although Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)-led operations against these groups continue, attacks against the ISF and U.S. forces persist in many areas of the country. Turkish government forces have carried out operations against elements of the Kongra-Gel terrorist group (KGK, formerly Kurdistan Worker's Party or PKK) located along Iraq's northern border. Civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated June 15, 2009, to update the status of U.S. military operations in Iraq, territorial control by Iraqi authorities, and incidents along Iraqi borders.
Iraq Remains Dangerous and Unpredictable
While some regions within Iraq have experienced fewer violent incidents than others in recent years, violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions, including explosions, kidnappings, and other terrorist and criminal attacks. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the International (or "Green") Zone and northern Iraq. Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mortars and rockets, human- and vehicle-borne IEDs, and shootings. Kidnappings still occur; the most recent confirmed kidnapping of an American citizen reported to the U.S. Embassy occurred in January 2010 in Baghdad. While sectarian and terrorist violence continues, it occurs at levels lower than in previous years. U.S. Government personnel require special permission and a protective security detail at all times when traveling outside of secure facilities and may be prohibited from traveling to certain areas of Iraq based on prevailing security conditions. Detailed security information is available at the Iraqi Embassy website and at the U.S. Central Command website.
Drawdown of U.S. Military Forces
In mid-2009, U.S. military combat forces withdrew from all major Iraqi cities, including Baghdad. Under current plans, the United States will reduce the number of U.S. military forces in Iraq and end combat operations there by August 2010 and complete withdrawal of military forces by the end of 2011.
Transportation to/from and within Iraq
Travelers choosing to utilize commercial carriers to enter or depart Iraq should be aware that, although there have been no recent attacks on civilian aircraft, the potential threat still exists, as does a high risk to road travelers as described above. U.S. Government personnel, with limited exceptions, are generally required to use U.S. military or other official aircraft when entering or departing Iraq. There have been no recent security-related incidents associated with civilian airport operations. Embassy employees, including those resident in northern Iraq, may seek authorization, and under special limited circumstances, obtain permission to use commercial airlines and civilian airports when entering or departing Iraq. Civilians, including tourists, business people, and temporary residents should recognize the risks associated with air travel to Iraq and follow the security policies of their agencies, companies and sponsors. All travelers to Iraq should possess an Iraqi visa issued by the national government. Entry permits issued in the northern Kurdish region are not valid in other areas of Iraq. The Embassy has received reports of American travelers arriving in Iraq with properly issued Federal Iraq visas, but nonetheless being denied entry into the country.
The security situation in Sulymaniya, Erbil, and Dohuk Governorates in northern Iraq has been more stable relative to the rest of Iraq in recent years, but violence persists. U.S. government personnel in northern Iraq are required to be accompanied by a protective security detail when traveling outside of secure facilities. Even though there have been fewer terrorist attacks and lower levels of insurgent violence in Sulymaniya, Erbil, and Dohuk than in other parts of Iraq, the security situation throughout the country remains fluid. Sectarian violence associated with the status of Kirkuk is likely to persist and insurgent groups continue to operate across the north. While many parts of northern Iraq have become more stable, some areas, including the border areas with Ninewah, Salah-al-Din, Diyala and Tamim Governorates, particularly those in and around Kirkuk and Mosul, have experienced violence and instability. Additionally, extensive unmarked minefields remain along the international border. The Governments of Turkey and Iran continue to carry out military operations against insurgent groups in the mountain regions. These operations have included troop movements and both aerial and artillery bombardments.
International Zone Restrictions
The U.S. Embassy is located in the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad. The IZ is a restricted access area. As of June 30, 2009, Iraqi authorities assumed responsibility for control of the IZ. Travelers to the IZ should be aware that Iraqi authorities may require special identification to enter the IZ or may issue IZ-specific access badges.
The U.S. Government considers the potential threat to U.S. Government personnel assigned to Iraq to be sufficiently serious so as to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Ambassador must travel in groups of two or more and carry a working cell phone or radio when exiting the U.S. Embassy compound.
Information received by the U.S. government indicates that some terrorist or extremist groups continue to target U.S. citizens for possible kidnappings. Individuals residing and traveling within the International Zone should continue to exercise good personal safety precautions.
Limited Emergency Support to American Citizens
The U.S. Embassy provides limited visa services to the general public and provides restricted emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq. The ability of the U.S. Embassy to provide services to Americans outside of Baghdad is particularly restricted given the security environment. The United States does not maintain any consulates in Iraq. American citizens who choose to visit or reside in Iraq despite this Travel Warning are urged to take responsibility for their own personal security and belongings (including their U.S. passports), avoid crowds, especially rallies or demonstrations, and inform the U.S. Embassy of their presence in Iraq. All Americans in Iraq, including those working on contract for the U.S. Government, are urged to register with the Embassy at the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to provide updated security information or to contact them in emergencies.
U.S. citizens may obtain the latest security information or other information about Iraq by contacting the U.S. Embassy, located in the International Zone, via email, landline at U.S. dial 1-240-553-0581 ext. 2998, or by accessing the U.S. Embassy Baghdad's website. The after-hours emergency numbers are 011-964-770-443-2594 (from the U.S.) or 964-0770-443-2594 (within Iraq). As cell phone service is unreliable in Iraq, emergency calls may also be placed though the Department of State at 1-888-407-4747.
Updated information on travel and security in Iraq may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers from other areas, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. For further information, please consult the Country Specific Information for Iraq, as well as the Worldwide Caution, both of which are available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.