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Pompeo postpones Ukraine trip due to situation in Iraq

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The US military is deploying additional troops to the Middle East following protests at the US embassy in Baghdad. Approximately 750 soldiers have been deployed to the region as a precautionary action, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement. CNN's Ryan Browne has more.

Posted: Jan 1, 2020 1:40 PM
Updated: Jan 1, 2020 1:40 PM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo postponed a planned trip to Ukraine to deal with the ongoing developments out of Baghdad, the State Department announced Wednesday.

"Secretary Pompeo must postpone his visit to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Cyprus due to the need for the Secretary to be in Washington, D.C., to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq and ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. "Secretary Pompeo's trip will be rescheduled in the near future and he looks forward to the visit at that time."

Following a second day of protests, a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday that "the situation around Embassy Baghdad has improved," but that efforts by Iraqi government security forces "to clear militia members from the area immediately surrounding the embassy continue."

"As of Wednesday evening, most individuals have left the immediate area," the spokesperson said. "Though the situation around the Embassy perimeter has calmed significantly, post-security posture remains heightened."

Iraqi security forces regained control of the area around the US Embassy on Wednesday after paramilitary groups asked their supporters to "withdraw." A spokesperson for Kataib Hezbollah told CNN, "We have issued the order for everyone to withdraw, because America should have received our message."

The embassy announced Wednesday that all public consular services had been suspended "until further notice."

"Due to militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. All future appointments are cancelled. U.S. citizens are advised to not approach the Embassy," the embassy said in a statement posted on its website. The State Department has long warned US citizens against traveling to Iraq "due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict."

On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad in response to US airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia, in Syria and Iraq. Administration officials and lawmakers blamed Iran for instigating the protests, in which demonstrators scaled the walls and forced the gates of the American compound. The embassy was placed under lockdown but was not evacuated, an embassy official said, and a State Department spokesperson insisted that "there has been no breach."

President Donald Trump warned Tuesday evening that "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities." Officials stressed their commitment to the safety of US personnel in Baghdad, and additional forces were deployed for protection.

Pompeo was slated to travel later this week to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Cyprus. His first stop was expected to be in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where he would have been the first administration official to visit since Trump's impeachment by the House. Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as the foreign minister, defense minister and members of civil society and the business community during that visit, the State Department said Monday.

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