US congressional committee urges Baghdad Embassy to resume consular operations
The US House of Foreign Affairs Committee has issued an open letter posted on Thursday calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to resume consular affairs at the American Embassy in Baghdad and deal with a huge visa backlog.
“We are troubled that this suspension, which has been in place since January 1, 2020, has resulted in a tremendous case backlog, and in some instances has prolonged the separation of American families and forced them to make harrowing choices,” the letter signed on Wednesday read.
The US embassy announced on January 3, 2020 that all public consular services were suspended until further notice, due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the embassy compound. US citizens were instructed to avoid the embassy and advised to “depart Iraq immediately.”
The consulate in Erbil remained open for American citizen services, according to the embassy’s statement, but it is only available for emergency consular services.
The House of Foreign Affairs Committee warned thousands of Iraqis who worked with US diplomats and the military were “subject to consistent threats and violence by extremist groups in Iraq” and may be eligible to immigrate to the US.
“As of this April, over 106,000 Iraqis that qualify for the P2 Direct Access Program (DAP) due to their work for the US remain in processing without final determinations on visa status or resettlement,” the committee noted in their statement.
The Foreign Affairs Committee noted there were barriers that prevented some people from travelling to Erbil or transferring to another embassy.
Groups of protesters set fire to the blast walls surrounding the sprawling US embassy compound on December 31, 2019 while thousands of militia members and their supporters marched through the streets of Baghdad in funeral processions for their 25 comrades killed by US airstrikes days earlier.
US forces conducted airstrikes on five locations belonging to Kataib Hezbollah, a Shiite militia force backed by Iran, on December 29.
The US said the strikes were carried out as retaliation for the December 27 attack on K-1 base near Kirkuk which killed a US contractor, four American and two Iraqi soldiers.
Rocket attacks on foreign military and diplomatic sites in Iraq are frequent, especially since Washington’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi).
While noting the importance of the safety of the US embassy’s personnel, the committee said it believed the State Department “should move forward with plans to address any physical facilities, upgrades or revisions, and surge capacity to work through the growing visa processing case backlog expeditiously.”