The US State Department on Wednesday ordered all non-emergency government employees in Iraq to leave the country soon.

“The US State Department has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil,” the US embassy in Baghdad said in a statement. “Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended.” The statement also urged people to leave by commercial transportation soon and to avoid US facilities within Iraq.

The decision to withdraw non-emergency staff was based on a security assessment, an unidentified US State Department spokesman told Reuters.

A State Department travel advisory, put out on Wednesday, urged Americans to not travel to Iraq as US citizens were “at high risk for violence and kidnapping”. It cited “terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict” as other reasons.

The withdrawal of employees came amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, the latest sign of which was America’s decision to deploy a Patriot air defence missile system and a warship to West Asia. This deployment was in response to indications of “heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces”, the US had said last week.

In 2018, United States President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a nuclear deal between America and other countries with Iran. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran had agreed to limit sensitive nuclear activities and allow international inspectors in return for relief from sanctions.

On May 9, Trump announced a new set of sanctions on Iranian metals. Trump’s order came the day Iran announced that it had ceased to implement some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. In April, the US had also blacklisted the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran and designated it a foreign terrorist group. Trump has also stepped up sanctions pressure by ending waivers for 8 countries, including India, to purchase Iranian oil. This was part of Trump’s efforts to disrupt Iran’s terror network.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week said that the administration had received intelligence that Iranian forces are “escalating their activity” and said the threat of attacks were “very specific.”

National Security Advisor John Bolton had warned Iran that Washington would respond with “unrelenting force” to any attack by Tehran, including by its regional allies.