Duterte orders evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq
The Southeast Asian state's coast guard said it is sending a vessel to the Middle East to ferry its citizens to safety in case hostilities between the United States and Iran worsen.
The move comes after Iran launched a barrage of rockets that hit two Iraq bases housing US troops, a retaliation for the killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said the government has raised the alert level in Iraq to the highest level, requiring Filipinos to leave the country due to escalating security risks.
Filipinos can leave on their own or escorted out with the help of their employers or the Philippine government.
Duterte said late on Tuesday that he has deployed a special envoy to get assurance from the leaders of Iraq and Iran that Filipinos would be spared in case of any major outbreak of violence.
“Just to get the assurance that my countrymen will have the egress just in case hell breaks loose,” Duterte told reporters.
Philippine officials were finalising details of evacuation plans in the increasingly tense Middle East but Manila’s coast guard said a new patrol vessel on its way to the Philippines from France has instead been ordered to head to the Middle East in case Filipino workers need to be immediately extricated from any danger.
The vessel can ferry up to 500 people at any time.
“In case of conflict, overseas Filipino workers will be brought to safer ports where they may be airlifted, as the need arises,” the coast guard said, adding the Philippine vessel may temporarily dock in Oman or Dubai.
The estimated 7,000 workers in Iran and Iraq are a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are employed in countries lining the Persian Gulf.
Escalation of conflict
“Tens of missiles” were launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which confirmed an attack on Ain Al-Assad Airbase and a military base in Erbil, just days after the killing of Soleimani.
“The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on Al Assad military base in the name of the martyr Gen. Qasem Soleimani,” an IRGC statement said, according to state-run Press TV.
The Pentagon also confirmed the attack.
"At approximately 5.30 pm (2230 GMT) on January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq," Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
"It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Erbil."
There are no reported US casualties and Trump took to Twitter in the earlier hours of Wednesday morning to let people know “all is well.”
“So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”
The Iraq army said there were no Iraqi casualties.