TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi and U.S. military spokesmen denied on Saturday that U.S. forces were preparing to evacuate hundreds of staff of Lockheed Martin Corp and Sallyport Global from an Iraqi military base where they work as contractors.
Four separate military sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said on Friday the contractors from the two firms had been preparing to leave Balad military base, which hosts U.S. forces some 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, over “potential security threats”, without saying what those threats might be.
One of the military sources and a fifth security source later said the evacuation had been called off early on Saturday after U.S. and Iraqi military personnel assured the companies that safety measures would be stepped up around the base.
Three mortar shells landed on Balad last week, the first of several unclaimed attacks in recent days targeting bases in Iraq hosting U.S. forces and a site used by a U.S. energy firm.
Iraqi and U.S. military spokesmen denied there were any plans for an evacuation in the first place, which the sources disclosed at a time of rising regional tensions between the United States and Iraq’s eastern neighbour Iran.
“There are no plans at this time to evacuate any personnel from Balad … Should there be increased threats to our people, the U.S. Air Force will put measures in place to provide the protections required”, Air Force Colonel Kevin Walker said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement: “The United States is not evacuating personnel from Balad Air Base.”