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Iraq 2018 Crime & Safety Report: Baghdad

Near East > Iraq; Near East > Iraq > Baghdad

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Iraq has been assessed as Level 4: Do Not Travel. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Baghdad does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Baghdad as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

The in-country fighting between the Government of Iraq (GOI) and ISIS has negatively affected the economy of Iraq, and street and organized crime appears to have increased commensurately. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have recaptured all territory held by ISIS and, in December 2017, the GOI declared ISIS defeated. However, large swaths of northern and western Iraq lay in ruins from the extensive fighting. The lack of secure transportation, disruption in public services and local governance, and a decrease in international oil prices since 2014 have severely impacted Iraq’s economy. 

Crime statistics and reporting mechanisms are incomplete and inconsistent within Iraqi law enforcement and security forces. What information is available, however, suggests street and organized crime is a serious and continuing threat.

Other Areas of Concern

The U.S. government considers the potential threat to diplomatic personnel in Iraq serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Chief of Mission follow strict security procedures when traveling outside U.S. facilities. The vast majority of individuals under contract with or employed by the U.S. government in Iraq must adhere to strict safety and security procedures when travelling outside official U.S. facilities in Baghdad. Many U.S. and third-country nationals travel throughout Iraq for business. These movements often require security advisors and protective security teams, and operate under restricted conditions. An augmented security posture, which may include protective details and armored vehicles, dramatically reduces potential criminal victimization. The Department of State advises U.S. businesses in Iraq to use protective security teams to mitigate risk to their employees. Detailed security information is available on the U.S. Embassy website.

The International Zone (IZ) is a restricted access area under the control of Iraqi authorities who enforce a midnight curfew. Travelers must obtain permission to enter the IZ from Iraqi authorities, and, in most cases, a special IZ identification badge is required. Vehicles entering the IZ should expect to be searched. Although a restricted area, individuals residing and traveling within the IZ should continue to exercise common sense personal safety precautions, such as varying times and routes.

Given recent events in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, all travel to areas near the Iraqi security forces-Kurdish Regional Government (ISF-KRG) front lines should be done with an abundance of caution. ISF and KRG security forces along the dividing lines have entrenched military positions, and while political negotiations to resolve outstanding issues between the GOI and KRG continue, the potential for sudden military clashes remains high.

The Embassy recommends individuals living or traveling in Iraq use protective details to limit potential terrorist and criminal threats. Travelers should utilize all available security and life safety assets to minimize potential threats posed by terrorists and/or criminals to include armored vehicles, back-up communications systems, and personal protective equipment to include medical kits. Individuals should vary routes and times of travel, as well as locations and arrival times to avoid becoming predictable. Maintain a low profile. Americans should not travel alone in Iraq. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Roads are generally well constructed and roadway conditions are reasonably good. Urban roads are mostly constructed of asphalt while rural roads are typically dirt and gravel. Flooding is common in the winter and may impact driving conditions as many roads lack proper drainage systems. 

Dense urban populations, compounded by vehicle security checkpoints, can cause significant traffic congestion. In addition to the numerous government security checkpoints throughout Baghdad, improvised checkpoints that appear without notice further impact normal traffic patterns.

Public Transportation Conditions

Baghdad city transit vehicles are poorly maintained. City buses do not adhere to published schedules, and irregularly and frequently change routes. Long-distance buses are available, but like city transit vehicles are in poor condition and often drive at unsafe speeds. High speeds and poorly maintained equipment are often the cause of accidents. The Iraqi train infrastructure is largely inadequate.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Baghdad as being a CRITICAL-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Foreign and indigenous terrorist groups remain capable of conducting deadly attacks throughout the country and continue to be a threat to expatriate personnel and visitors. 

Since August 2014, ISIS has been responsible for the majority of terrorist incidents and attacks in Iraq. According to the UN, ISIS killed more than 3,000 civilians and injured more than 4,600 others in 2017 alone. While victory over ISIS was declared in December 2017, the GOI anticipates that remaining ISIS fighters will go underground and form insurgent cells throughout Iraq. These cells are expected to conduct high profile attacks on ISF personnel, GOI installations, and other soft targets in major population centers.

  • On January 13, 2018, a suicide vest (SVEST) attack occurred against an ISF checkpoint in Baghdad resulting in over 12 casualties. Two days later, twin SVEST attacks killed over 36 civilians in central Baghdad. The attacks targeted Iraqi day laborers as they gathered in search of work. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks in the following days. 

Similar attacks throughout Iraq are expected to continue, especially as the May 12 national elections draw closer. These attacks seek to undermine the GOI’s capability to provide security for Iraqi civilians.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Anti-American/anti-western sentiment continues throughout Iraq. These sentiments are seen in print, television, social media, and in a variety of Shia Militia Groups (SMGs) political and rhetorical platforms. Additionally, should the overall political climate change, or if SMGs are pressured/influenced by malign regional actors, SMGs could pose a considerable threat against American and other Western interests.

The threat of kidnapping, rocket attack, or the use of improvised explosive devices, and small-arms fire against official and private U.S. interests remains high and is subject to the influence of domestic, regional, and international developments. Iranian-backed Shia militias, such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), and Muqtada al Sadr’s nationalistic Peace Brigades Militia, have targeted U.S. interests. There are reports of SMGs kidnapping locals, foreign workers, and members of international organizations and demanding ransoms from either their families or their employers. Again, a number of SMGs remain hostile to U.S. interests and continue to pose a considerable potential threat, as either organized groups or individually as “rogue” elements that may take independent action.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Baghdad as being a CRITICAL-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

The May 12 elections themselves may result in violence between the various political factions. Election results may also not be universally accepted, and the possibility for mass demonstrations and protests remains high, especially in Baghdad. 

Civil Unrest

Political violence in the form of protests occurs throughout Iraq, especially in Baghdad and the southern provinces. Protests are held for a variety of reasons: work conditions and wages, regional sectarian divisions, complaints about the provision of services, and political corruption. While protests are generally non-violent, some have resulted in property damage, injuries, and deaths. In Baghdad, weekly Friday protests at Tahrir Square are common. Many of these demonstrations are organized by al-Sadr supporters. In 2016, protesters illegally pushed their way into the IZ, and stormed the Parliament building.

Civil unrest continues and can occur at any time. Religious and political rallies attract thousands of participants. Most protests are peaceful and focus on internal political and/or economic factors. Political and religious marches and rallies have also been a target for ISIS in the recent past.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Incidents of ethnic and sectarian violence remain frequent in Iraq. The majority of these events occur in mixed-sect neighborhoods.

Movement throughout the country can be restricted due to pilgrimages, which occur throughout the year, primarily to Shia holy sites.

Post- specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Iraq’s environment is harsh. Temperatures in Baghdad can fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, and exceed 100 degrees during the summer.

Dust storms, which can reduce visibility and impede movement of aircraft, occur frequently during the spring.

Heavy fog often lasting for hours is common during the winter.

Earthquakes can occur. A 7.3 magnitude earthquake near the Iraq-Iran border in November 2017 killed hundreds and was felt as far as Baghdad. In mid-January, a series of magnitude five earthquakes again occurred along the Iraq-Iran border.

Critical Infrastructure

The Mosul Dam is a major concern. A failure or breach in the dam could result in a major humanitarian catastrophe for the country.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings for political or monetary gain are common throughout Iraq, and the threat posed by ISIS and SMGs is high. ISIS continues to use kidnapping as a method to fund their terrorist operations, as well as a bargaining method to demand concessions from the GOI. In Baghdad, the kidnapping threat is almost exclusively from SMGs who may use it as a method to undermine American diplomatic, military, and economic objectives in Iraq, or from criminal groups targeting individuals perceived to be wealthy.

Police Response

Police and military units have the ability to respond to security incidents, terrorist attacks, and criminal activities but response times and the capabilities of responding units vary considerably. Iraqi police do not meet U.S. or Western standards. Iraqi security forces maintain a large presence in most major urban areas to limit potential terrorist, insurgent, and militia activity. Military checkpoints and security stations are manned at all times, and temporary checkpoints are often set up without advance notice.

Visitors and expatriates should have proper identification to avoid harassment and delays at checkpoints.

Anyone operating in Iraq is subject to Iraqi law. Visitors and expatriates should avoid unauthorized photography. Photos of ISF personnel and checkpoints are strictly prohibited. Iraqi military personnel may confiscate equipment and temporarily detain individuals taking unauthorized photographs. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Do’s and Don'ts for Photography.”

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Visitors and expatriates should cooperate with instructions if approached by Iraqi security personnel. The Embassy is limited in the assistance it can provide in the event of police detention or harassment. If detained by Iraqi police or security forces, contact the Embassy as soon as possible or request police contact the Embassy on your behalf.

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of crime should notify the U.S. Embassy by contacting American Citizen Services (ACS) via e-mail to BaghdadACS@state.gov or via phone at 0770-443-1286 (from Iraq) or 011-964-770-443-1286 (from the United States) or (301) 985-8841 ext.4888. For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

Responsibility for routine policing functions falls under the Ministry of Interior (MOI). In recent years, the Iraqi Federal Police have transformed into a paramilitary security force used to combat ISIS, with less emphasis on law enforcement. With ISIS defeated on the battlefield, the Federal Police will likely focus predominately on law enforcement with a small elite unit within the Federal Office of Police (FEDPOL) charged with counter-terrorism responsibilities. 

Medical Emergencies

Most hospitals and emergency medical services do not meet U.S. standards. Local hospitals have substandard staffing, equipment, and may not carry basic medicines. Individuals associated with private businesses in Iraq are ultimately responsible for arranging their own medical care. Iraqi hospitals should be utilized only as a contingency for urgent life or death emergencies.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

A list of doctors and hospitals can be obtained from American Citizen Services (ACS) by e-mailing BaghdadACS@state.gov. For security reasons, the names of organizations and individuals are not posted on the Embassy’s American Citizen Services website.

Insurance Guidance

Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated where adequate medical attention is available. Such “medevac” services are very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance which covers medevac services, or who are able to pay for the service in advance. The cost for medical evacuation may range from U.S. $40,000 to $200,000.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Iraq.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Embassy has an active OSAC Country Council, which meets bi-annually. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy is located in the International Zone in Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris River.

U.S. Embassy – Baghdad

Al Kindi Street

Baghdad, Iraq

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: 0760-030-3000

Callers after regular business hours will receive recorded instructions in English and Arabic for further assistance.

Consular Affairs (American Citizen Services 24-Hour Emergency Line): 0770-443-1285 (from Iraq) or 011-964-770-443-1285 (from the U.S.) or BaghdadACS@state.gov.

Website: https://iq.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate Basrah: https://iq.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/basrah/

Consulate Erbil: https://iq.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/erbil/

Embassy Guidance

Please note that the Embassy does not accept any phone calls regarding visas or passport applications. For questions regarding visas and passports, the Embassy ONLY accept inquiries by e-mail. Please use the appropriate Consular Section email addresses for all such inquiries: Tourist and Business Visas BaghdadNIV@state.gov; Immigrant Visas BaghdadIV@state.gov; Passports and Special Citizen Services BaghdadACS@state.gov.

If you are going to reside in or visit Iraq, please take the time to tell the Embassy about your presence in-country. U.S. citizens traveling to Iraq should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices. If you enroll – and it is strongly recommended – the Embassy can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements, and maintain awareness of your presence on-the-ground. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Iraq Country Information Sheet
Current travel alerts and advisory