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Philippines orders citizens in Iraq to leave after Iran attacks US forces

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MANILA (Reuters) — The Philippines has ordered its citizens to leave Iraq, the Philippine foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after Iran attacked U.S. forces there in response to a U.S. strike that killed an Iranian general last week.

“The alert level in the entire Iraq has been raised to alert level 4 calling for mandatory evacuation,” said Eduardo Menez, spokesman at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The department said there are 1,600 Filipinos working in Iraq, more than half in the Kurdistan region and the rest at U.S. and other foreign facilities in Baghdad and in commercial establishments in Erbil.

A Philippine coastguard patrol vessel, newly acquired from France and en route to the Philippines, was ordered to sail to Oman and Dubai to assist Filipinos who may need to be extricated.

“Overseas Filipino workers will be brought to safer ports where there may be airlifted, as the need arises,” the coastguard said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who heads a newly created committee to prepare the evacuations, said on Tuesday the government was preparing aircraft for Filipinos in Iraq and Iran who wished to come home or move to safer areas.

About 2.3 million people from the Philippines are working in the Middle East as domestic helpers, construction workers, engineers and nurses.

They sent home $5.4 billion in remittances in January to October last year, accounting for a fifth of total remittances for that period, making the region a major source of foreign exchange inflows which help drive growth in the consumption-led Philippine economy.

Iran’s missile attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq came in the early hours of Wednesday, hours after the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.

There has been no confirmation of any casualties in the missile attacks.

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