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Britons warned over Middle East travel amid rising tensions between US and Iran

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the updated advice was issued due to ‘heightened tensions in the region’

General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US air strike (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US air strike (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

The Foreign Office has strengthened its warnings over travel to Middle East nations amid the ratcheting of tensions in the wake of the US’s drone strike on a top Iranian general.

British nationals are advised not to travel to Iraq, apart from essential travel to its Kurdistan Region, while all but essential travel to Iran is warned against.

The guidance was bolstered on Saturday after the United States announced it was sending nearly 3,000 extra troops to the region after Donald Trump authorised the killing of General Qassem Soleimani.

The FCO now advise against all travel to #Iraq, except for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where the FCO continue to advise against all but essential travel. Read more: http://ow.ly/Qg0z50xN1Hr

Posted by FCO travel - travel advice from the Foreign Office on Saturday, January 4, 2020

Thousands of mourners chanting “death to America” took to the streets of Baghdad, where the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force was targeted at the capital’s international airport a day earlier.

Labour’s John McDonnell condemned the Government’s response to “this act of aggression, this escalation towards war” when he joined protesters outside Downing Street.

The shadow chancellor told the crowd with the Stop the War Coalition: “It was acts like this that led us to the catastrophic war in Iraq.

“It’s so (easy) to happen as a result of the foreign policy of aggressive imperialism that the US now has resorted to yet again under Donald Trump.

“And it’s not good enough for the UK Government just to appeal for a de-escalation, what we expect the UK Government to do is to come out in total and outright condemnation of this act of violence.”

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Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told a Stop the War Coalition protest that the UK Government should condemn the killing (Yui Mok/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been celebrating the new year with partner Carrie Symonds on the private Caribbean island of Mustique and has not commented on the general’s killing. He is expected to return to the UK early on Sunday.

The Foreign Office warned that anyone in Iraq outside the Kurdistan Region should consider leaving by commercial means because the “uncertain” security situation “could deteriorate quickly”.

Alerts regarding other Middle East nations were also being increased, with calls for citizens to “remain vigilant” in nations including Afghanistan, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Untied Arab Emirates.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the updated advice was issued due to “heightened tensions in the region” and would be kept under review.

“The first job of any Government is to keep British people safe,” he added.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets the family of Qassem Soleimani (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The US president said he ordered the killing to prevent a conflict, but Tehran has vowed harsh retaliation – raising fears of an all-out war.

An American official denied the nation was behind a second deadly air strike on two vehicles being reported north of Baghdad.

Soleimani masterminded Tehran’s regional security strategy, including the war against the Islamic State terror group, and was blamed for attacks on US and allied troops.

Mr Trump continued with his rhetoric despite widespread calls for calm, saying that Soleimani’s “reign of terror is over” and describing him as having a “sick passion” for killing.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt described an “incredibly dangerous game of chicken” between the US and Iran, which have simmered since Mr Trump tore up a nuclear deal between the nations

Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the tensions created a “very difficult situation” for the UK as an ally of the US, adding Britain “cannot afford to be neutral”.

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A protester at the Stop the War Coalition event wears a Donald Trump mask (Yui Mok/PA)

But he added: “This is a very, very risky situation, and I think the job that we have to do as one of the US’s closest allies is to use our influence to argue for more consistent US policy.”

There has been criticism of the US for not giving advanced notice of the attack to the UK, which has hundreds of troops deployed in Iraq.

Mr Hunt said the failure to notify was “regrettable” because allies should ensure “there are no surprises in the relationship”.

Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the Prime Minister calling for an urgent meeting of the Privy Council, the group that advises monarchs.

The outgoing Labour leader wanted to know if the “assassination” had heightened the terror risk to the UK and whether the Government had been informed of the decision to strike.

He had earlier called on ministers to stand up to the US’s “belligerent actions and rhetoric” and “urge restraint” from both aggressors.

PA

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