The Times quoted unnamed military sources as saying Tuesday that the UK Ministry of Defence had sent around 20 senior military planners and liaison officers to the British embassy in Baghdad to help with the evacuation of Britons amid concerns over Tehran’s retaliation following the US airstrike that killed top Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani.
The sources said that the team will deal with elaborating routes for quickly withdrawing UK soldiers, as well as diplomats and other civilians from Iraq if necessary.
Additionally, the Defence Ministry plans to formally warn UK ships not to enter the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, where the HMS Montrose and HMS Defender have already been deployed to protect British-flagged vessels.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed that the government had ordered the vessels “to take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time”.
The arrival of the UK military planners comes after about 50 members of the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) and the Royal Navy’s Special Boat Service (SBS) were reportedly sent to Iraq late last week to also deal with a possible evacuation of British nationals.
Right now, there are approximately 1,400 UK military and government civilian personnel in Iraq as part of ongoing Operation Shader, to grapple with Daesh* militants.
The sources said that the risk of a retaliatory attack from Iran will increase on Tuesday after three days of national mourning to commemorate the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, who was killed in the early hours of Friday in a US drone strike on Baghdad International Airport ordered by President Donald Trump.
General Soleimani's Assassination
Tehran declared the killing of Soleimani an act of state terrorism, as President Hassan Rouhani vowed that Iran would avenge the General’s death. Neighbouring Iraq condemned the attack as a violation of its sovereignty, with the national parliament voting to boot out foreign troops from the country.
Trump, for his part, threatened to hit Iran "very fast and very hard" if it retaliates, warning that he may slap Iraq with "sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever”.
*Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State), a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries