Middle East

US forces prepare to evacuate contractors from Iraqi base

US forces are preparing to evacuate hundreds of staff working for Lockheed Martin Corp and Sallyport Global from an Iraqi military base where they work as contractors, three Iraqi military sources said on Friday.

Nearly 400 contractors from the two firms were getting ready to leave Balad military base, which hosts US forces some 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, over "potential security threats." Their departure was imminent, the sources said.

The sources did not give any details about the security threats.

The sprawling Balad base was hit by three mortar shells last week. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US military informed Iraqi officials that they would begin evacuating about half of the 800 employees who work for both companies at Balad, said a military official with knowledge of the base's daily operations.

The official said the evacuation would take about 10 days.

Two other military sources said the evacuation would take place in two stages and would be carried out by military aircraft.

"Americans informed us that they will only keep limited, necessary staff who work closely on the maintenance of Iraqi F-16 war planes." Lockheed Martin began delivering the first F-16s to Iraq in 2014.

The sources said the evacuation could start at any moment.

Two other Iraqi bases hosting US forces have been hit by rockets in the past week in unclaimed attacks.

On Wednesday, a rocket attack hit near a site used by US energy company Exxon Mobil near the southern city of Basra.

ALSO READ: Mortar attack on Iraqi base home to US troops, no casualties

Local officials blamed Iran-backed militias for the Basra incident. Iran has not commented on the Iraq incidents but has strongly rejected accusations by Washington that it was behind several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in recent weeks.

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