Staff told to work remotely Sunday amid regional jitters

‘Business as usual’ at consulate and embassy in Iraq, says Dutch deputy consul general

ERBIL — Jort-Pieter Posthumus, the Netherlands’ deputy consul general in Erbil, has clarified reports about the closure of either the Dutch consulate in Erbil or the embassy in Baghdad, telling 964media that diplomatic activities at both facilities are continuing normally. “It is business as usual in both the embassy and the consulate, and no one has left the country,” he confirmed.

Regional tensions have escalated over the past week following an Israeli strike on Iranian military leaders at Tehran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria, with Iran vowing retribution.

The strike targeted the consular annex of the Iranian embassy, adjacent to the Canadian embassy, killing 16 people, including Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, and two civilians. The Canadian embassy building was also damaged.

Late last week, U.S. intelligence officials indicated that an Iranian reprisal attack could be imminent, similar to the warnings issued before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, aimed at preempting and possibly deterring any action.

Despite reports by Dutch news outlet NOS that the Netherlands had closed its embassy in Tehran and the Erbil consulate, Posthumus noted that staff at the Erbil consulate and the Baghdad embassy will continue working remotely. “In light of the recent escalation, we decided that the Erbil staff should work from home on Sunday,” Posthumus said.

A statement from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs read: “The Dutch embassy in Tehran and the consulate in Erbil will remain closed to the public next Sunday as a precaution. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided this due to the escalating tensions between Iran and Israel. The ministry will decide over the course of Sunday whether the respective consular counters will reopen on Monday.”

The consulate is closed to the public, as usual, on Friday and Saturday, which are weekend days in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

Concerns persist that Iranian reprisals could target the Kurdistan Region instead of Israel. “I think it’s no secret that Iranian reprisals are expected; it’s all over the news. Given that the Kurdistan Region has been a target in the past, we do not exclude the possibility of that happening again, although we do not have evidence that it will happen this time,” he added.

Recent Iranian strikes on Erbil have heightened security concerns in the region. In 2022, Iranian ballistic missiles hit several locations, including the residence of Baz Karim Barzinji, a prominent businessman and CEO of the Iraqi-Kurdish oil company KAR Group. These strikes caused substantial material damage and injured at least one civilian.

Another missile attack killed Peshraw Dizeyee, a local entrepreneur and business figure, under the pretext of targeting “Israeli positions.” The Kurdistan Regional Government denies the presence of Israeli intelligence in Erbil. Following the death of Dizeyee and other members of the household, media outlets aligned with Iran posted doctored images of Dizeyee with various Israeli figures, which were quickly debunked by local journalists.

With the region on edge to discover the scope of Iranian responses and the potential for further conflagration, U.S. President Joe Biden issued a stern warning to Iran on Friday over any potential strikes against Israel: “Don’t.”