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Australia cuts embassy staff in Iraq

Australia is following the United States and evacuating embassy staff from strife-torn Iraq, officials said Monday.

SYDNEY: Australia is following the United States and evacuating embassy staff from strife-torn Iraq, officials said Monday.

"Due to the deteriorating security situation, a number of Australian officials have been withdrawn from Baghdad," the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

"The Australian Embassy remains open with reduced staffing levels," it said without providing figures.

"Australians in Iraq should depart immediately while commercial flights continue to operate."

Iraq said Sunday it had started to drive back fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as grisly reports emerged of atrocities committed during their lightning offensive south towards Baghdad.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said an "essential core" of embassy staff will remain in Baghdad.

"Due to the very challenging security environment we are unlikely to be able to provide the level of consular assistance that might be expected," she told ABC radio on Monday.

"But we certainly strongly support the Iraqi government's ongoing efforts to counter this terrorism that's taking place within its borders."

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