MANILA — The Philippines will send soldiers to help repatriate Filipinos from Iraq, where the killing of an Iranian general in a US drone strike stoked fresh tensions, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday.
A military ship, air assets and 2 battalions of soldiers will be part of the humanitarian mission, Lorenzana said, hours after the Philippine Embassy in Iraq raised the highest crisis alert level there, which mandates the evacuation of Filipinos.
"Hindi sila magpunta dun para makipaglaban," he said of the deployment.
"Baka magkabiglang magkaroon talaga ng crisis dun eh, we have to go there immediately," he added.
(They will not go there to fight. There could be a sudden crisis there, we have to go there immediately.)
Iraq hosts some 1,600 Filipinos, said the Defense chief.
Authorities will consult Filipinos on whether they want to evacuate to the Philippines or neighboring Middle East states as some might have families that they cannot uproot or jobs they wish to return to, said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
"We have to respect kung ano 'yung gusto nila especially kung Iranian or Iraqi citizens 'yung kanilang spouses… But we have to make sure that they are also safe," he said in a separate press conference.
(We have to respect what they want especially if their spouses are Iranian or Iraqi citizens.)
Manila still needs to get diplomatic clearance and is ironing out rules of engagement with Baghdad to ensure that Philippine troops will not be attacked, said Lorenzana.
In response to last week's killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, Tehran on Wednesday fired "more than a dozen" ballistic missiles against 2 air bases in Iraq where US and coalition forces are based, the Pentagon said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties at the bases.
The attacks came after pro-Tehran factions in Iraq had vowed to "respond" to a US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi military network, was killed in the US drone strike alongside Soleiman, seen as the "godfather" of Tehran's proxy network across the region.
— With reports from Agence France-Presse; Zhander Cayabyab, ABS-CBN News