BEIJING--China said it would move an undisclosed number of its more than 10,000 citizens in Iraq away from danger zones amid an intensifying insurgency there and urged Baghdad to protect its people and interests.
At a daily press briefing on Thursday, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said those in dangerous areas could be moved to either safer places in Iraq or neighboring countries. Ms. Hua said most Chinese nationals in the country are in relatively safe areas already.
"China is willing to continue to provide assistance to Iraq at the request of the Iraqi side in antiterrorism and reconstruction works," she said. "We also hope that Iraqi side could take concrete measures to ensure security of Chinese institutions and personnel."
China's presence in Iraq has grown in recent years as the Middle Eastern country has become a growing source of its imported oil. Imports from Iraq rose roughly 50% in 2013, ranking the country behind Russia as China's fifth-largest source of foreign crude.
State-controlled China National Petroleum Corp. operates the Halfaya oil field in eastern Iraq. In November, another state-controlled oil company, PetroChina Co., agreed to purchase a 25% stake in the West Qurna-1 oil project in southern Iraq from Exxon Mobil Corp.
Iraq is battling a group of Sunni Muslim militants called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which has taken a number of Iraqi cities and has been fighting for control of a major oil refinery there.
Ms. Hua said Chinese embassies in Iraq and nearby countries are working with local authorities to remove the Chinese nationals. She didn't give any detail on whether China would send military experts to assist the Iraqi government but said China will provide assistance as its capacity allows.
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