U.S. contractors in Iraq relocated due to security concerns

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top U.S. weapons maker Lockheed Martin Corp on Thursday said it was evacuating about two dozen employees from northern Iraq due to security concerns, and the U.S. State Department said other companies were relocating their workers as well.

"We can confirm that U.S. citizens, under contract to the Government of Iraq, in support of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in Iraq, are being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

She declined to say how many contractors were being relocated and their location, but said the U.S. Embassy and consulates were still operating normally.

"The U.S. Embassy and consulates in Iraq remain open and continue to operate on a normal status," Psaki said.

Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said about 25 Lockheed employees were being evacuated from the Balad area in northern Iraq as part of a larger effort to ensure their safety given growing violence in the region.He said the employees were in Iraq working with the Iraqi air force as it prepared for the arrival of the first of 36 F-16 fighter jets, which are to be ferried to Iraq later this year.

Rein said it was too soon to say if shipments of the F-16 warplanes would be delayed as a result of the violence.Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily was at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas, plant last week to accept delivery of the first of the F-16s that will form the centerpiece of the country's first air force since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Faily told Reuters that Iraq was completing work on the air base in Balad where the new jets will be housed. He said some Iraqi pilots had already been trained to fly the new planes, and more were in training now.

Insurgents from an al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which operates in Iraq and neighboring Syria, overran the city of Tikrit on Wednesday after capturing the country's second city, Mosul, and were moving towards Baghdad.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)