Protesters have stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to condemn recent U.S. air strikes that killed at least 25 members of an Iran-backed militant group, causing Iraqi security forces and compound guards to fire tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
Reuters reported that 12 militiamen were injured during the attack, which U.S. President Donald Trump blamed on Iran.
Thousands of protesters converged on the compound on December 31 in response to the air strikes carried out by the United States in Iraq and Syria on December 29 targeting members of the Kataib Hizbullah militia.
The embassy was evacuated to protect staff and the U.S. ambassador, Reuters reported, citing Iraqi officials. No U.S. staff were reported hurt.
The AP news agency reported that the embassy’s gate door was broken down, and gunshots were heard as demonstrators entered the compound, while video emerged showing protesters setting fire to a wall outside the compound.
The protesters later withdrew but vowed to camp indefinitely outside the compound. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the United States would be sending more troops to protect the embassy, while Trump said Iran will face consequences.
Trump tweeted on December 31 that “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.”
Trump added that “we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy.”
The protesters may have gotten through the heavily fortified compound amid support from Iraqi security forces sympathetic to their cause, The New York Times reported.
The attack may be the most violent against a U.S. Embassy since the 2012 assault against a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in that attack.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet that he called Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih on December 31 to warn them of “their obligation to protect our U.S. personnel and property.”
The United States earlier said it had carried out “precision defensive strikes” against five targets in response to repeated Kataib Hizbullah attacks on Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops, including one on December 27 that killed a U.S. defense contractor and injured U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Kataib Hizbullah, which said that 50 militia member were killed and 50 wounded in the attack, has denied being behind the attacks and on December 30 vowed revenge.
Dpa reported on December 31 that protesters stormed the gates of the U.S. Embassy located in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, chanting “Death to America” and “No, no, America.”
The German news agency also reported that mourners raised flags of Iraq’s powerful Hashd Shaabi militia (Popular Mobilization Units), while The New York Times reported that demonstrators hung Kataib Hizbullah flags.
The caretaker Iraqi government ruling since Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation demanded on December 31 that protesters leave the embassy and added that “any aggression against embassies or foreign representations will be prevented and punished by law.”
The caretaker government had said on December 30 it might “review” its relations with the United States following the air strikes, saying that “American forces acted on their political priorities, not those of the Iraqis.”
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who carries considerable influence over a leading bloc in the country’s parliament, in a statement on December 30 urged Iranian-backed militias to avoid “irresponsible actions,” according to Reuters.
An unnamed senior official at the U.S. State Department said later of Iraqi authorities that it was “their responsibility and duty to protect us. And they have not taken the appropriate steps to do so,” according to AFP.
Pompeo wrote on Twitter on December 31 that he spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss “U.S. defensive strikes in Iraq and Syria to counter Iran’s threats. The U.S. will take decisive action to defend its citizens and interests.”
In a separate tweet he said he had spoken with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and “made clear that our defensive action was aimed at deterring Iran and protecting American lives.”