Hundreds of pro-Iranian demonstrators were filmed crowding outside the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday before being turned away by U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) responses.
The demonstrators reportedly passed through the defenses of the normally heavily secured Green Zone, encountering little initial resistance from the ISF members tasked with securing the outer limits of the zone. Some of those security force members were even seen in the crowd that marched towards the U.S. embassy.
The demonstrations came as a response to U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, including the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia. Those airstrikes were carried out as a response to prior attacks by those militias, which resulted in the death of one U.S. contractor, the injury of as many as four more U.S. citizens and two ISF members.
Those demonstrators gathered around the embassy reportedly ignored requests to disperse and broke down barricaded doors around the embassy compound, before setting fires throughout the compound.
Demonstrators could be seen flying the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia flags, in solidarity with the Iranian-backed Shia militia’s which reportedly suffered 25 dead and another 51 wounded following the retaliatory U.S. airstrikes.
Jaafar al-Husseini, representative for the Kata’ib Hezbollah, said the demonstrators intend to protest against the embassy until the facility is shut down and U.S. troops and diplomats are forced to leave Iraq. Demonstrators were reportedly seen setting up tents in preparation for the ongoing effort.
Embassy guards fired tear gas canisters to disperse the mobbing crowd and civil defense workers inside the compound began efforts to put out fires with water hoses.
An Iraqi army commander arrived later, along with ISF members who began to force the protestors back. Security forces then formed a defensive line between the protestors and the embassy.
Diplomats and embassy employees reportedly hid in a secure area throughout the destructive protest efforts. Other embassy guards were seen stuck inside one of the embassy reception areas, but wearing protective gear and possibly preparing to respond to the demonstrations.
At least 100 Marines, reportedly from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command were deployed to reinforce the embassy.
Along with the Marines, at least two Apache attack helicopters were also sent out to provide air support for the embassy.
Two #USArmy Aviation UH-60M utility helicopters followed by two CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters transferred more #US Marines to the embassy and then evacuated unknown people from the #US embassy building in #Baghdad two hours ago. Here they are 👇 pic.twitter.com/DxGaUXiIRO
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) December 31, 2019
Unconfirmed videos also reported UH-60M & CH-47F participated in efforts to evacuate embassy employees.
Marines were also reported seen taking defensive positions around the embassy.
#Baghdad #Iraq Video muestra a Marines de los Estados Unidos tomando posiciones defensivas en el techo de uno de los edificios de la Embajada de EEUU en Irak. Se espera que el destacamento de protección sea reforzado con más militares en las próximas horas pic.twitter.com/Ku0O0dlV63
— Webinfomil.com (@Webinfomil) December 31, 2019
The video claimed, at the time, that those embassy guards would receive additional reinforcements in the coming hours.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the Department of Defense has taking “appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense.”
As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, & we call on the Gov’t of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so. The US continues to support the Iraqi people & a free, sovereign, & prosperous Iraq.
— Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) December 31, 2019