Hundreds of demonstrators, supporting Iranian-backed Shia militia groups in Iraq, have stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, in response to U.S. airstrikes against those militia groups.
The demonstrators ignored warnings while gathering outside the embassy, smashed down the embassy reception area’s fortified doors, and fires to various rooms, Washington Post reported. The demonstrators carried out chants of “death to America” and draped the flags of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia over the embassy walls.
Two other guard rooms were also set on fire and protestors made a bonfire with tires, food rations and papers found in the embassy.
Embassy employees reportedly went into hiding in a secure location as the protestors broke into the compound.
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 after the protestors stormed the compound and ordered Iraqi security forces to force the protestors back. Security forces then formed a defensive line between the protestors and the embassy.
The U.S. airstrikes that incited the protests themselves were in response to deadly 30-plus rocket attacks by the militias, which resulted in the death of one U.S. contractor and the injury of other U.S. service members.
“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,” President Donald Trump tweeted in response to news of the gathering crowds.
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. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
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.
Some demonstrators even reportedly set up tents near the compound, as a signal of their commitment to the effort.
Iraqi security forces reportedly showed an initial slowness to respond or stop the demonstrators when marched towards the U.S. embassy. The embassy is inside the fortified Green Zone of Baghdad, which cannot normally be accessed by the average Iraqi person. Security forces did little to stop the oncoming crowds and some could even be seen mingled in with the demonstrators.
Acting Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in a statement, reiterated the Iraqi government’s responsibility to defend foreign embassies. He also urged the demonstrators not to enter the embassy compound.
Other Iranian allies could be seen at the protests, such as Qais al-Khazali, who heads the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia and who was once imprisoned by the U.S. military. Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the pro-Iranian political group known as the Badr Organization, was also reported seen at the protest.
Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, was also seen at the demonstrations. He previously spent years in prison in Kuwait for carrying out the bombing of the U.S. embassy there.