Angry Crowds Storm US Embassy in Baghdad After US Airstrikes Kill 25
Angry supporters of an allegedly Iran-linked militant group in Iraq targeted by U.S. airstrikes on Sunday have surrounded the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Hours after the Iraqi Shiite-dominated government described deadly U.S. airstrikes on the Katib Hezbollah militant group as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” hundreds of angry Iraqi demonstrators marched in protest on Tuesday towards the U.S. embassy in the fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Demonstrators chanted “Death to America” and demanded the shut down of the U.S. embassy in Iraq, according to a Washington Post report.
Iraqi security forces have been beefed up around the embassy, as embassy staff members and security guards have taken shelter in a room inside the embassy’s building.
Witnesses told the Washington Post that demonstrators set the front door of a reception room on fire as security forces began dispersing the angry crowds with tear gas and live ammunition in an attempt to keep protesters away. Security guards inside the embassy itself also reportedly fired tear gas from inside the building to disperse the crowds.
The Washington Post also reported that tents were seen being erected by protesters outside of the embassy as a form of sit-in protest and are intended to remain in place until the protesters’ demands are met.
A spokesperson for the Katib Hezbollah, an alleged Iran-aligned militant group operating in Iraq, told the Post that protests will continue until the American diplomatic mission in Iraq leaves the country.
The remarks by the group came one day after at least 25 of its members were killed and many others wounded by five U.S. airstrikes targeting the group at locations in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. claims the airstrikes were defensive in nature and came after an unclaimed rocket attack on an Iraqi military base on Friday killed an American civilian contractor.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump blamed the Iranian government both for the killing of the American contractor and for orchestrating the protests on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
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
Other U.S. high-ranking officials including U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Espier demanded the Iraqi government contain the escalating situation and protect \U.S. embassy officials.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. dispatched two helicopters to the scene to help Iraqi forces secure the embassy, but no U.S. military action has yet been taken.
Currently, there are 5,000 American military personnel in Iraq assisting Iraq in the fight against Da’esh also known as the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
Escalating Tension Between Washington and Tehran
Over the past several years, the U.S. and Iran have traded accusations of destabilizing the Gulf region. Most recently, in the fall of 2019, several rockets hit targets near American facilities housing US government employees and service members in Iraq which the U.S. has blamed on Iran proxies.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month accused “Iranian proxies” of two attacks on Iraqi military bases near Baghdad airport which wounded five Iraqi soldiers, two of them critically. He promised Iranian leaders a “decisive U.S. response,” if they or their proxies harm Americans or American allies or interests in the region.