Iraqi protesters on Tuesday stormed and set fire to a security post at the entrance to the US embassy compound in Baghdad, three Reuters witnesses said. The US ambassador to Iraq and other staff had earlier been evacuated from the embassy, as thousands of protesters and militia fighters gathered to condemn US air strikes on bases belonging to an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq.
The attack on the Kataib Hezbollah militia was in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base.
The two Iraqi foreign ministry officials did not say when the US ambassador or other staff had left but added that a few embassy protection staff remained. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi warned against any aggression towards foreign embassies and representations in Baghdad, asking protesters outside the US embassy to leave.
Mahdi, who is caretaker prime minister after resigning last month under pressure from street protests, said in a statement that any aggression against foreign embassies would be stopped by security forces and punished harshly. Outside the embassy, protesters threw stones at the gate while others chanted, “No, no, America! … No, no, Trump!” Iraqi special forces were deployed around the main gate to prevent them entering the embassy.
Iraqis have been taking to the streets in their thousands almost daily to condemn, among other things, militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and their Iranian patrons that support Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government.
Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, and many other senior militia leaders were among the protesters. “Americans are unwanted in Iraq. They are a source of evil and we want them to leave,” Khazali told Reuters. Khazali is one of the most feared and respected Shi’ite militia leaders in Iraq, and one of Iran’s most important allies.
Kataib Hezbollah is one of the smallest but most potent Iranian-backed militias. Its flags were hung on the fence surrounding the embassy. Militia commander Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, and Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri were also at the protest. Abdul Mahdi has condemned the air strikes, which killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has hit out at Iran after briefing Donald Trump about US strikes against a militia group in Iraq and Syria in which 25 fighters were reportedly killed.
The Pentagon said the attacks were “defensive strikes” against the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia group, which US officials said was backed by Iran, two days after a US civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base.
“We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” Pompeo told reporters after the briefing, which took place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. — Reuters/AFP