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Iraqi protesters advance on US embassy to protest airstrikes

By January 1, 2020Print

As published by ABC News on MSN

Hundreds of angry protesters have advanced on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to protest the deadly U.S. airstrikes this week. 

Dozens of protesters entered the embassy compound, where they hurled water bottles at retreating security guards, the Associated Press reported. Outside the compound, hundreds of protesters smashed security cameras and chanted “Down, down USA.”

a city with smoke coming out of it: Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend's air strikes by US planes on several bases, on December 31, 2019.

© Ahmad Al-rubaye/AFP via Getty Images Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend’s air strikes by US planes on several bases, on December 31, 2019.

Photos from the scene showed a compound sentry box had been set on fire, and footage showed the crowd waving yellow militia flags and chanting, with several cars parked outside in the street. 

The protests came after mourners held funerals for those killed in the airstrikes, then marched through the city’s fortified Green Zone until they reached the embassy.

President Donald Trump responded to the protests on Twitter, saying, “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!” 

A former senior administration official told ABC News that Ambassador Matt Tueller was away from the embassy when the protests began, while officials in Washington are preparing for an evacuation of remaining embassy personnel if needed. Unlike the anti-government protests that have rocked Iraq in recent months, it is believed that the crowds on Tuesday have been a mix of real and Iranian-backed protesters, the former official said. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “made clear the United States will protect and defend its people” in separate phone calls with the Iraqi Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih on Tuesday. 

“Both Abdul-Mahdi and Salih assured the Secretary that they took seriously their responsibility for and would guarantee the safety and security of U.S. personnel and property,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.

Representatives of Iraqi Hezbollah posted on Twitter that it was not the intention of the protesters to attack the embassy, but to hold a sit-in until the embassy is closed and the U.S. ambassador is expelled, the AP reported. 

The attack on the embassy follows American airstrikes on an Iranian-backed militiaoperating in Iraq over the weekend. Strikes were conducted against five facilities in Iraq and Syria affiliated with Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH), which the Pentagon described as a group linked to Iran’s Quds Force, who are responsible for recent attacks in Iraq including a rocket attack which killed a U.S. civilian contractor at the K1 Iraqi military base near Kirkuk on Friday.

In the aftermath of those strikes, a top Iraqi militia chief warned of a strong response against the U.S. 

A State Department official downplayed the threat of retaliation from Iran or Iran-backed proxies Monday. 

The Iraqi authorities have a duty to protect the embassy from any attempted seizure by the protesters, according to Mick Mulroy, the former United States deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of Mideast policy. 

“If given the authority to repel an assault there is no doubt the security forces at the Embassy would be able to do so,” Mulroy told ABC News. “However, the authority to engage civilians (especially if they are unarmed) even if they are breaching the perimeter is the issue. That is the issue in all Embassy protests and it is why Iran may try and use civilians and a protest as cover for an attempt to seize the Embassy. The Iraqi government has an absolute obligation to prevent this from happening.”