Chanting “death to America,” hundreds of supporters of an Iranian-backed militia enraged about airstrikes in Iraq stormed the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday – forcing the evacuation of the ambassador and his staff.
The attack followed airstrikes Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Kataeb Hezbollah that the US military said were in retaliation for last week’s 36-rocket attack in which an American contractor was killed at an Iraqi base.
Outside the embassy, the protesters flung rocks at the gate while others carried banners with President Trump’s face crossed out and chanted, “No, no, America! … No, no, Trump!”
They scrawled “No to America!” and “Soleimani is my commander” on the embassy walls — referring to Iran’s pointman for Iraq, Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, and several 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,” the Shi’ite militia leader told Reuters.
Iraqi troops backed by US-trained counter-terrorism forces were deployed to try to prevent the mob from entering the embassy, including by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
“We have delivered our message, please leave the area to avoid bloodshed,” one announcement said as several US Marines were seen on the roof of the main building with their guns pointed at the protesters.
A few hours into the protest, during which a main door was bashed and the reception area was set ablaze, some of the militias encouraged protesters through loudspeakers to retreat.
At one point, the Marines fired tear gas and flash rounds to disperse the crowd, according to Agence France-Presse.
Iraqi Foreign Ministry officials did not say when the American ambassador or other embassy workers had left but added that a few protection staff remained.
Trump responded to the attack by noting in a tweet that “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will.”
He added: “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!”
The US has about 5,200 troops deployed across Iraq to train security forces and prevent any resurgence of ISIS.
Caretaker Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi — who had told Cabinet members that he had tried to stop the US military action — has declared three days of mourning for those killed in the airstrikes, starting Tuesday.
Abdul-Mahdi said the crowds that stormed the embassy should leave the compound “immediately.”
“We recall that any aggression or harassment of foreign embassies will be firmly prohibited by the security forces,” his office said several hours after the attack began.
Interior Minister Yassine al-Yasseri, who also appeared outside the embassy to inspect the scene, told the Associated Press that the prime minister had warned the American strikes on the Shiite militiamen would have serious consequences.
“This is one of the implications. This is a problem and is embarrassing to the government,” al-Yasseri said, adding that more security would be deployed to separate the protesters from the embassy.
Earlier, the mob raised yellow militia flags and taunted the embassy’s security staff who remained behind the glass windows in the gates’ reception area and also sprayed graffiti on the wall and windows.
The graffiti, in red in support of the Kataeb Hezbollah, read: “Closed in the name of the resistance.”
Seven armored vehicles with about 30 Iraqi soldiers arrived hours after the violence erupted, deploying near the embassy walls but not close to the breached area.
Four vehicles carrying riot police approached the building later but were forced back by the protesters who blocked their path.