After deadly U.S. airstrikes targeting an Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia, a mob of hundreds of the group’s supporters converged on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, dozens breaking down a door into the reception area and setting the room on fire before U.S. guards repelled them using tear gas and gunfire. President Trump responded by blaming Iran for “orchestrating” the attack and vowing a strong retaliation.
“The mob of marchers, many of them in militia uniforms, shouted ‘Down, Down USA!’ and ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ outside the compound, hurling water and stones over its walls,” The Associated Press reports. “The mob set fire to three trailers used by security guards along the wall… Others then smashed the gates used by cars to enter and dozens pushed into the compound. The protesters stopped in a corridor after about 5 meters (16 feet), and were only about 200 meters away from the main building. Half a dozen U.S. soldiers were seen on the roof of the main building, their guns were pointed at the protesters. Smoke from the tear gas rose in the area.”
Iraqi security forces reportedly “made no effort to stop the protesters as they marched to the heavily-fortified Green Zone after a funeral held for those killed in the U.S. airstrikes, letting them pass through a security checkpoint leading to the area.”
The attack was a retaliation for the U.S. military’s airstrikes Sunday, which killed some 25 of the Iran-backed militia, Kataeb Hezbollah. The U.S. conducted the strikes in response to the death of an American contractor last week resulting from the group firing a rocket at an Iraqi military base.
Trump responded early Tuesday by blaming terrorist-supporting Iran and vowing to respond aggressively.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “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!”
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
The Iraqi government’s response to the U.S. airstrikes and the Iraqi military’s reported refusal to respond to the attack signals increasing tension between the U.S. and Iraq, while Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, attempts to gain more influence in the region.
On Sunday, the U.S. Department of Defense released a statement on the precision defensive strikes against the Iran-backed group, which the U.S. notes has “a strong linkage” with Iran’s Quds Force, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The militia also “has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack [Operation Inherent Resolve] OIR coalition forces,” the statement underscores.
“In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces,” the Defense Department announced Sunday. “The five targets include three KH locations in Iraq and two in Syria. These locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that KH uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces.”
The attacks were in direct response to the death of a U.S. contractor and the injury of four U.S. service members, the statement explains. The Defense Department also stresses that the U.S. and its coalition partners “fully respect Iraqi sovereignty, and support a strong and independent Iraq,” but the U.S. “will not be deterred from exercising its right of self-defense.”