Protesters try to break into U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after air strikes

The U.S. military carried out the strikes on Sunday against the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, calling it retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group

December 31, 2019 03:55 pm | Updated 07:32 pm IST - Baghdad

Protesters and militia fighters gather outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces).

Protesters and militia fighters gather outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces).

Hundreds of supporters of an Iraqi Shia militia smashed security cameras on the wall around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, hurled stones and set up protest tents there on Tuesday, following deadly U.S. airstrikes this week that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq.

Shouting “Down, Down USA!” the crowd tried to push inside the embassy grounds, hurling water bottles and smashing security cameras outside. They raised militia flags and taunted the embassy’s security staff who remained behind the glass windows in the gates’ reception area. They sprayed graffiti on the wall and windows in red in support of the Kataeb Hezbollah militia — “Closed in the name of the resistance.”

The U.S. military carried out the strikes on Sunday against the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, calling it retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group.

The U.S. attack — the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years — and the calls for retaliation, represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the U.S. and Iran playing out in the Middle East.

Tuesday’s attempted embassy storming took place after mourners and supporters held funerals for the militia fighters killed in a Baghdad neighbourhood, after which they marched on to the heavily fortified Green Zone and kept walking till they reached the sprawling U.S. Embassy there.

The crowdtried to scale the walls of the embassy, in what appeared to be an attempt to storm it, shouting “Down, down USA!” and “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

Security guards were seen retreating to the inside of the embassy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday’s strikes send the message that the U.S. will not tolerate actions by Iran that jeopardise American lives.

The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia had vowed on Monday to retaliate for the U.S. military strikes. The attack and vows for revenge raised concerns of new attacks that could threaten American interests in the region.

The U.S. attack also outraged both the militias and the Iraqi government, which said it will reconsider its relationship with the U.S.-led coalition - the first time it has said it will do so since an agreement was struck to keep some U.S. troops in the country. It called the attack a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

In a partly televised meeting Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Cabinet members that he had tried to stop the U.S. operation “but there was insistence” from American officials.

The U.S. military said “precision defensive strikes” were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria. The group, which is a separate force from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.

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