Pro-Iranian protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad. The ambassador and most of the embassy personnel were evacuated earlier when thousands of rioters first surrounded the compound. Iraqi special forces were deployed around the perimeter to stop the protesters from breaking in.
US embassy guards inside the embassy reception, several feet away from a mob of #Iran backed #Hezbollah supporters who are rioting and storming the embassy pic.twitter.com/EmR9hfMk8g
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) December 31, 2019
Earlier in the day, thousands of Iraquis attended funerals of fighters from the Iranian-backed militias who were killed in U.S. airstrikes two days ago. At least 25 pro-Iranian militia were killed in the airstrikes.
It was reported that the Iraqi security forces made no effort to stop the protesters, many wearing militia uniforms, as they marched to the heavily-fortified international Green Zone letting them pass through a security checkpoint leading to the area. Most foreign embassies and the new Iraqi government are located in the Green Zone.
Footage from the US Embassy in #Baghdad: reports US staff have been evacuated following #Iran backed militia storming the embassy. pic.twitter.com/eWyrbVRmKj
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) December 31, 2019
The rioters succeeded in smashing the main door and setting fire to a reception area. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three U.S. soldiers on the roof of the main embassy building. The AP reporter saw the crowd try to storm the embassy, shouting “Down, down the USA!” and “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
Protesters reportedly hung yellow flags from the Kataeb Hezbollah militia backed by Iran on the walls of the embassy.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi issued a statement urging the rioters to leave the U.S. Embassy, warning that “any aggressive behavior against foreign embassies” will be “strictly stopped by security forces” and punished by law.
Protestors burning the outer walls of the American Embassy in #Baghdad. pic.twitter.com/VeySugdeww
— H. Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) December 31, 2019
There were no reports of casualties.
The riots evoke memories of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 when rioters took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days.
Would be nice if the Iranian regime was bookended by two invasions of US embassies. The first started the regime, the second, ended it.@realDonaldTrump https://t.co/ehsMy2V6Md
— Caroline Glick (@CarolineGlick) December 31, 2019
BACKDROP: US AIRSTRIKE
On Monday, U.S. Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles hit five targets on both sides of the border between Syria and Iraq marking the first counterstrike in a decade against an Iran-aligned Iraqi Shia militia. The airstrike killed at least 25 and wounded 25.
“Precision defensive strikes” were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement earlier Sunday. Three of the militia’s sites were identified as being in western Iraq and two in eastern Syria, including weapon depots and the militia’s command and control bases.
Debka Files, an English language Israeli military intelligence news site, reported that the U.S. attack was anticipated.
“Earlier, an Iraqi interior ministry official informed Arab media of intelligence received that Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani had ordered the Hezballah militia in Baghdad to withdraw the Iran-supplied rockets from storage and transfer them to residential areas as a means of deterring a US attack,” Debka wrote. “The militia was also told to reserve those rockets exclusively for use against US forces. This disclosure strongly indicated that the Hezballah militia was in the direct sights of the impending US assault.”
HEZBOLLAH ROCKETS KILL AMERICAN IN IRAQ
The strikes come in response to an attack carried out on Friday against a military compound near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq in which 30 rockets were fired, killing a U.S. defense contractor and wounding four U.S. soldiers.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for a series of attacks on bases in Iraq and said any attacks by Tehran or proxies harming Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive US response.”
Hezbollah responded to the attacks by vowing reprisal against the U.S.
“We have no choice but confrontation,” a Kataib Hezbollah statement said. “Trump should know that he will pay a heavy price in Iraq and the countries where his criminal forces are present.”
Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known as Abul Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi militias,
“The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” was quoted as saying by Reuters.
There are currently approximately 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq.
REGIONAL MULTINATIONAL MILITARY TENSIONS
The confrontation comes at a time when the multinational military mix in the region is being shuffled. Iran, Russia, and China just completed an unprecedented four-day joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
“Today, the era of American free action in the region is over,” Khanzadi said, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency. “They must leave the region gradually.”
Iraq is also going through a period of internal unrest with massive protests against corruption in the government and Iranian interference. More than 450 protesters have been killed by government security troops.