On December 31st, supporters of Kata’ib Hezbollah protested in front of and then subsequently stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad.
The protesters managed to successfully pass through the gate, and then carried flags of the Popular Mobilization Units and demanded that US leaves the country.
Dozens broke into the embassy compound after smashing a main door and setting fire to the reception area.
The US, to protect the personnel remaining inside the embassy sent AH-64 Apache helicopters to protect it, in addition to there being US soldiers present inside the embassy building. It is unclear how many remained inside the embassy, since many had been evacuated earlier in the day.
VIDEO: AH-64 Apaches protect @USEmbBaghdad. ?“We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens…and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy.”~@EsperDoD ???? pic.twitter.com/amABHBAOcL
— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) December 31, 2019
US President Donald Trump said that the US blamed Iran for the storming of the embassy.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
He later tweeted again:
….Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi called the US allegation “obscenity” while “Iraqi people are overwhelmed with bloodshed [in which] at least 25 people died,” a reference to the death toll of US airstrikes on the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, in Iraq.
“How and on what basis do you expect the Iraqi people to remain silent on all these crimes?” Mousavi said, adding that the United States has “ignored” Iraqi independence and called on Washington to “reconsider its destructive policies in the region.”
The White House announced in a brief statement that the president had spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi about “regional security issues,” and that Trump “emphasized the need to protect United States personnel and facilities in Iraq.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke by phone with Abdul-Mahdi and Iraqi President Barham Salih, a State Department spokesperson said in a statement, and “made clear the United States will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq.”
A State Department spokesperson said there has been no breach at the Baghdad embassy, that American personnel are secure and that there are no plans to evacuate the facility.
The Iraqi government’s official Twitter account and attributed to the prime minister, Abdul-Mahdi said:
“While we condemn the US air strikes on Iraqi military units, and acknowledge that symbolic funeral marches for the martyrs is a solemn act of remembrance, those taking part must stay away from diplomatic buildings and compounds.”
Abdul-Mahdi added that Iraqi security forces “will respond to any act of aggression or harassment against foreign embassies in Iraq, and those responsible will face the full force of the law.”
In response to the situation, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that additional troops were being deployed immediately to Iraq. An infantry battalion of about 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division had been authorized to deploy to the Middle East.
“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,” Esper’s statement said.
“We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense,” Esper said. “As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so.”
There are further reports that up to another 4,000 may be deployed to secure the situation. Prior to this the US had approximately 5,000 soldiers in Iraq.
BREAKING: 4,000 U.S. troops ordered to prepare for rapid deployment to the Middle East; At least 500 paratroopers are already making their way to Kuwait – FNC
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) January 1, 2020
After the US Embassy was secured, Iraqi protesters set up tents before it, preparing for a sit-in.
A spokesman for the Iran-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, told CNN that the embassy protests were only a “first step.”
“The American administration should understand the following: the first step was to protest near the American embassy, we are waiting their reactions to determine the second step,” Mohamad Mouhiye said, calling for the US to shut down the embassy and withdraw from Iraq.
“First, close the doors of the evil embassy, which we consider a spy building and an operations room to administer and sabotage Iraq’s wellbeing,” Mouhiye said. “We also call on the US to withdraw their military forces which are in Iraq illegally,” he said.
“This protest was a stand against US political dominance,” he said.
The storming of the embassy was in response to US airstrikes on five positions of Kata’ib Hezbollah, who are part of the Popular Mobilization Units and, thus of the Iraqi Armed Forces. The strikes in Syria and Iraq left 25 dead and upwards of 50 wounded. The group vowed to respond harshly.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Kata’ib Hezbollah Supporters Stormed and Set Fire to US Embassy in Baghdad
- Trump Blames Iran For Riots Near US Embassy In Iraq, Threatens It With ‘Response’
- U.S. Military Released Video Of Strikes On Kataib Hezbollah In Syria, Iraq