Pro-Iran militia have stormed the US embassy in Baghdad for a second day, with US marines firing tear gas on the militants this morning following demands for American blood in retaliation for airstrikes on Iraq.
Yesterday thousands of demonstrators – many of them Iran-backed militants – rushed through the heavily fortified Green Zone after US air strikes killed 25 members of the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah in air strikes Sunday night.
One furious militant said: ‘God willing if this fire reaches inside the embassy, we will not spare a single employee.’
President Donald Trump’s reinforcements were engaged early Wednesday when tear gas was fired to disperse those who had spent the night outside the main gates. Several ambulances arrived to ferry those stricken by the gas.
Yesterday’s riot, which included smashing through the embassy’s security area, setting fires around the complex and hurling rocks, ended in a camp being set up outside the consulate.
Some 50 tents, portable toilets and cooking pots were shipped in as hundreds of the furious mob prepared a sit-in at the embassy’s gates, demanding that the US withdraw from Iraq.
This morning, the crowds drew closer to the single wall separating them and the larger diplomatic compound, setting US flags on fire and eventually the wall of the compound itself.
US Marines fired tear gas at the Iran-backed militia and their supporters early on Wednesday as the siege outside the US embassy in Baghdad continued for a second day. Iraqi flags were seen being flown, as well as the yellow of Kataeb Hezbollah
One furious militant said yesterday: ‘God willing if this fire reaches inside the embassy, we will not spare a single employee.’
Cooking pots set up outside the embassy where 50 tents and a number of portable toilets have been shipped in for the long haul
U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force-Iraq, man a defensive position at Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday
U.S. Embassy security men use stun grenades to disperse protesters and militia fighters during a protest to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces, the PMF), outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad today
This map shows the Embassy compound located along the Tigris River in Baghdad, Iraq
In response, US soldiers inside fired tear gas at the protesters, several of whom were reported wounded. A cordon of Iraqi security forces that had formed around the embassy dissipated when the gas was fired.
Who are the mob at the embassy gates?
The mob are supporters or members of Kataeb Hezbollah, which is separate but linked to the Lebanese Hezbollah, and operates under the umbrella of the Iraqi government sanctioned umbrella of militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
Many of the groups, but particularly Kataeb Hezbollah, are backed by Iran.
Kataeb Hezbollah has for months been firing rockets and mortars at US forces throughout Iraq.
It actively stockpiles and smuggles Iranian-made weapons into Iraq.
The terror group has in the past received weapons from the Palestinian Hezbollah, which is also a key ally of Iran.
Hundreds of the yellow flags of the terror group were seen among the masses on Tuesday.
But reinforcements from the federal police soon arrived and the brief skirmishes calmed.
Trump said Tuesday that he would hold Iran ‘fully responsible’ for the attack on the embassy and ordered around 750 troops to be deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepared for possible deployment in the next several days.
No U.S. casualties or evacuations were reported after the attack Tuesday by dozens of Iran-supported militiamen. U.S. Marines were sent from Kuwait to reinforce the compound.
The assault on the embassy is being carried out by members of the Iran-supported Kataeb Hezbollah militia, which is separate but linked to the Lebanese Hezbollah.
It operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned predominantly Shiite militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Many are supported by Iran.
The US says Kataeb Hezbollah is responsible for 11 attacks on US-led coalition bases in the past two months.
A tear gas canister is lobbed back over the wall of the US embassy compound on Wednesday as hundreds gathered outside for a second day of demonstrations
Iraqi flags flutter this morning, while a man bearing the flag of Kataeb Hezbollah waves it while standing on part of the consulate building today
Demonstrators waving Iraqi flags outside the US embassy in Iraq as the siege rumbled on for a second day. Trump has squarely levelled blame at Iran for the assault on the consulate
Demonstrators gather outside the embassy in the Iraqi capital as green smoke from a protester’s hurled canister spews across the wall
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday night that ‘in response to recent events’ in Iraq, and at Trump’s direction, he authorized the immediate deployment of the infantry battalion from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He did not specify the soldiers’ destination, but a U.S. official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait.
‘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 said in a written statement.
Additional soldiers from the 82nd Airborne’s quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate Response Force, were prepared to deploy, Esper said. The U.S. official, who provided unreleased details on condition of anonymity, said the full brigade of about 4,000 soldiers may deploy.
The 750 soldiers deploying immediately were in addition to 14,000 U.S. troops who had deployed to the Gulf region since May in response to concerns about Iranian aggression, including its alleged sabotage of commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf. At the time of the attack the U.S. had about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mainly to train Iraqi forces and help them combat Islamic State extremists.
US Embassy security men use stun grenades to disperse protesters and militia fighters during a protest to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to the PMF, outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday
Furious demonstrators at the US embassy in Baghdad surrounded the complex for a second day on Wednesday after alarming scenes on Tuesday
U.S. Embassy security men use tear gas to disperse protesters and militia fighters during a protest to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to the PMF, outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday
Tear gas fills the air this morning as Iran-backed militia and their supporters continued their demonstrations outside the embassy in Baghdad
Furious demonstrators fly Iraqi flags as they stage a sit-in outside the US embassy in Baghdad on day two of their siege
Donald Trump announced that the US embassy in Baghdad is safe after some 6,000 pro-Iran militia fighters stormed the compound on Tuesday, set walls ablaze and chanted ‘Death to America!’ in a violent retaliation for American air strikes
In a third tweet he quipped ‘The Anti-Bengahzi!’ The post was an effort to distinguish his administration’s response to that of the Obama administration in the 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound in Libya that left four Americans dead. The tweet, which had a spelling error, was deleted soon after
The breach of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday was a stark demonstration that Iran can still strike at American interests despite Trump’s economic pressure campaign. It also revealed growing strains between Washington and Baghdad, raising questions about the future of the U.S. military mission there.
Attack comes seven years after US ambassador was killed in Benghazi attack
On September 11, 2012, Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia launched a planned attack on US government facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
The night time raid killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.
Stevens was the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979.
At 4pm the following day, the militants fired mortars at the CIA annex around a mile away, killing CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty and wounding ten others.
Initial analysis found that the attack arose from a protest.
But later investigations showed it had been premeditated, although rioters and looters had played an initial role in the chaos.
The attack was highly controversial due to accusations that the Obama administration had allowed for security lapses.
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton later accepted responsibility for security failings following a high level State Department resignation and suspensions of long-standing officials.
‘They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!’ Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon, though it was unclear whether his ‘threat’ meant military retaliation. He thanked top Iraqi government leaders for their ‘rapid response upon request.’
American airstrikes on Sunday killed 25 fighters of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The U.S. said those strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor and the wounding of American and Iraqi troops in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the U.S. blamed on the militia. The American strikes angered the Iraqi government, which called them an unjustified violation of its sovereignty.
While blaming Iran for the embassy breach, Trump also called on Iraq to protect the diplomatic mission.
‘Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,’ he tweeted from his estate in Florida. ‘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!’
Even as Trump has argued for removing U.S. troops from Mideast conflicts, he also has singled out Iran as a malign influence in the region. After withdrawing the U.S. in 2018 from an international agreement that exchanged an easing of sanctions for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, Trump ratcheted up sanctions.
Those economic penalties, including a virtual shut-off of Iranian oil exports, are aimed at forcing Iran to negotiate a broader nuclear deal. But critics say that pressure has pushed Iranian leaders into countering with a variety of military attacks in the Gulf.
Until Sunday’s U.S. airstrikes, Trump had been measured in his response to Iranian provocations. In June, he abruptly called off U.S. military strikes on Iranian targets in retaliation for the downing of an American drone.
The Department of Defense released this photo showing Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command preparing to deploy from Kuwait to support the US embassy in Baghdad
Militia fighters in military garb pictured setting fire to the US embassy wall and throwing rockets over the fencing
US soldiers fire tear gas onto protesters who broke into the compound as black smoke from fires set by the rioters billows into the air
A protester holds an Iraqi flag during a protest to condemn air strikes belonging to paramilitary forces on Tuesday. In the ambush US forces fired back with tear gas and stun grenades, wounding dozens
Protesters and militia members set fire to a reception room in the US embassy during the furious protest condemning US airstrikes on Sunday
Demonstrators wearing military fatigues and flying the white flag of the Popular Mobilization Forces, of which Kataeb Hezbollah is a member
Robert Ford, a retired U.S. diplomat who served five years in Baghdad and then became ambassador in Syria, said Iran’s allies in the Iraqi parliament may be able to harness any surge in anger among Iraqis toward the United States to force U.S. troops to leave the country. Ford said Trump miscalculated by approving Sunday’s airstrikes on Kataeb Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria – strikes that drew a public rebuke from the Iraqi government and seem to have triggered Tuesday’s embassy attack.
‘The Americans fell into the Iranian trap,’ Ford said, with airstrikes that turned some Iraqi anger toward the U.S. and away from Iran and the increasingly unpopular Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
The tense situation in Baghdad appeared to upset Trump’s vacation routine in Florida, where he is spending the holidays.
Trump spent just under an hour at his private golf club in West Palm Beach before returning to his Mar-a-Lago resort in nearby Palm Beach. He had spent nearly six hours at his golf club on each of the previous two days. Trump spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and emphasized the need for Iraq to protect Americans and their facilities in the country, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.
Trump is under pressure from some in Congress to take a hard-line approach to Iranian aggression, which the United States says included an unprecedented drone and missile attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in September. More recently, Iran-backed militias in Iraq have conducted numerous rocket attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces.
Protesters and militia fighters carry the logo of the US embassy in Baghdad during the massive protest that unfolded Tuesday
This photo taken through a broken window shows a vandalized room in the US embassy in Baghdad after protesters breached the outer wall of the compound
US soldiers could be seen inside the building filmed from the outside by furious protesters who pressed up against the glass taunting the personnel
US embassy security personnel are seen through a glass window as protesters and militia fighters wreak havoc outside
Protesters burned the property in front of the U.S. compound on Tuesday waving flags and banners for their specific groups in protest of the US airstrikes in Iraq on Sunday
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and supporter of Trump’s Iran policy, called the embassy breach ‘yet another reckless escalation’ by Iran.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed Iran for the episode and faulted Trump for his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran.
‘The results so far have been more threats against international commerce, emboldened and more violent proxy attacks across the Middle East, and now, the death of an American citizen in Iraq,’ Menendez said, referring to the rocket attack last week.
By early evening Tuesday, the mob had retreated from the compound but set up several tents outside for an intended sit-in. Dozens of yellow flags belonging to Iran-backed Shiite militias fluttered atop the reception area and were plastered along the embassy’s concrete wall along with anti-U.S. graffiti. American Apache helicopters flew overhead and dropped flares over the area in what the U.S. military called a ‘show of force.’
The embassy breach was seen by some analysts as affirming their view that it is folly for the U.S. to keep forces in Iraq after having eliminated the Islamic State group’s territorial hold in the country.
US soldiers watch from behind a smoke screen as Iraqi protesters surround the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad. They fired warning shots, followed by stun grenades and tear gas
A wounded protester is seen held by pro-Iran militia members as chaos unfolds outside U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday. The protester may have been wounded by American stun gun fire or in the tumult of the demonstrations
Demonstrators and members of the militia are seen in the entrance to the compound where visitors and vehicles are usually screened by security forces
Iraqi protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad to protest against the weekend’s air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades near Al-Qaim
A security guard’s hut window has been badly damaged by the rioters as smoke spews from fires set around the compound on Tuesday, with protesters waving flags of the militias part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Many are supported by Iran.
Demonstrators react as tear gas is fired down by US soldiers on the rooftop of the compound after they stormed through the main gate
Members of the Hashd al-Shaabi militia, part of the Popular Mobilization Forces of which Kataeb Hezbollah is a member, attempt to break through the gates of the compound on Tuesday
A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is also a long-term hope of Iran, noted Paul Salem, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
And it’s always possible Trump would ‘wake up one morning and make that decision’ to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq, as he announced earlier with the U.S. military presence in neighboring Syria, Salem said. Trump’s Syria decision triggered the resignation of his first defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, but the president later amended his decision and about 1,200 U.S. troops remain in Syria.
Trump’s best weapon with Iran is the one he’s already using – the sanctions, said Salem. He and Ford said Trump would do best to keep resisting Iran’s attempt to turn the Iran-U.S. conflict into a full-blown military one. The administration should also make a point of working with the Iraqi government to deal with the militias, Ford said.
For the president, Iran’s attacks – directly and now through proxies in Iraq – have ‘been working that nerve,’ Salem said. ‘Now they really have Trump’s attention.’
ESCALATING TENSIONS BETWEEN THE US AND IRAN
May 2018: Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal which was drawn up in 2015 under President Obama.
August 2018: The Trump Administration imposes first round of sanctions, prohibit trade with a number of business sectors
November 2018: The Trump Administrations imposes a second round of sanctions which target oil and banking industries. The sanctions have a crippling effect on the Iranian economy
April 2019: Trump designates one arm of the Iranian military as a ‘terrorist group’ – an inflammatory move that prompts the Iran to hit back and call the US a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’
May 2019: Four tankers – including two belonging to US ally Saudi Arabia – are struck and damaged in the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack
May 2019: A rocket lands near the US embassy in Baghdad, prompting Trump to tweet ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!’
June 2019: Iran shoots down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. An enraged Trump who considers launching airstrikes in retaliation
July 2019: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that if any more American drones violated Iranian airspace ‘then they will receive the same response’ as the one that was blasted out of the sky the previous month
July 2019: Additional troops and fighter jets are put in place in the Middle East ‘to defend American forces and interests’ amid escalating tension
September 2019: Iran is blamed for an attack on two Saudi oil fields responsible for five percent of the global oil supply – or about 5.7 million barrels per day. Secretary of State Pompeo described the attack as ‘an act of war’
September 2019: US national security officials reportedly presented President Trump with a ‘menu’ of options that include military strikes and cyber attacks
November 2019: Rocket attacks increase on Iraqi military bases which are hosting American service personnel. Intelligence officials believe Hezbollah is behind the attacks