It was reported on 31 December 2019 that local staff were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, while others remained inside a safe room within the compound as thousands of protesters and militia fighters thronged the gates in fury at U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, the AP reports.
The latest: Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement, “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. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy.”
- “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,” Esper added. “The U.S. continues to support the Iraqi people and a free, sovereign and prosperous Iraq.”
- A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that “U.S. personnel are secure and there has been no breach,” adding that Ambassador Matthew Tueller, who had been on a scheduled vacation, is returning to the embassy.
The scene, per Reuters: “Outside the embassy, protesters threw stones at the gate while others chanted, ‘No, no, America! … No, no, Trump!'”
- An AP 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.
- There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound.
- A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: “The message was delivered.”
“Iraqi special forces were deployed around the main gate to prevent [protesters] entering the embassy,” Reuters added.
- “A few hours into the protest, tear gas was fired in an attempt to disperse the crowd.”
- Ambassador Matthew Tueller was out of the country on a previously scheduled vacation.
The context: The embassy attack follows deadly airstrikes Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah, per AP.
- The U.S. military said the airstrikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it had blamed on the militia.
Why it matters: The developments represent a major downturn in Iraq-U.S. relations that could further undermine U.S. influence in the region and also weaken Washington’s hand in its maximum pressure campaign against Iran.
- President Trump tweeted: “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!”
- He later tweeted: “To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!”
The killing of Qasem Soleimani unleashed immediate fears of war — even of World War III — but if no further shots are fired, Thursday’s airstrikes in Baghdad will nonetheless generate momentous consequences.