Some supporters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi force began dismantling their sit-in outside the US embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, but hardliners insisted they would stay put.
The Hashed, a powerful paramilitary network integrated into Iraq’s state security forces, ordered its backers to end their protest outside the US mission.
“You delivered your message,” it said in a statement.
Thousands had massed outside the embassy in anger at deadly weekend US airstrikes on the pro-Iran Hashed faction Kataeb Hezbollah. Those strikes were in response to a rocket attack on an Iraqi army base that killed a US contractor.
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, had called on the Hashed supporters to leave the embassy on Tuesday but most spent the night in dozens of tents pitched outside the perimeter wall.
On Wednesday, the Hashed called on supporters to regroup outside the high-security Green Zone where the mission is located.
An AFP photographer saw some protesters beginning to dismantle their tents.
But a leading Kataeb Hezbollah commander told AFP they would stay outside the embassy.
“We in Kataeb Hezbollah won’t withdraw even if the others do,” said the commander, who was among those outside.
On Wednesday morning, US Marines guarding the embassy fired tear gas as more crowds arrived and after the protesters lit a fire on the roof of the reception area. Smoke rose from the building. There have been no reports of any injuries since the protests began.
Dozens of Iran-allied militiamen and their supporters had camped out at the gates of the embassy overnight, a day after they broke into the compound, trashing a reception area and smashing windows before pulling back. It was one of the worst attacks on a US diplomatic mission in years.
The violence comes as Iran and its allies have faced unprecedented mass protests in recent months and after heavy US sanctions on Iran that have cratered its economy and raised tensions across the region. In Iraq, the protesters have been angered at their own government’s corruption and economic mismanagement, as well as its close ties to Tehran.
US President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the attack on the embassy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper later announced the immediate deployment of an infantry battalion of about 750 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to the Middle East. He did not specify their destination, but a US official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait.
Iran has denied any involvement in the attack on the embassy. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted by state media on Tuesday as warning the US against any “miscalculation” in the worsening standoff, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said that US President Donald Trump was powerless to do anything to Iran.