Iran-backed militia says it took part in assault on Bahrain embassy in Iraq
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Iran-backed militia says it took part in assault on Bahrain embassy in Iraq

Spokesman for Kataeb Hezbollah militant group says protesters had ‘natural right’ to attack mission over Gulf country’s hosting of US-led peace confab

Iraqi security forces stand guard near the Bahraini embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, after protesters stormed the compound to protest the US-led peace conference hosted by Bahrain earlier in the week. June 27, 2019. (AP/Ali Abdul Hassan)
Iraqi security forces stand guard near the Bahraini embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, after protesters stormed the compound to protest the US-led peace conference hosted by Bahrain earlier in the week. June 27, 2019. (AP/Ali Abdul Hassan)

BAGHDAD  — An official with an Iran-backed militia said members of his group comprised the majority of protesters outside the Bahraini embassy in the Iraqi capital that was attacked this week. But he said he doesn’t know who stormed the mission.

Jaafar al-Husseini, spokesman for the Kataeb Hezbollah, said that storming the embassy was a “natural right for the protesters” to express their anger over Bahrain’s hosting of a US-led economic conference to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

He told the Associated Press that the group’s supporters did not storm the embassy in Baghdad.

Iraq is home to Iran-backed militias and the embassy attack comes amid tensions between the United States and Iran in the Middle East. Iraq has close relations with both Washington and Tehran and has been trying to ease tensions between them.

Protesters stormed the embassy compound in Baghdad Thursday night, removing the flag from above the building and replacing it with a Palestinian banner to protest the economic conference held in the Gulf nation to push Washington’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

No one was hurt in the standoff that lasted more than an hour and later in the night, Iraqi security forces were in control of the area.

An Iraqi security official said the protesters forced their way in by breaking through the main gate but stayed in the garden without storming the offices inside the compound. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said security forces opened fire in the air to disperse the protesters and reinforcements were sent to Baghdad’s western neighborhood of Mansour, where the embassy is located.

More than an hour later, the nearly 200 protesters, waving Iraqi and Palestinian flags, dispersed. The official said 25 of the protesters were detained by Iraqi security forces later in the evening.

The Bahraini diplomats had been evacuated earlier from the compound into the heavily fortified Green Zone that is home to the Iraqi government headquarters, after the mission received threats, the official said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim stands for a moment of silence in memory of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, during the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of a weekend Arab Economic Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 18, 2019 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim on Friday phoned his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa to say Baghdad “condemns the attack.”

Hakim also expressed hope that the incident would not “undermine diplomatic relations” between the two countries, the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the attack and said the kingdom was recalling its ambassador, Salah Ali al-Maliki. It added that Iraqi authorities have a responsibility to protect the embassy in Baghdad.

The attack on the embassy could affect relations between Iraq and nearby Gulf countries at a time when they have been improving in recent months since Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi took office.

The two-day workshop in Bahrain that ended Wednesday was to promote the Trump administration’s $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians ahead of a Mideast peace plan to be announced later.

Several Arab countries boycotted the Bahrain conference including Lebanon and Iraq as well as the Palestinian Authority.

The crisis gripping the Middle East stems from US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States a year ago from the nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers and then imposing crippling new sanctions on Tehran.

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