Trump accuses Iran of ‘orchestrating’ Baghdad embassy breach and violence

US president tells Iraqis they should use force to secure complex, where angry protesters broke through the outer wall and burned property following US airstrike on local militia

Protesters burn property in front of the US embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 31, 2019. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Protesters burn property in front of the US embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 31, 2019. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday blamed Iran for an attack hours earlier by militia supporters who broke into the US Embassy compound in Baghdad and damaged property, along with previous Iraqi Shiite militia attacks on US interests.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible,” he tweeted.

“In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!” Trump added.

The US military said its airstrikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the Kataeb Hezbollah militia.

Trump tweeted from his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is in the midst of two-week-plus vacation. He’s been largely out of sight and the tweet marked his first comment on the weekend US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 member of the Iran-backed group.

US President Donald Trump makes a video call to the troops stationed worldwide at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, December 24, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters broke into the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, angered over the deadly US airstrikes. Tear gas and sounds of gunfire ensued.

The US ambassador and his staff were evacuated, Reuters reported.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three US soldiers on the roof of the main embassy building. There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound but it was unclear what had caused it. A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: “The message was delivered.”

Iraqi security forces made no effort to stop the protesters as they marched to the heavily fortified Green Zone after a funeral held for those killed in the US airstrikes, letting them pass through a security checkpoint leading to the area.

The protesters, many in militia uniform, stopped in a corridor after about 5 meters (16 feet), and were only about 200 meters away from the main building.

Smoke from the tear gas rose in the area, and at least three of the protesters appeared to have difficulty breathing. It wasn’t immediately known whether the embassy staff had remained inside the main building or were evacuated at some point.

There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon and the State Department on the breach of the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Yassine al-Yasseri, Iraq’s interior minister, appeared outside the embassy at one point and walked around to inspect the scene. He told the AP that the prime minister had warned that the US strikes on the Shiite militiamen would have serious consequences.

“This is one of the implications,” al-Yasseri said. “This is a problem and is embarrassing to the government.”

He said more security will be deployed to separate the protesters from the embassy, an indication the Iraqi troops would not move in to break up the crowd by force.

Iraqi security forces stand guard in front of the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, December 31, 2019. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Seven armored vehicles with about 30 Iraqi soldiers arrived near the embassy hours after the violence erupted, deploying near the embassy walls but not close to the breached area. Four vehicles carrying riot police approached the embassy later but were forced back by protesters who blocked their path.

There were no reports of casualties, but the unprecedented breach was one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory.

The developments represent a major downturn in Iraq-US relations that could further undermine US influence in the region and also weaken Washington’s hand in its maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

Iraq has long struggled to balance its ties with the US and Iran, both allies of the Iraqi government. But the government’s angry reaction to the US airstrikes and its apparent decision not to prevent the protesters from reaching the embassy signaled a sharp deterioration of its ties with the US.

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