Hundreds of Iraqi militia members and their supporters set fires and hurled stones at the United States Embassy in Baghdad for the second day, while U.S. security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to drive them away. The unprecedented attack on an American diplomatic mission in the country was ignited on Tuesday (December 31), when angry mobs torched a security post the entrance, but failed to breach the main compound.
Today the infuriated protesters set up tents outside the diplomatic facility, vowing to continue their demonstration against U.S. air strikes on bases operated by the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah inside Iraq, which killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55, Sunday (December 29). Two other attacks targeted the militia in Syria. The strikes were retaliation for the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base last Friday (December 27).
Mohammed al-Haydari, identified as the Director of Doctrinal Guidance for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), told Reuters that ”The American troops in Iraq are supposed to either train Iraqi forces or to combat terrorism, but the killing of members of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Arabic for the ‘PMF), this is something unacceptable. So, for this reason, we are coming here, until the U.S. troops leave Iraq.”
Protesters were filmed climbing and standing on the burned-out reception area of the embassy as thick, grey smoke billowed in the air, while other mobs marched in the street outside while waving flags and chanting slogans against the U.S. One demonstrator who did not wish to be named said, ”We are here holding a sit-in for the souls of our martyrs (killed in the December 29 strikes) and (will remain here) until the departure of the American occupiers, who committed the aggression at our borders against our army and sacred Hashd (paramilitary forces).” Another unnamed militiaman underscored, “We will never move from here, I swear on God and on my life, until they leave here.”
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran for “orchestrating” the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The President, who is running for re-election in 2020, threatened to retaliate against Tehran, but said later he did not want to go to war. After being asked about the possibility of tensions spiraling into a conflagration with the Islamic Republic while speaking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump said, “I don’t think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn’t last very long. Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace. And Iran should want peace more than anybody. So I don’t see that happening. No, I don’t think Iran would want that to happen. It would go very quickly.”
The Pentagon said that in addition to marine security forces sent to protect embassy personnel, about 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were also being deployed to the Middle East as a precaution, and that additional troops were prepared to ship out over the next several days.
The protests also cast uncertainty over the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Iran has adamantly rejected the accusation that it was behind the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. During a speech in Tehran today, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly condemned the U.S. attacks on Iran-allied militia group in Iraq, and blamed Washington for the violence in the neighboring country.
“The Iranian government, nation and I strongly condemn the attacks,” Khamenei said, adding that Iran would “confront” any country that attempted to use force against it. He went on to say, “Americans, look at what they are doing in Iraq and in Syria – they’re taking revenge for ISIS on the Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), because Hashd al-Shaabi destroyed and crippled the ISIS,” which he said was created by the United States. “They are actually exacting revenge for that. They are using something else as an excuse, they are attacking Iraqi soil, killing a number of people. The Iranian government, nation and I strongly condemn the U.S.’s malicious attacks,” said Khamenei.
The Supreme Leader went on to say, “When they come across incidents like this, as you can see now in Baghdad, all across Iraq the frenzied feelings against America at the level that they are, then again that guy (U.S. President Donald Trump) tweets, or gives a speech or writes a report, that we see Iran responsible (for events in Baghdad), Iran has a hand in it and we will respond to Iran.”
As the audience laughed, Khamenei then insisted that the U.S. is “ wrong, it has nothing to do with Iran. Secondly, if you were logical, which you are not – Americans must have common sense and they should know that they don’t – you would see that the people of the countries in this region hate you. Why do they not know this? You, Americans, committed crimes in Iraq, you committed crimes in Afghanistan. You killed people.”
Khamenei concluded his remarks by saying that, “If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge and fight a country, it will do so unequivocally. We are strongly committed to our country’s interest and our peace, we are strongly committed to the dignity of our country. We are strongly committed to the progress and greatness of our country and if anyone threatens that, we will, without any hesitation confront it and strike it. We will never, some people say we are heading to war, no, we are not taking the country towards war. But, if anyone attempts to use force against this country in any way, we will confront them with all of our strength.”
The audience in Tehran responded to their leader’s comments by chanting “Allahu Akhbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”