Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades militia supporters storm US embassy in Baghdad
Iraqi protesters have stormed the US embassy in Baghdad, following deadly US airstrikes this week that killed 25 fighters from an Iran-backed Shia militia in Iraq, the correspondent of The New Arab’s Arabic language sister site reported.
Special counterterrorism forces arrived at the embassy after it was stormed and launched tear gas grenades at the protesters.
Hundreds of Iraqi mourners had gathered outside the US embassy on Tuesday morning. Shouting "Down, Down USA!" the crowd tried to push inside the embassy grounds, hurling water bottles and smashing security cameras outside.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah Brigades militia said that 20 of its supporters were injured during the storming.
The US military carried out the strikes Sunday against the Hezbollah Brigades militia, saying that it was retaliation for last week's killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group.
The US attack - the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years - and the calls for retaliation, represent a new escalation in a proxy conflict between the US and Iran playing out in the Middle East.
Tuesday's embassy storming took place after mourners held funerals for the militia fighters in a Baghdad neighbourhood, after which they marched on to the heavily fortified Green Zone. Crowds then kept walking until they reached the sprawling US embassy in Baghdad.
Journalists saw the crowd try to storm the embassy, shouting anti-American slogans, as security guards retreated into the compound building.
Protesters also were seen hanging yellow flags belonging to the Hezbollah Brigades militia backed by Iran on the walls of the embassy.
The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site said that protesters also started a fire near the wall of the embassy and threw a Molotov cocktail inside.
The US embassy in Baghdad has also reportedly evacuated 80 of its staff to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously said that the strikes send the message that the US will not tolerate actions by Iran that jeopardise American lives.
The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia had vowed on Monday to retaliate for the US military strikes in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 of its fighters and wounded dozens. The attack and vows for revenge raised the possibility of new attacks against US interests in the region.
The US attack outraged both the militias and the Iraqi government which said it will reconsider its relationship with the US-led coalition - the first time it has said it will do so since an agreement was struck to keep some US troops in the country. It called the attack a "flagrant violation" of its sovereignty.
In a partly televised meeting Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told cabinet members that he had tried to stop the US operation "but there was insistence" from American officials.
The US military said "precision defensive strikes" were conducted against five sites of Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria. The group, which is a separate force from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, which are supported by Iran.