Angry protestors storm US embassy compound in Iraq after American airstrikes trigger outrage
Over the weekend, 24 members of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah were killed in airstrikes by U.S. forces in Iraq — and on Tuesday angry protestors responded by storming the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, according to the New York Times.
The airstrikes over the weekend were carried out in response to a missile attack on an Iraqi military base on Friday in which an American contractor was killed and some members of the U.S. and Iraqi militaries were wounded. The U.S. has blamed Kataib Hezbollah for that attack, but the militia has denied involvement.
On Tuesday, the protestors chanted “death to America” as they stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, lighting fires. Outside the compound, thousands of protestors demonstrated in the streets against the airstrikes.
On Twitter, President Donald Trump blamed the Iranian government for the storming of the Embassy compound as well as for the death of the American contractor on Friday. Trump tweeted, “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now, Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”
Kataib Hezbollah is separate from the Hezbollah (which means “Party of God” in Arabic) of Lebanon, although both are supported by the Iranian government.
In a New York Times article updated on the last day of 2019, reporters Alissa J. Rubin and Ben Hubbard note that the violence in Baghdad underscores a shift in public opinion on the U.S. presence in Iraq — a country they describe as having been “caught in a tug of war” between the U.S. and Iran. Rubin and Hubbard report that “in recent months, public opinion” in Iraq had “began to tilt against Iran, with street protests demanding an end to Tehran’s pervasive influence.” But the airstrikes over the weekend, they explain, “have now made Washington the focus of public hostility, reducing the heat on Tehran and its proxies.”
“Even the tenor of the street protests has shifted, as anti-Iranian slogans have given way to anti-American ones,” according to Rubin and Hubbard.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended the airstrikes, asserting that the U.S. “will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.” But Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has denounced the airstrikes as “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation and threat to the security of Iraq and the region.”
Rubin and Hubbard point out that in one sense, Iran-backed militias and U.S. forces have fought on the same side in Iraq in recent years: both of them had a common enemy in the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria).
“The militias arose to help defeat the Islamic State, a battle they effectively fought on the same side as the Americans,” Rubin and Hubbard report. “They now represent a powerful faction in Iraq, both militarily and politically, controlling a large bloc in Parliament.”