Outraged Iraqi protesters on Tuesday stormed the US Embassy compound in Baghdad, protesting Washington’s attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd Al-Shaabi forces, Anadolu Agency reports.
At least 25 people were killed in weekend US air strikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria.
Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the US attacks.
According to an Anadolu Agency correspondent at the scene, some Iraqi protesters set fire to the walls surrounding the embassy compound.
An Iraqi security source, for his part, said most of the embassy staffers had been evacuated, fearing that it would be stormed by protesters gathering in front of the gate.
The source, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told Anadolu Agency: “The embassy evacuated its main employees to an unknown location as tension mounted in front of the embassy.”
He added, “there is a fear that the fighters in the crowd and those loyal to them may storm the embassy building,” stressing that the embassy headquarters is now all but vacant.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses told Anadolu Agency that prominent leaders of the Hashd Al-Shabi factions were leading the protests, while protesters began erecting sit-in tents in front of the embassy compound.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the weekend attacks, calling them “a clear violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
“Iraq is an independent country,” said a ministry statement, adding that it will not allow Iraq to be turned into “a battlefield or a crossing point for an attack, or its territories to be used to target neighboring countries.”
The US ambassador in Baghdad will be summoned to deliver the statement to his superiors, said the statement.
US air strikes welcomed by Bahrain, condemned by Iran
Bahrain has expressed its support for the air strikes carried out by the US yesterday against the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) facilities in Iraq and neighboring Syria. The announcement was made in a tweet by the Bahrain Foreign Ministry.
The ministry’s official webpage described the US strikes as a response to “repeated terrorist attacks” by the KH, which is aligned with Iran and forms part of the Hashd Al-Shaabi umbrella group of paramilitaries that fought against Daesh. “The Kingdom of Bahrain lauds the strategic role of the United States of America in combatting terrorist groups in the region. It further reiterates its support for all efforts and measure taken by the US to preserve regional and international peace and security.”
America conducted the “defensive” aerial attacks against the group in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack on a military base in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which also left four US service personnel and two Iraqi soldiers wounded. Targets included the headquarters of the Hashd Al-Shaabi’s 45th and 46th Brigades near the western Qaim district on the border with Syria; at least 25 fighters are believed to have been killed, including a commander.
Reuters quoted senior commander Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, known by his alias Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes, as saying that, “The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq.”
Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi also voiced condemnation over the US attack as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a “dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region.” The KH forms an integrated part of the Iraqi security forces, under the direct command of the Prime Minister.
The group was formed in 2003 during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and have a history of resisting the occupation forces. It is currently the only Iraqi Shia militia that is designated as a terrorist organization by the US government. Israel recently claimed that it would not allow Iran to entrench itself in Iraq through the Hashd Al-Shaabi, which was established in response to a fatwa by Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to combat Daesh.
Iran condemned the air strikes as “terrorism”. The official website of the KH also denounced America’s “heinous crime” of violating Iraq’s sovereignty and issued calls for the expulsion of the US from the country.
There are believed to be approximately 5,000 US troops still in Iraq, despite a withdrawal in December 2011 under the previous administration.