Protesters enraged by U.S. air strikes on Iraq staged a violent demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting fires ablaze and hurling stones as security forces and guards fired tear gas and stun grenades to repel them, APA reports citing Reuters.
In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the violence and said Tehran would be held responsible. More U.S. troops were being sent to the embassy, U.S. officials said.
The protests were led by Iranian-backed militias and lasted several hours, but the U.S. State Department said later that personnel were secure and the facility had not been breached.
A State Department spokesperson said reports from Iraqi officials that the ambassador had been evacuated were false. The envoy, Matt Tueller, had been on previously scheduled personal travel and was returning to the embassy, the official said. There were no plans for an evacuation.
The demonstration appeared to be an escalation of the proxy conflict between Washington and Tehran - a hugely influential player in Iraq - while mass protests are challenging Iraq’s own political system nearly 17 years after the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
It also shifted the focus of the mass protests away from the government and pro-Iran militias, and on to the United States.
U.S. air strikes on Sunday on Iranian-backed militia bases killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55.
Those raids, on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, responded to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,” Trump said in a tweet. “Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.”