President Donald Trump has blamed Iran for bombing a coalition base and orchestrating the storming of the US Embassy in Baghdad, as Iraqis rage at American airstrikes on militias in the country.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” the president tweeted on Tuesday. “We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
A rocket attack on a coalition base near Kirkuk last week killed one American contractor and wounded several US troops. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the US blamed the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, and struck back on Sunday. The retaliatory airstrikes pounded three Kataib Hezbollah targets in Qaim, western Iraq, and two in Syria. At least 25 fighters were killed in the airstrikes, the militia group has claimed.
The strikes were condemned by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who called them a violation of sovereignty and threatened “grave consequences.” Tehran called them an “act of terrorism,” while a number of Shia clerics and militia leaders joined in the condemnation.
As official denunciations flowed in, dozens of protesters stormed the heavily fortified US Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, chanting “death to America” and waving Hezbollah flags. Fire was seen in one part of the compound, and gunfire was reported at the scene. Despite the chaos, the State Department said on Tuesday that the embassy itself was not breached, and there are no plans to evacuate it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stuck to the same anti-Iran line as Trump, decrying the “Iranian proxy attack” on the Kirkuk base, and accusing “Iranian backed groups” of threatening the embassy.
We responded defensively to the Iranian proxy attack that killed an American citizen and wounded American and Iraqi soldiers. Now, Iranian backed groups are threatening our Embassy in Baghdad.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 31, 2019
Iran has denied ordering attacks on US troops in Iraq, and is not known to be behind the embassy protests.
In criticizing the US airstrikes, Mahdi accused Washington of acting out its own anti-Iran agenda on Iraqi soil. The country’s National Security Council added that policing its military bases is the sole responsibility of the Iraqi armed forces, not the US.
Controlling militias like Kataib Hezbollah and its allies in the ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ has proven difficult for Mahdi’s government though. Officially sanctioned to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) forces in 2014, elements of these militia groups have resisted being brought under the Iraqi military’s command, leaving Mahdi condemning both the militias’ actions and the US’ response.
Though Mahdi urged protesters to stay away from the embassy, Trump added on Tuesday that “we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”
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