Iraqis Storm U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Protest Air Strikes

They think we should leave. Photo: Murtaja Lateef/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Hundreds of protesters stormed the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, pushing past guards into the embassy’s compound, covering the walls in anti-American graffiti, and lighting fires to express their fury over recent U.S. air strikes against an Iranian-backed militia. The demonstrators never made it into the embassy’s buildings, and eventually withdrew from the compound. But their leadership has vowed to besiege the embassy until U.S. diplomats leave Iraq.

The protesters are affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group. On Sunday, the United States launched five air strikes against the militia, in retaliation for a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that had killed a U.S. contractor. Kataib Hezbollah had denied responsibility for that attack. Regardless, the U.S. bombing campaign killed two dozen of the group’s members and injured dozens of other Iraqis.

Although the protesters belong to one controversial faction within Iraq’s divided society, fury at America’s air strikes is broadly shared across the nation’s political spectrum. Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, paired his condemnation of the storming of the U.S. embassy with denunciations of America’s “outrageous attack.”

The prime minister has called for a three-day mourning period in honor of those killed in the U.S. air strikes. Meanwhile, the fact that Kataib Hezbollah supporters succeeded in breaching the embassy compound indicates that “they had received at least tacit permission from Iraqi security officials sympathetic to their demands,” according to the New York Times.

The Times provides a succinct summary of the political context in which the current hostilities between the U.S. and  Kataib Hezbollah has arisen:

The United States has 5,000 troops stationed in Iraq. But their official purpose in the country is to train Iraqi security forces, and prevent the resurgence of ISIS — not to wage war on militias that have friendly relations with Iran. In this context, the Trump administration’s decision to conduct five deadly air strikes on Iraqi territory — on an anti-ISIS militia, without the Iraqi government’s consent — is widely seen as an attack on Iraqi sovereignty. It is hard to imagine a worse strategy for diminishing the political influence and support of pro-Iranian militia groups in Iraq than by turning their members into martyrs in a fight against U.S. domination.

The Times provides a succinct summary of the political context in which the current hostilities between the U.S. and Kataib Hezbollah has arisen:

Iran and the United States have been competing for political influence in the aftermath of the battle against the Islamic State, which once covered large areas of Iraq.

Iraqi militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, formed in part to help fight the Islamic State in tandem with the national security forces, a battle that effectively put them on the side of the United States.

They have since evolved into a powerful military and political force with a significant bloc in Parliament. Some of the militias are backed by Iran and use their power to help advance its interests in Iraq.

For now, the Trump administration is evincing little concern that its air strikes have given Iran an upper hand in the battle for Iraqi’s hearts and minds.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,” Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “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!”

Iraqis Storm U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Protest Air Strikes