Protesters shouting “Death to America,” stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting fires, scrawling anti-American graffiti and planting flags for Iran-backed militia groups.
The protest is reportedly in response to a series of U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 militia fighters on Sunday. The strike was in retaliation for a rocket strike on an Iraqi military compound that killed a U.S. defense contractor and injured U.S. and Iraqi service members.
As Iraqi security forces did not attempt to stop the protesters, the storming of the Embassy could heighten concern about the relationship between the United States and Iraq, especially amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. About 5,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in Iraq, and some of the Iranian-backed militia wants them withdrawn, according to the Associated Press.
Iraq is already in the midst of a tumultuous period. Since October, more than 450 people have been killed in mass protests criticizing the country’s poor quality of life and demanding new electoral laws and accountability for corruption. In November, Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced he would resign as Prime Minister of the country after weeks of violent protests.
Here is how events have unfolded since the death of the U.S. contractor.
Friday, Dec. 27: U.S. Defense Contractor Killed in Rocket Attack in Iraq
A U.S. defense contractor was killed in an attack on an Iraqi military compound near Kirkuk, Iraq, according to the Associated Press. The attack also injured four U.S. service members and two Iraqi Security Forces members, according to the Department of Defense. As many as 30 rockets were fired in the attack.
Several other similar attacks have occurred over the past few months, according to the Associated Press.
Sunday, Dec. 29: U.S. Strikes kill 25 militia members
The U.S. conducts air strikes on five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, according to the Department of Defense. The U.S. indicated that the strikes were in retaliation for the rocket attack. The attack killed 25 fighters, according to the Associated Press.
“The U.S. and its coalition partners fully respect Iraqi sovereignty, and support a strong and independent Iraq. The U.S., however, will not be deterred from exercising its right of self-defense,” Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. He called on Iran and the militias to stop attacking U.S. and coalition forces.
The Iraqi government expressed outrage about the attack, calling it a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, according to the Associated Press.
Monday, Dec. 30: Iraq Expresses Outrage After Airstrike
Speaking to cabinet members, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi declared three days of mourning for the people killed in the strikes, according to the Associated Press. He said that he had attempted to stop the U.S. airstrike, but the U.S. had insisted.
Tuesday, Dec. 31: Protesters Break into the U.S. Embassy Compound
After a funeral for fighters killed in the airstrikes, protesters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.
Protesters gathered outside the compound shouting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” and started to throw water and stones over its walls. They smashed through a main door, set a reception area on fire, and covered the embassy wall with militia flags and anti-U.S. graffiti, and planting flags above the reception area according to the Associated Press. Many were wearing militia uniforms, according to the Associated Press.
The Iraqi security forces didn’t try to stop the protesters, permitting them to pass a security checkpoint, according to the Associated Press.
Commanders from militias that support Iran joined the protest outside the embassy, the Associated Press reported.
After the breach, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said in a statement that additional forces are being sent to support the embassy. He also called on Iraq to help protect the facility.
“As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so,” Esper said.
President Trump blamed Iran for the contractor’s death and the storming of the U.S. Embassy on Twitter.
“They will be held fully responsible,” Trump wrote. “In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham reaffirmed the President’s position in a a statement to the Associated Press
“As the president said, Iran is orchestrating this attack and they will be held fully responsible,” Grisham said. “It will be the president’s choice how and when we respond to their escalation.”
On Tuesday afternoon, President Trump declared on Twitter that the Embassy is “safe” and that U.S. personnel had rushed to the scene.