Hundreds of Iraqi protesters have tried to storm the US embassy in Baghdad following US airstrikes this week that killed 25 fighters from an Iran-backed Shia group in Iraq.
Shouting “Down, Down USA!” the crowd tried to push inside the embassy grounds on Tuesday, hurling water bottles and smashing security cameras outside.
The US military carried out the strikes on Sunday against the Iranian-backed Kataeb Hezbollah, calling it retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group.
The protesters raised flags of the powerful paramilitary group of Hashd Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), which Kataeb Hezbollah is part of, and several people climbed over the wall of the embassy and chanted “death to America” and “no, no America”, witnesses said.
Tuesday’s attempted embassy storming took place after mourners held funerals for the fighters killed in a Baghdad neighbourhood, after which they marched on to the heavily fortified Green Zone and kept walking till they reached the embassy.
Speaking from the scene in Baghdad, Simona Foltyn said so far was no indication of an armed confrontation.
“This entire funeral procession, consisting mostly of PMF members and their followers has entered through these gates without any resistance whatsoever from the Iraqi security forces that are supposed to guard the Green Zone,” she said, speaking from outside of the US Embassy.
“We’ve seen in the past when anti-government protesters were able to enter the Green Zone but I don’t believe we’ve seen such a large number of people come this close to the US Embassy,” she continued, calling this a “significant development”.
“It remains to be seen how the authorities will react and more importantly, how the US will react,” Foltyn added.
Vows of revenge
The US attack – the largest one targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned group in recent years – and the calls for retaliation, represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the US and Iran playing out in the Middle East.
The US military said “precision defensive strikes” were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, which is a separate force from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria.
The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia had vowed Monday to retaliate for the US military strikes. The attack and vows for revenge raised concerns of new attacks that could threaten US interests in the region.