In Second Day of Iraq Unrest, U.S. Troops Fire Tear Gas as Iran-backed Protesters Hurl Stones at Embassy

Later, paramilitary groups told their supporters to withdraw from the perimeter of the embassy in Baghdad ■ The crowd hasn't begun dispersing, witness says

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U.S. Embassy security men use stun grenades to disperse protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2020.
U.S. Embassy security men use stun grenades to disperse protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2020.Credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

Hundreds of Iraqi militiamen and their supporters hurled stones at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for a second day on Wednesday and security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to drive them away.

Later on Wednesday, paramilitary groups who have been protesting against U.S. airstrikes in Iraq told their supporters to withdraw from the perimeter of the embassy in Baghdad.

The crowd did not actually begin withdrawing, according to a Reuters witness.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella group made the call in response to the Iraqi government's call for the protesters to disperse, it said in a statement.

U.S. troops fire tear gas outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq January 1, 2020.Credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

Dozens of pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters had camped out at the gates of the embassy in Baghdad where they stayed the night, a day after they broke into the compound, trashing a reception area and smashing windows in one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory.

The U.S. Marines guarding the embassy fired tear gas as more crowds arrived and after the protesters lit a fire on the roof of the reception area. Smoke rose from the building.

>> Read more: Iran-Iraq Snowball Puts U.S. Mideast Policy to the Test

The protesters are angered by deadly U.S. airstrikes that targeted an Iran-backed militia over the weekend, killing 25 fighters.

The protests, led by Iranian-backed militias, mark a new turn in the shadow war between Washington and Tehran playing out across the Middle East.

On Tuesday, dozens of Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen and their supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in , smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area in one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory.

President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the attack and Defense Secretary Mark Esper later announced the immediate deployment of an infantry battalion of about 750 soldiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to the Middle East. He did not specify their destination, but a U.S. official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly condemned U.S. attacks on Iran-allied militia group in Iraq, Iranian state TV reported on Wednesday, blaming the United States for the violence in the neighboring country.

"The Iranian government, nation and I strongly condemn the attacks," state TV quoted Khamenei as saying.

"Again that guy (Trump) has accused Iran for the attacks. You cannot do a damn thing. If you were logical, which you are not, you would see that your crimes in Iraq and other countries have made nations hate you," Khamenei tweeted.

"If Iran decides to confront a country, we will do that openly ... If anyone threatens our nation's interests we will fight back ... without any hesitation."

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