U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday Iran would be held "fully responsible" for the attack of Iraqi protesters on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Earlier Tuesday, Dozens of angry Iraqi Shi'ite militia supporters have broken into the embassy compound after smashing a door and storming inside, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire, angered over deadly U.S. airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed militia.
Trump tweeted from his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is in the midst of two-week plus vacation. He's been largely out of sight and the tweet marked his first comment on the weekend U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
Medical sources said 12 militiamen were wounded by tear gas and stun grenades fired to disperse the crowd.
There were no reports of casualties among embassy staff of security forces, but the unprecedented breach was one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory. It followed deadly U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The U.S. military said the airstrikes were in retaliation for last week's killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it had blamed on the militia.
Iraqi leaders guaranteed the safety of American personnel and propertyin a telephone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department said. The embassy meanwhile told American citizens not to approach the compound and called on them to "review their personal security and emergency preparedness."
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Later Tuesday Trump called on Iraqis to stand up against Iranian influence in the country. "To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!" Trump tweeted.
A U.S. official also said that they are expecting to temporarily send additional Marines to its embassy in Baghdad.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton said the assault on the embassy was "straight from Iran's playbook in 1979. It's a sign of Iranian control over Shia militia groups, not a sign of Iraqi anti-Americanism."
The developments represent a major downturn in Iraq-U.S. relations that could further undermine U.S. influence in the region and also weaken Washington's hand in its maximum pressure campaign against Iran.
Iraq has long struggled to balance its ties with the U.S. and Iran, both allies of the Iraqi government. But the government's angry reaction to the U.S. airstrikes and its apparent decision not to prevent the protesters from reaching the embassy signaled a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Iraq relations.
Iraqi security forces made no effort to stop the protesters as they marched to the heavily-fortified Green Zone after a funeral held for those killed in the U.S. airstrikes, letting them pass through a security checkpoint leading to the area.
Yassine al-Yasseri, Iraq's interior minister, also appeared outside the embassy at one point and walked around to inspect the scene. He told the AP that the prime minister had warned the U.S. strikes on the Shiite militiamen would have serious consequences.
"This is one of the implications," al-Yasseri said. "This is a problem and is embarrassing to the government."
He said more security will be deployed to separate the protesters from the embassy, an indication the Iraqi troops would not move in to break up the crowd by force.
The U.S. airstrikes — the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years — and the subsequent calls by the militia for retaliation, represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the U.S. and Iran playing out in the Middle East.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday's strikes send the message that the U.S. will not tolerate actions by Iran that jeopardize American lives.
The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia had vowed Monday to retaliate for the U.S. military strikes. The attack and vows for revenge raised concerns of new attacks that could threaten American interests in the region.
The U.S. attack also outraged both the militias and the Iraqi government, which said it will reconsider its relationship with the U.S.-led coalition — the first time it has said it will do so since an agreement was struck to keep some U.S. troops in the country. It called the attack a “flagrant violation" of its sovereignty.
In a partly televised meeting Monday, Caretaker Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Cabinet members that he had tried to stop the U.S. operation “but there was insistence" from American officials. He declared three days of mourning for those killed in the U.S. strikes, starting Tuesday.
The U.S. military said "precision defensive strikes" were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria. The group, which is a separate force from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.