Protesting troops withdraw from US embassy in Baghdad
BAGHDAD – Supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups who stormed the U.S. Embassy’s perimeter and hurled rocks in two days of protests withdrew on Wednesday after Washington dispatched extra troops and threatened reprisals against Tehran.
The demonstrators, angry at U.S. air strikes against the Tehran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group in which at least 25 people were killed, threw stones at the building while U.S. forces stationed on the rooftops fired tear gas to disperse them.
By mid-afternoon, most appeared to have obeyed a call to withdraw, issued by the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella group of mainly Shi’ite militia, which said the demonstrators’ message had been heard.
Young men used palm tree branches to sweep the street in front of the embassy compound. Others packed up equipment and vans arrived to take people away. Some left to set up a protest camp in front of a nearby hotel.
Iraq’s military said all protesters had left by the evening.
The protests marked a new turn in the shadow war between Washington and Tehran playing out across the Middle East.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who faces a re-election campaign in 2020, accused Iran of orchestrating the violence. He threatened on Tuesday to retaliate against Iran but said later he did not want war.
Iran, under severe economic duress from punishing U.S. sanctions put in place by Trump, denied responsibility.
The unrest followed U.S. air raids on Sunday against Kataib Hezbollah bases in retaliation for missile attacks that killed a U.S. contractor in northern Iraq last week.
On Tuesday, crowds chanted: ‘Death to America!’, lit fires, and smashed surveillance cameras. They breached an outer perimeter of the embassy but did not enter the main compound.
The huge embassy, built along the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad’s fortified “green zone” during the American occupation following the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, is the biggest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world.
Washington said its diplomats were safe and it was rushing hundreds of extra troops to the region. (Reuters)