Thousands of supporters of pro-Iranian Iraqi paramilitaries forced their way into the US embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday to protest against US airstrikes in Iraq. They urged American forces to fire tear gas canisters.
The angry crowd protested the American airstrikes that killed 25 fighters from Hezbollah brigades, an Iraqi Shia armed group that is a member of Hashd al-Shaabi also known as the People’s Mobilization Committee and the Popular Mobilization Units, on Sunday. The latter is a coalition of paramilitaries dominated by pro-Iran factions and integrated into the Iraqi regular forces.
Thousands of Hashd fighters and supporters participated in the funeral procession of the killed fighters. They managed to cross without difficulty all the checkpoints of the ultra-secure Baghdad Green Zone, where the embassy and Iraqi institutions are based, AFP journalists reported.
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They then staged a sit-in in front of the embassy and led the prayer in memory of the 25 fighters killed, before managing to cross the first enclosure of the gigantic ultra-secure complex. US forces then fired tear gas and stun grenades from inside the chancellery.
Before the embassy attack, the demonstrators burned security facilities outside the embassy, tore off the surveillance cameras, threw stones at the turrets of their guards and covered the armoured windows with flags of the Hashd and Hezbollah brigades. “No to America,” they wrote on a wall. And “Closed by order of the resistance brigades”. The top Hashd leaders were present, AFP journalists said.
Exacerbated anti-American sentiment
The U.S. strikes took place in retaliation for friday’s death of a U.S. subcontractor in the 11th rocket attack in two months, unclaimed but attributed by Washington to Hezbollah brigades.
Since then, anti-American sentiment has been exacerbated by pro-Iran supporters in Iraq, a country shaken since October 1 by a popular revolt which denounces the Iraqi government accused of corruption and incompetence, as well as the growing influence of its Iranian godfather.
Pro-Iran armed and political factions are waging a broad campaign to denounce the U.S.-Iraqi cooperation agreement that frames the presence of 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq.
US forces, which invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, withdrew from the country in 2011. However, troops returned in 2014 as part of the international coalition against the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group.
During the three years of war against IS, these men fought on the same side as those of the Hashd. But today the Hashd are a more serious threat to Americans than IS, according to American sources.
US soldiers call for departure
Also in the Green Zone, another campaign is taking place: in Parliament, more than a hundred MEPs have already signed a call to put the ouster of foreign troops from Iraq on the agenda. Baghdad has already announced that it will summon the US ambassador, while Washington has accused Iraq of failing to “protect” its soldiers and diplomats, who are present “at (its) invitation”.
The Iraqi government, who resigned, retorted that “American forces acted according to their political priorities and not those of the Iraqis”. Resigning Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi acknowledged that he was informed of the strikes shortly before they took place by the Pentagon.
Attacks on American interests or pro-Iranian bases also raise concerns about what Iraqi leaders have been warning about for months: that their two American and Iranian allies are using Iraq as their battleground.