President Donald Trump said Iran has “orchestrated an attack” on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and called on Iraqi security forces to protect the embassy.
Protesters in Iraq stormed the embassy compound after U.S. airstrikes targeted an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, believed to be responsible for an attack on an Iraqi military base.
That attack led to the death of a U.S. contractor and wounded several U.S. and Iraqi service members.
In a tweet on Tuesday morning, Trump defended the airstrikes and said Iran would be “held fully responsible” for the “attack” on the embassy.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”
Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
The protests in Baghdad came in response to the U.S. strikes on Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria on Sunday — the group blamed for the Dec. 27 missile attack on an Iraqi military base — that left 24 of its members dead.
Kataib Hezbollah denied that it was behind the missile attack, according to The New York Times.
Thousands of Iraqis gathered outside the embassy on Tuesday, chanting “Death to America” to voice their outrage over the Sunday airstrikes.
A spokesperson for the militia told the Times it hoped the protests would lead to the closure of the embassy in Baghdad.
Initial reports said that the embassy had been evacuated, but U.S. officials denied that claim. Officials added that Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller was away on vacation.
Reports indicated that at least six U.S. service members were seen on the roof of the main building, pointing their firearms at the protesters.
The strikes were decried by Iraqi officials as “unacceptable” and “vicious,” but former National Security Advisor John Bolton called them a “good first step” in responding to Iranian aggression.
U.S. strikes against Iranian-backed Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria are overdue, but a good first step. The ayatollahs must pay a steep price for their ongoing support for terrorism.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) December 30, 2019
But, the airstrikes could strain the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq further. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the “unacceptable” strikes would have “dangerous consequences.”
“The prime minister described the American attack on the Iraqi armed forces as an unacceptable, vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences.”
Additionally, Mahdi called for three days of mourning following the attack. However, he also vowed that Iraqi security forces would protect foreign embassies.