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Protesters set fires in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Photo: Khalid Mohammed/AP

Some local staff were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, while others remained inside a safe room within the compound as thousands of protesters and militia fighters thronged the gates in fury at U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, the AP reports.

The latest: Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement, "We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy."

  • "As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so," Esper added. "The U.S. continues to support the Iraqi people and a free, sovereign and prosperous Iraq."
  • A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that "U.S. personnel are secure and there has been no breach," adding that Ambassador Matthew Tueller, who had been on a scheduled vacation, is returning to the embassy.

The scene, per Reuters: "Outside the embassy, protesters threw stones at the gate while others chanted, 'No, no, America! ... No, no, Trump!'"

  • An AP reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three U.S. soldiers on the roof of the main embassy building.
  • There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound.
  • A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: "The message was delivered."

"Iraqi special forces were deployed around the main gate to prevent [protesters] entering the embassy," Reuters added.

  • "A few hours into the protest, tear gas was fired in an attempt to disperse the crowd."
  • Ambassador Matthew Tueller was out of the country on a previously scheduled vacation.
The U.S. embassy wall is splattered with graffiti. Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

The context: The embassy attack follows deadly airstrikes Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah, per AP.

  • 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.

Why it matters: 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.

  • President Trump tweeted: "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!"
  • He later tweeted: "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!"

Editor's note: This is a developing news story and will be updated with new details.

Go deeper: U.S. forces conduct airstrikes against Iran-backed militia in Syria, Iraq

Go deeper

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

1 hour ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

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