Updated Dec 31, 2019

U.S. to send "additional forces" after embassy in Baghdad attacked by protesters

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

U.S. deploying 750 troops to Middle East after embassy attack in Iraq

Smoke billowing from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Photo: U.S. Embassy in Iraq/AFP via Getty Images

The United States has stepped up its response to unrest in Iraq after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked by deploying 750 troops to the region at the direction of President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday.

"[The] soldiers will deploy to the region immediately & additional forces from the [Immediate Response Force] are prepared to deploy over the next several days. This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today. The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world."
— Esper's announcement via Twitter
Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 1, 2020

Protesters withdraw from U.S. embassy in Baghdad after militia orders

Supporters of the Iranian-backed militia group Kataib Hezbollah at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31. Photo: Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Protestors withdrew from the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday following orders from the Iranian-backed militia group Kataib Hezbollah, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The militia leaders said they had won a victory that allowed their message to be heard, signaling they would now try to remove U.S. troops from Iraq by taking action in the country’s parliament.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 2, 2020

Trump's New Year's crisis

Photos: Getty Images

The storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has launched one of the biggest foreign policy crises of the Trump presidency.

Driving the news: Trump tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!"

Go deeperArrowUpdated Dec 31, 2019