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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

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Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
7 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.

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