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Protesters who’d laid siege on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad left behind charred destruction after they relented Wednesday. The retreat provided relief for an incredibly tense situation — at least for now.
Images showed burned-out structures, destroyed by supporters of the Iran-aligned Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq who attacked the embassy on Tuesday. Soot covered the walls of a burned checkpoint building, its windows knocked out and debris scattered about the floor.
The group of pro-Iran demonstrators finally dispersed Wednesday after two days of protests that trapped diplomats in the embassy overnight. The supporters had forced their way past an outer wall of the compound, set buildings on fire, and then camped outside overnight. By Wednesday the group, which chanted “Death to America,” had grown smaller and ultimately proved unable to breach the embassy again, the New York Times reported.
“Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief,” Maj. Charlie Dietz, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, told the Washington Post. “A situation that could have easily escalated out of control was handled with tactical restraint, and everyone was able to walk away.”
Demonstrators briefly reached the roof of a reception building on the compound on Wednesday, but American troops firing tear gas drove them back. Eventually, the demonstrators withdrew at the behest of the militia group’s leaders.
As everyone left, protesters chanted “Yay! We burned them!” in reference to the charred destruction from the day before, according to the Post.
The siege was a response to a U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed 25 militia members on Sunday. The U.S. launched the strike after the death of a U.S. military contractor allegedly killed by Kataib Hezbollah.
An interior view of damaged room is seen as crowd leave the site after Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi group urges its members to withdraw from around US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq on January 01, 2020. a statement, the Hashd al-Shaabi group, or Popular Mobilization Forces, said: We call on the crowd in front of the U.S. Embassy to respect the call of the Iraqi government and to withdraw from the area for the protection of state institutions. (Photo by Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Kataib Hezbollah, while composed of Iraqis, has close ties with Iran. The group is a part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, or al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the organization that commands Iraq’s Shiite militia groups. Those groups worked to help remove ISIS from the country but some, like Kataib Hezbollah, have turned their attention toward limiting U.S. influence now that ISIS has been mostly defeated.
While order had been restored by Thursday, tensions clearly remain. The Pentagon planned to send hundreds of troops to the region and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo postponed a trip to Central Asia to focus on Baghdad, USA Today reported.
President Donald Trump had previously accused Iran of orchestrating the embassy siege.
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” he tweeted on New Year’s Eve. “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
Cover image: Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters are seen through broken windows of a burned checkpoint in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)