Pro-Iran demonstrators left the besieged U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday after the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force ordered them to withdraw a day after their dramatic incursion.
Thousands of Iraqi supporters of the largely Iranian-trained Hashed had encircled and vandalised the Embassy compound on Tuesday, outraged by U.S. air strikes that killed 25 Hashed fighters over the weekend.
They marched unimpeded through the checkpoints of the usually high-security Green Zone to the Embassy gates, where they broke through a reception area, chanting “Death to America” and spraying pro-Iran graffiti on the walls.
Iraq’s caretaker Premier Adel Abdel Mahdi called on the angry crowd to leave the Embassy but most spent the night in dozens of tents set up outside the perimetre wall. On Wednesday morning, crowds of men brandished the Hashed’s colours, torched U.S. flags and hurled rocks towards the compound. Security personnel inside responded with tear gas, wounding at least 20 people, the Hashed said.
By the afternoon, the Hashed called on its supporters to leave the Embassy and regroup outside the Green Zone “out of respect for the state”.
“You delivered your message,” it said in a statement.
AFP’s photographer saw protesters dismantling their tents and leaving the Green Zone. “We burned them!” they said, streaming back out of checkpoints they had breezed through on Tuesday.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the group targeted in the U.S. raids, initially told AFP it would stay at the Embassy. But the group’s spokesman Mohammad Mohyeddin later said it had decided to abide by the Hashed’s order. “We scored a huge win: we arrived at the U.S. Embassy, which no one had done before,” he told AFP.
“Now, the ball is in Parliament’s court,” Moyheddin added, referring to lawmakers’ efforts to revoke the legal cover for 5,200 U.S. troops to deploy in Iraq.
Tuesday’s Embassy attack was the latest episode in spiralling tensions between the U.S. and Iran since Washington abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018.
Many of those tensions have played out in Iraq, which has close ties with both governments.
U.S. forces have faced a spate of rocket attacks in recent months, blaming them on pro-Iran Hashed factions.
Last week, one of those attacks killed a U.S. contractor, prompting the retaliatory U.S. air strikes that killed 25 fighters from Kataeb Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades).
President Donald Trump and other US officials have blamed Iran for attacks on U.S. forces and the Embassy.
By Wednesday, Iraqi forces had reimposed normal security measures around the perimetre of the Green Zone, usually inaccessible without a badge.
U.S. officials were alarmed that protesters crossed checkpoints so easily on Tuesday.
An Iraqi special forces fighter assigned to guard the Green Zone told AFP his units had no orders to intervene. “If I had had orders to act, I could have fired and stopped the storming of the Embassy,” he said. “But after what happened, our hands are tied. We can’t prevent the situation from deteriorating,” he added.