Protesters Storm U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
Not surprisingly Americans have no friends on the streets or in government after Sunday's airstrikes.
UPDATE 1:15 p.m: The Pentagon has announced it will be sending additional troops to the Green Zone after Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Protesters have stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and reportedly set fire to the main entrance area, shouting “Death to America” and “Down, Down, USA”.
I would seem that after weeks of violent Shia protests against the Iranian-backed Shia elite in the Iraqi government, Washington has united all of them—against the United States.
But really, what did they expect, after launching five airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Sunday against the Iraqi militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah, which has been described by Americans as an Iranian proxy, but turns out they were more than that. The strikes were, according to the U.S., in retaliation for 30 rocket attacks against the K1 base in Kirkuk in Northern Iraq on Saturday—one which killed an American contractor and wounded several others, including two U.S. servicemembers. The base houses Iraqi military as well as Americans.
But the American bombing drew swift condemnation by the Iraqi government, because, after all, this is their country and they had reportedly asked the Americans to stand down. Now, there are strident calls for them to leave. The U.S. currently has about 5,000 troops left in the country (with no plans to depart that we know of).
Those calls turned into mass protests around the embassy after the funerals for the 25 Kata’ib Hezbollah fighters today. According to Al Jazeera, the funeral procession continued to the Green Zone where the demonstrators surrounded the embassy. The ambassador and staff had been reportedly evacuated.
Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn reported no sign of armed resistance from the U.S. so far: “We’ve seen in the past when anti-government protesters were able to enter the Green Zone but I don’t believe we’ve seen such a large number of people come this close to the US Embassy,” she continued, calling this a “significant development.”
Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara noted the irony: “In terms of the United States, here is a country that has spent trillions of dollars in Iraq 16 years after its invasion and occupation to wins the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and ends up having its embassy surrounded the way it is,” he said, pointing out that the U.S. “doesn’t have much of an alliance either on the street or government institutions within Iraq.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his usual imperious way, described Sunday’s airstrikes as “self-defense” for what Washington has called a growing number of “attacks” on U.S. interests in the region. He described Kata’ib Hezbollah as an arm of the Iranian government, which the U.S. has blamed for attacks on Saudi oil facilities and oil tankers in the Gulf, among other transgressions. However, it turns out that Kata’ib Hezbollah is a member of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization of militias that helped the U.S. dispel ISIS from Iraq.
We don’t know why these fighters were targeting the K1 base but they weren’t some rag tag group sent into Iraq and Syria by the Iranian ayatollahs—they played an integral role in the Iraqi resistance to the Islamic State occupation of their country, which took three years and heavy casualties to break. They remain integrated into the Iraqi armed forces, which would account for not only the protests today, but the new calls to re-examine the U.S.-Iraqi relationship in parliament. Furthermore, the PMF has vowed its own retribution:
“Our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” said senior PMF commander Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, vowing to seek revenge against US forces in Iraq.
It would seem that in their myopic zeal to go after their Iranian nemesis (note that the only world leader to “congratulate” Trump for the airstrikes has been Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu), the Americans have alienated the one ally it should have in the region. As my colleagues have noted over the last few days, this could be the war that the Trump Administration wanted to avoid, just hours before we ring in 2020.