A two-day siege by the US embassy in Iraq has further sharpened the relationship between the US and Iran. Washington has sent 750 extra soldiers to the region.
The peace has since returned to the American embassy in Baghdad after thousands of pro-Iranian militias attacked the building on New Year’s Eve as one of the most secure embassies in the world. The American diplomats could not leave the complex for two days.
American soldiers managed to keep the demonstrators dressed in militia uniforms with tear gas from the embassy. No one was injured, but the soldiers could not prevent the guardhouse at the entrance gate from being set on fire. The yellow building is completely burned out on the inside, the outside is covered with graffiti.
The protesters withdrew Wednesday at the request of the Iraqi government, which said that “their message was clearly conveyed.” According to The New York Times, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has promised to speed up the enactment of a law that would force the US to remove its troops from the country.
The violent demonstration, which evoked memories of the occupation of the American embassy in Tehran by Iranian students in 1979, was a reaction to an American bombing in northern Iraq. 25 members of the Kataib Hezbollah group supported by Iran were killed. That Shiite militia was held responsible by the US for an attack in which an American was killed.
The attack on the embassy puts further pressure on the already cold relationship between the US and Iran. Since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015 and imposed maximum sanctions, tensions have risen between the two countries. It almost came to a military escalation once when an American drone was shot from the sky by Iran.
Iran denies being behind the disturbances, but the action fits in with the picture that analysts have been sketching for some time: that Iran is trying to reduce the influence of the US in the Middle East. Protests have been going on in Iraq for months, including against Iran’s growing influence on the country.
Trump has no doubt that Iran is responsible for the skirmishes at the embassy. He swore on Wednesday that hard reprisals will follow.
“They will pay a very high price. This is not a warning, this is a threat. “
Defense Minister Mark Esper announced that he would immediately send an additional 750 soldiers to Iraq, on top of the roughly 5,000 troops who are already there. Foreign minister Mike Pompeo has postponed a visit to Ukraine to be able to monitor the situation in Iraq.