A small group of Iraqi protesters turned into a massive riot outside of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, as video footage shows hundreds to thousands of people destroying the large compound as soldiers looked on from atop the roof.
Fox News reports that as of Tuesday night (or really early Tuesday morning here in the U.S.), protesters set up tents outside the embassy in the Iraqi capital where they said they intended to stage a sit-in “until American troops leave Iraq and the embassy is closed.” About 100 Marines are being sent to the embassy to bolster security and an Army Apache helicopter flew over the premises and dropped flares in a “show of force”, hoping to disburse the crowd, a U.S. defense official told Fox News.
Earlier in the day, at least six U.S. soldiers were seen standing on the roof of the main building pointing their firearms at the demonstrators and sounds of gunfire could be heard.
Live video from the beginning of the event shows a bunch of people standing around, handing out flags and signs, and a few guys throwing rocks at the compound.
After a few minutes, more people showed up, and sounds of gunfire and explosions could be heard, as smoke started to rise from inside the walls.
In the span of less than an hour a few hundred people turned into thousands, as protesters began toppling cars, destroying windows and doors, and hurling flaming objects.
The New York Times reports that protestors were chanting “Down, Down with the U.S.A” as well as “Death to America”.
The President blamed this attack on the U.S. embassy on Iran, and said they will be held responsible.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
Fortunately, this isn’t a Benghazi situation. The administration is denying claims by Iraqi officials that ambassadors had been evacuated, stating that there was no need for an evacuation because Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller was already out of the country on a planned vacation.
“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,” said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. “We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy.”
Fox News says no one was immediately reported hurt in the rampage and security staff withdrew inside the embassy when protesters started to gather outside.
“We differentiate between these militia groups and the legitimate protesters who have been in the streets for the last couple months demanding a better government and a better future for themselves. These people came right on in. They are very clearly identified,” a U.S. official told them.
“Iraqi security forces did participate [in protecting the embassy] and the President’s message is that we continue to do so,” the official added. “Our first priority is the security of our people and assets in the embassy. The President was very clear in the tweet that the government of Iraq needs to protect the embassy.”