Protesters attack US Embassy in Baghdad after airstrikes

BAGHDAD (AP) - The protesters who broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad have retreated and set up several tents outside where they intended to stage a sit-in.

Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters smashed a main door and set fire to a reception area in one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory.

They were angered by deadly airstrikes targeting an Iran-backed militia.

President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the embassy breach and said the country will be held “fully responsible.” The developments represent a major downturn in Iraq-U.S. relations that could further undermine U.S. influence in the region and also weaken Washington’s hand in its maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

Trump is calling on Iraq to protect the embassy.

Trump tweeted Tuesday that “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many.” He added, “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!”

Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters have broken into the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad after smashing a door and storming inside, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three U.S. soldiers on the roof of the embassy. There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound but it was unclear what had caused it.

A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: “The message was delivered.”

The embassy attack came after funerals were held Tuesday for 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia who were killed in U.S. airstrikes Sunday.

The crowd marched from a Baghdad neighborhood to the heavily fortified Green Zone and kept walking until they reached the sprawling U.S. Embassy complex there.

AP journalists saw the crowd try to push into the embassy, shouting “Down, down USA!”

The attacked Iraqi militia vowed to retaliate Monday, a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the militia had been targeted over blame for a rocket attack last week that killed an American contractor.

The U.S. attack and the calls for retaliation represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the U.S. and Iran playing out in the Middle East.

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