Dozens of angry Iraqis broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area.
Flames were seen rising from inside the compound, and six U.S. soldiers stood on the roof of the main building, their guns pointed at the protesters, The Associated Press reported. Tear gas and the sound of gunfire filled the air.
— Syrian Girl ?? (@Partisangirl) December 31, 2019
Outside the embassy gate, thousand of protesters and Iraqi Shiite militia fighters, many in military uniform, gathered to denounce U.S. air strikes in Iraq. Some protesters threw stones and others chanted, “Down, down USA!” “Death to America” and “No, no, America! … No, no, Trump!” The mob set fires to three trailers used by security guards along the embassy wall.
Iraqi special forces were deployed around the main gate to prevent them entering the embassy.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq and other staff were evacuated from the embassy during the attack for their safety, Iraqi officials said. Security personnel withdrew into the embassy soon after protesters gathered outside. It was not known if the embassy staff remained inside.
— Logiko Iko (@IkoAfortiori) December 31, 2019
There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon and the State Department on the breach of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. No injuries had been reported.
On social media, U.S. commentators expressed concern for the American diplomats and soldiers. Many compared the situation to the 2012 attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
They’re trying to pull another Benghazi! Let’s hope they get smoked this time!! ??
— Snakebit (@snakebitcajun) December 31, 2019
Some commenters called for President Donald Trump to send in the military, while others saw the rampage as another reason for the United States to withdraw from the Middle East.
Why the U.S. in Iraq is under attack
On Sunday, U.S. planes had attacked bases belonging to an Iranian-backed militia, a move that risks drawing Iraq further into a proxy conflict between Washington and Tehran at a time when mass protests are challenging Iraq’s political system.
The attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad follows a deadly airstrike on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of an Iranian-backed militia operating in Iraq
— QuickTake by Bloomberg (@QuickTake) December 31, 2019
The attack on the Kataib Hezbollah militia was in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base.
The two Iraqi foreign ministry officials did not say when the U.S. ambassador or other staff had left but added that a few embassy protection staff remained.
Iraqis have been taking to the streets in their thousands almost daily to condemn, among other things, militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and their Iranian patrons that support Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)