Demonstrators demand end to US ‘intervention’, as Iraqi protesters elsewhere distance themselves from embassy tensions.
Hundreds of protesters surrounded the United States embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday to demand an end to US “intervention” in the country.
Raising flags of the powerful paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), the crowds chanted “down, down USA”.
Tuesday’s rally was completely distinct from the recent, months-long protest movement which has seen tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrate against the political establishment.
Most at the US embassy, supporters of the Hashd Al-Shaabi, were dressed in army fatigues as they gathered around the heavily fortified embassy in the Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies in Baghdad are based, arguing in favour of a state-backed militia.
Within hours, dozens had broken into the embassy compound after smashing a main door and setting fire to the reception area, according to witnesses.
Protesters told Al Jazeera that they stormed the embassy in response to US air attacks over Kataib Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria.
At least 25 members of Kataib Hezbollah forces, which belongs to the PMF, were killed and 51 others were injured in the attacks on Sunday.
The US said it launched the air attacks in retaliation to a rocket attack on Friday near Kirkuk – a raid that killed an American civilian contractor, and that Washington blamed on Kataib Hezbollah.
“We are the Hashd and we are here to take revenge,” said a protester in his 40s, who refused to give his name for security reasons.
“We [are] protesting here to condemn the US strikes on the Hashd,” said Haydar, a protester in his 20s. “The Hashd are the ones who protected Iraq against terrorism.”
The Iran-backed Shia paramilitary group was aligned with the Iraqi government in its battle against the ISIL (ISIS) group. It was formally incorporated into the Iraqi military in July 2019.
As the sun set on Baghdad, members of the crowd told Al Jazeera they would try to erect tents for the night and that they were prepared to launch an open-ended sit-in around the embassy until they saw action taken to “end US presence and intervention in the country”.
“We call on the Iraqi parliament to take action against the US. We want the Americans out,” said Haydar.
Ali, who described himself as a PMF supporter, said: “We came to mourn the people who died as a result of the US strikes in Qaim and to condemn the source [US] of all evil in Iraq since 2003.
“We are here because we are against US presence in Iraq and its targeting of the Hashd al-Shaabi and we won’t leave until parliament and the government puts an end to that.”