On 31 December 2019, supporters of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia breached the perimeter of the US Embassy in Baghdad prompting a partial evacuation.

Video circulating on the internet shows militiamen and their supporters trashing the inside of the Embassy, and using battering rams to enter secure rooms within the compound.

By late afternoon, it became clear that the compound had not been abandoned and was instead being defended by US and Iraqi special forces.

At around midnight, Iraqi time, the US Department of Defense released images of a significant contingent of US marines being deployed to the Iraqi capital from their base in Kuwait, to compliment earlier work securing the site.

In the evening of 31 December 2019, President Trump thanked the Iraqi Government for their support and issued a threat to Iran, blaming it for its role in the unrest.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site. Thank you to the President & Prime Minister of Iraq for their rapid response upon request… Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!

Official Reaction

In a call with Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi and President Salih on 31 December 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had earlier indicated that the United States would respond with force to protect the Embassy:

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih separately by phone today from his office in Washington, D.C. The Secretary made clear the United States will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq. Both Abdul-Mahdi and Salih assured the Secretary that they took seriously their responsibility for and would guarantee the safety and security of U.S. personnel and property.

On 30 December 2019, Secretary Pompeo explained that the strikes by the US Air Force against five targets associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah were in response to the Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group’s ongoing attacks against Iraqi infrastructure.

The attacks that took place against an Iraqi facility threatened American forces.  This has been going on now for weeks and weeks and weeks.  This wasn’t the first set of attacks against this particular Iraqi facility and others where there were American lives at risk.

And today, what we did was take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has said for months and months and months, which is that we will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.

Trying to prevent escalation of the conflict, the Government of Iraq condemned the US airstrikes, describing those killed in them as martyrs, but also warned that the Government would protect foreign embassies and that anyone responsible for “aggression or harassment” would face the full force of the law.

The National Security Council also released the following statement on 31 December:

“The Iraqi Government condemns this act and considers it a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. This is a serious violation of the rules of engagement of the Coalition forces, including the US forces, in carrying out operations without the approval of the Iraqi Government.”

It added: “This operation targeted Iraqi forces holding a significant front on the border [with Syria] against Daesh terrorists. This endangers the security and sovereignty of Iraq and threatens the security of all.”

“Tens of members of the Iraqi forces have fallen or injured as a result of this attack. The US Forces relied on their own conclusions and political priorities, not the priorities as assessed by the government and people of Iraq.”

The Council underscored that Iraq has repeatedly stressed its refusal to be a battlefield or a party to any regional or international conflict, and has made strenuous efforts to prevent frictions and reduce clashes in a country and region that have lived for decades in an atmosphere of conflict, interference, occupation and wars.

The Council affirmed that “this attack violates the goals and principles for which the Global Coalition was established, and compels Iraq to review its relationship together with the security, political and legal operational framework in a manner that preserves the sovereignty and security of the country, protects the lives of its people and promotes common interests.”

Farsnews, meanwhile, provided details on the attack:

The attack took place in the evening when US drones bombarded the base of Hashd Shaabi’s 45th Brigade near the border town of al-Qaim, the statement said.

The bombardment left a number of the brigade’s members killed and wounded, the statement said without giving further details.

The Iranian Government has denied any involvement in the militia attacks leading up to the US airstrikes.

Image courtesy of the US Department of Defense.

Article Licence: CC BY-ND 4.0.

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