Hundreds of protesters on Tuesday broke the outer walls of the heavily fortified US embassy complex in Baghdad, setting parts of its parameter on fire, a furious reaction to lethal US airstrikes days before against Kataib Hizbollah, an Iran-backed militia.
Most protesters, members of the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary group (Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF), They were dressed in military uniform.
PMF is an umbrella organization of several armed militia groups, including Kataib Hezbollah, financed and armed by Iran, but with formal ties to the Iraqi armed forces.
Shouting "Down, down, United States!", The crowd threw stones and bottles of water and shattered security cameras outside the embassy grounds.
The United States said it launched the attacks on Sunday, killing at least 25 fighters, in Iraq and Syria in response to a rocket attack on Friday near Kirkuk, which killed an American civilian contractor, an assault that Washington blamed on Kataib Hezbollah. .
The Iraqi provisional prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, warned protesters to leave the complex in an effort to control the increasingly volatile situation.
But Mahdi's warning seemed to have come too late.
Government security forces did not prevent members of the militia and their leaders from entering the heavily fortified green zone where the United States embassy is located, a sign that the Iraqi government may not have full control over the events current.
With US personnel locked in the embassy and exposed to risks, President Donald Trump issued a severe warning to Iran and Iraq, writing on Twitter: "Iran has orchestrated the attack against the US embassy in Baghdad."
He warned that the United States would "hold Iran accountable,quot; for the rapidly developing events in the Iraqi capital.
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned Prime Minister Mahdi and President Barham Salih that the United States "will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq," the State Department said. a statement.
A US government official told Al Jazeera, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media, that "we will not waste time,quot; in terms of protection of United States personnel and facilities.
He also said that the Iraqi government was bound by international law to protect the embassy.
Doug Bandow, a Cato Institute investigator in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera that US and Iraqi officials were not prepared for tensions.
Bandow, who served as a special assistant to US President Ronald Reagan, criticized the Trump administration for its "lack of good intelligence and understanding,quot; of current Iraqi politics.
"The Trump administration has also poisoned its relations with Iran, which is the key player in Iraq, when it withdrew from a historic nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and imposed punitive sanctions against him," he said.
PJ Crowley, former US Under Secretary of State for public affairs, said the Trump administration's strategy of increasing political and economic pressure on Tehran, hoping to bring the leaders of the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table to Agree on another nuclear agreement. for two years they did not yield results.
Crowley proposed that the most important issue should be "to change the focus of what the United States is doing in Iraq to what Iran is doing."
Memories of Iran in 1979
Bandow argued that US leaders should feel nervous because Iraq now has a weak and "headless,quot; government, a political environment similar to Iran's in 1979 when a group of Iranian students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 US citizens and diplomats hostage for 440 days.
More recently, in 2012, a Libyan armed group broke into a US complex amid the political vacuum and chaos caused the death of two US staff members, including the US ambassador to Libya.
However, Bandow said that the Hashd al-Shaabi militia and its sponsors in Tehran understand the risks of intensifying the confrontation, because they realize they would lose in a military confrontation.
The near future, he said, "depends on how the Iraqi government handles the current crisis."
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports