BAGHDAD — After vowing to camp outside the United States Embassy until the Americans left Iraq, and trying for a second day to scale the compound’s walls, demonstrators drawn largely from Iranian-backed militias called off their protest on Wednesday.

They gradually drifted away on foot or drove off in trucks, ending a tense standoff in which American diplomats were trapped in the embassy compound, and United States troops fired tear gas to disperse the thousands of people who stood outside chanting “Death to America.”

Iraqi counterterrorism forces took over on Wednesday from the Special Forces for the Green Zone, which had largely hung back from confronting the protesters, even as some of them attempted to climb over the walls and clambered onto the roof of the reception building demonstrators had burned a day earlier.





Protesters entered

the compound

at this gate.

They burned a

reception building

and guard posts.

Al Kindi St.

GREEN

ZONE

U.S. Embassy

compound

Protesters entered

the Green Zone

from this bridge.

Tigris River

GREEN

ZONE

Protesters

entered the

compound

at this gate.

They burned a

reception building

and guard posts.

Al Kindi St.

U.S. Embassy

compound

Protesters entered

the Green Zone

from this bridge.

Tigris

River


Satellite image by Maxar via Bing





TIGRIS RIVER

BAGHDAD

GREEN ZONE

U.S. Embassy compound

TIGRIS RIVER

TIGRIS RIVER

BAGHDAD

GREEN ZONE

U.S. Embassy compound


Sources: Compound boundaries from the Associated Press and satellite imagery.

By Sarah Almukhtar, Falih Hassan, Lauren Leatherby, Allison McCann and Anjali Singhvi

In contrast to Tuesday, when some demonstrators forced their way into the compound and lit fires there, the crowd was much smaller on Wednesday and none of the protesters got inside the compound. When they reached the roof of the burned reception building, the United States security forces defending the embassy shot tear gas that drove them back, and a second volley of tear gas around midday dispersed a few hundred of the roughly 1,000 who had spent the night just outside the walls.

A couple of hours later an order came from the Hashid Commission, which oversees all the armed groups that sprang up in 2014 to fight the Islamic State — the most powerful of which are close to Iran and function as Iranian proxy forces.

The commission asked, out of “respect for the government’s sovereignty” and its promise that “it had heard the protesters’ message,” that the protesters stand down. That request was reiterated by the spokesman for one of the powerful, Iranian-backed armed groups, Asaib al-Haq.

Those militia members then began to leave, but at first the fighters loyal to Kataib Hezbollah, the militia at the center of the confrontation, did not. “We have not heard from our leaders,” said Mohammed Muhi, the spokesman for the group.

Within an hour, that group, too, sent the word for its followers to leave.

In a parting shot at the Americans, some members of the militia hung a green banner with yellow writing on the burned reception area that said: “Popular Mobilization Commission,” the umbrella group for the militias, as if to remove any doubt of who was in charge.

The United States blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a rocket attack on Friday on an Iraqi military base, which killed an American contractor and wounded several other people. American forces responded on Sunday with strikes on five sites controlled by the militia, in Syria and Iraq, that killed at least two dozen people and injured twice as many; Iran has put the death toll at 31.

On Tuesday, thousands of Iraqis, many of them militia fighters, marched on the United States Embassy compound in Baghdad to protest the American strikes, and some of them forced their way through the outer wall. They did not attempt to breach the embassy itself, and there were no reports of serious injuries, but the clash evoked memories of the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

In an ominous sign for the Americans’ ability to stay, the Iraqi authorities, who had prevented previous demonstrations from getting near the embassy compound, allowed the protesters on Tuesday to march on it unimpeded.

In the past months, in the face of antigovernment protests, it was Iraqi forces firing tear gas to dispel protesters. But this week, the Iraqi authorities have left that to the United States, rather than confronting their own people.

President Trump on Tuesday tweeted that Iran was responsible for the attack on the embassy, and threatened retaliation. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded on Wednesday, “You can’t do anything.”

Iraqi militias — in theory under the umbrella of the national military, but often quite independent — played a major role in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS. While many of the armed groups, who are made up of Shiite Muslims, are backed by Iran, a Shiite theocracy at odds with the United States, the two powers had a common goal in their effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Once the Islamic State was largely demolished, however, the Iran-backed Iraqi militias turned their attention to constraining United States activities in Iraq, especially after America ratcheted up its sanctions against Iran.

Ayatollah Khamenei said the United States was “taking revenge on the Popular Mobilization Forces for defeating ISIS,” a group that he claimed “the U.S. had created.”

Kataib Hezbollah denied responsibility on Wednesday for the most confrontational demonstrators, although it had pushed for protests in front of the embassy.

There are about 30 groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces, each answering to different leaders who do not always agree with each other. Neither the government nor any of the factions has the authority to corral all of them, making for a dangerous mix.

Falih Hassan reported from Baghdad, and Alissa Rubin from Paris.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)