Latest Developments From Baghdad, Where Militia Supporters Attacked The U.S. Embassy
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is on lockdown. The State Department says U.S. personnel there are secure - no plans to evacuate. Earlier today, supporters of an Iranian-backed militia set a gatehouse on fire, chanted death to America, and called for U.S. forces in Iraq to go home.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All this comes after the U.S. launched airstrikes over the weekend that killed about two dozen militia members. U.S. officials say those strikes were a response to a militia attack that killed an American contractor last week.
KELLY: We are going to go now to Baghdad where Ahmed Aboulenein of Reuters has been reporting on the attack. Thank you for joining us, and let me start with the latest. I know it is night there now in Baghdad. Is it quiet?
AHMED ABOULENEIN: It's quiet on the ground. There are no longer any clashes or sort of violent chants and what not. But politically, it's not. Literally a minute before you called me, the Iraqi president, Barham Salih, issued a statement denouncing attempts to breach the U.S. Embassy and saying that they're a violation of international agreements.
KELLY: So denouncing this attack by a militia supporters.
ABOULENEIN: Yes, exactly...
ABOULENEIN: ...And saying that they are, you know, a violation of international agreements to which the Iraqi government is party to. This comes after he's had a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And that statement from him is the sharpest rebuke yet from Iraqi officialdom, the government and the state to what happened today.
KELLY: You're referring to - we have heard calls from U.S. officials, Mike Pompeo, as you noted, President Trump as well, saying, we expect Iraq to help protect the U.S. Embassy. It sounds like you're describing the response from Iraqi as they say, yes, we will try to protect the embassy. But protesters are still outside. Is that right?
ABOULENEIN: Yes, they are outside. They are camped out, but there are no longer any clashes going on between them and the security forces protecting the embassy, whether Iraqi security forces or the U.S. Embassy's actual guards.
KELLY: Before we get to what might happen next, where this might go, would you describe what happened as best as you have been able to verify through your reporting when these militia supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy? Just describe the scene and how it unfolded.
ABOULENEIN: So it started this morning with symbolic funeral processions for the 25 militiamen that were killed in the airstrike carried out by the U.S. And the procession went through central Baghdad and into the green zone, which is at the heart of the capital. It's this heavily fortified compound housing government buildings and foreign missions of which the U.S. Embassy is the largest.
And these people in the funeral procession, mostly militiamen, their leaders and civilian supporters, got to the embassy and started hurling stones, torched a security post at the embassy. And it was basically an unprecedented attack on an American diplomatic mission in Iraq. And Embassy guards hit back with stun grenades, tear gas. But they never at any point breached the main compound, which had been reported but is not true.
KELLY: So I want to make something clear, which is we have been reporting for many weeks on protests in the streets of Iraq - this is young protesters - that the people who attacked the U.S. Embassy earlier today, these are not the same people - separate groups, right?
ABOULENEIN: Yes, correct. The people who were protesting for the past few months in Iraq are mostly young people who are protesting against their government and seeking better jobs, better opportunities, better services. Among the things they are protesting are these very militia groups whose supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy today.
KELLY: And what do the people who attacked the U.S. Embassy say that they want?
ABOULENEIN: They want the expulsion of U.S. troops. And in fact, as we're speaking right now, a statement just came in from Kata'ib Hezbollah, the militia group on which the airstrikes had been carried out, saying basically that today was the first step and that the next step will be to go to the Iraqi Parliament and try to legislate a bill or a law that would expel U.S. troops.
KELLY: Ahmed Aboulenein reporting there on a very volatile situation tonight in Baghdad. He is a correspondent there for Reuters. Thanks very much.
ABOULENEIN: No worries. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.