The US Ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, was evacuated from the American embassy in Baghdad Tuesday, along with his staff, after Iraqi rioters breached the embassy’s perimeter.
The riots broke out as thousands gathered outside of the US embassy to protest the recent US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against an Iranian-backed militia which the US said was responsible for a rocket attack that killed an American civilian contractor and injured several US military service members.
At least 25 fighters were killed and 55 more injured in the US airstrikes over the weekend which hit five camps of the Shi’ite group Kata'ib Hezbollah, a close ally of Iran linked to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Iraq’s foreign ministry confirmed to Reuters that Ambassador Tueller and his staff had been evacuated from the embassy compound Tuesday.
Rioters hurled stones at the embassy’s main gate, as protesters chanted “No, No America!” and “No, no, Trump!” and spray painted "Closed in the name of the people" on the gate and walls of the compound.
Security cameras were smashed and fires sparked along the compound's outer perimeter.
The Iraqi government deployed special forces to the scene to prevent the rioters from breaking into the embassy building itself.
Despite the extra security, however, rioters reportedly managed to break into the embassy, smashing the main door and setting the reception area and a guard tower on fire. The US and Iraqi governments did not confirm these reports.
Witnesses also reported that shots were fired and teargas used against rioters.
The Washington Post's Liz Sly reported that American diplomats and soldiers were trapped inside the embassy, and that Iraqi security forces were "acting as a buffer" between the rioters and American personnel inside the embassy.
"Iraqi security forces are now acting as a buffer between Kataib Hezbollah supporters attempting to storm US embassy Baghdad & the US diplomats and troops trapped inside."
Senior Shi’ite militia leaders, including Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaid Ahl al-Haq militia, joined the protests, which featured flags of the Kata’ib Hezbollah group.