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Iraqis supporting Iran-backed militia attack U.S. Embassy, demand U.S. withdrawal

In Baghdad, supporters of an Iran-backed militia remained outside the gates of the U.S. Embassy after attempting to storm the compound earlier in the day. The U.S. military planned to move more Marines in, but the Iraqi protesters insisted they won’t leave until their demand -- that U.S. forces leave Iraq entirely -- is met. The Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim joins Nick Schifrin from Baghdad.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A tense new year has dawned in Baghdad, after U.S. airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia led today to one of the worst attacks on a U.S. Embassy in years.

    That is group is known as Kataib Hezbollah.

    Dozens of Shiite militiamen and their supporters broke into the outer gate of Baghdad's sprawling U.S. Embassy compound. They burned a reception area and security trailers, but eventually retreated after U.S. Marines fired tear gas and Iraqi forces helped with the disbursement.

    The protest was in response to Sunday's U.S.' airstrikes against that same militia. The U.S. blames the militia for a rocket attack that killed an American defense worker. Today, the Pentagon said it was sending more Marines to Baghdad. And President Trump blamed Iran. Iran has denied any role.

    On the ground from Baghdad is Washington Post reporter Mustafa Salim, who has been reporting from the U.S. Embassy throughout the day.

    I spoke to him a short while ago by telephone.

    Mustafa, you were outside the embassy all day. You posted video on Twitters. What did you see?

  • Mustafa Salim:

    At the beginning, they broke Into the reception office of the embassy, which is outside the embassy building.

    And they broke (INAUDIBLE) cameras. And they set off fire alarms all the embassy. Then Iraqi forces, who were doing nothing at the beginning, showed up and tried to be a buffer between them and the Americans.

    And the Americans tried to push them away what by throwing tear gas and smoke grenades in order to push them away.

    Now protesters have put up tents, and they are saying that they are not leaving until the embassy will shut down, and the American troops will go away.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So what were these protesters demanding exactly?

  • Mustafa Salim:

    Now they are — they demanding are — they will have a sit-in until the embassy will be shut down and the departure of all the U.S. troops from Iran.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so this is not going to be a one-day affair? They're promising to stay at the embassy until their demands are met?

  • Mustafa Salim:

    They already — they already set up tents.

    They are (INAUDIBLE) tents. And they already got all they need, food, mattress, blankets, pillows. And they are staying.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And last question.

    How do we know — or do we know how far — how — why they got so far? Do we have any sense of whether the police were in on it? And were their government officials behind some of these protesters?

  • Mustafa Salim:

    Some M.P. in the Parliament who are M.P.s from those militia, like Kataib Hezbollah or (INAUDIBLE) they were — like, they are with them. They are — they led this movement.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Mustafa Salim of The Washington Post, reporting all day from outside the embassy, thank you very much.

  • Mustafa Salim:

    Thank you.

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