The US embassy in Baghdad has called on all American citizens to leave Iraq immediately.
Images from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq revealed extensive damage following days of sometimes violent protests by the Iranian-trained Hashed al-Shaabi military network, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, including a burned and charred reception area, smashed windows and vandalized rooms.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, and the embassy was not evacuated.
In a statement, the embassy said: ‘Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the US Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately.
The travel warning came as a prominent Iraqi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, announced that he was reactivating a Shia militia in response to the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – an assassination in Baghdad, Iraq, that was ordered by President Donald Trump.
One of the most influential religious figures in Iraq, al-Sadr is the leader of Saraya al-Salam, a Shia militia that he previously led during the American occupation of Iraq, despite not holding any official title in the Iraqi government.
After the fall of the Saddam government in 2003, al-Sadr organized thousands of his supporters into a political movement, which includes a military wing that periodically engaged in violent conflict with the United States and other Coalition forces.
In February 2016, Sadr led a one million-strong demonstration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to protest corruption in Iraq’s government.
Sadr said ‘I, as the official of the Iraqi National Resistance, give an order to the readiness of the Mujahideen, especially the Imam Mahdi Army and the Promised Today Brigade and whoever commands our order from the national disciplined factions to be fully prepared to protect Iraq.’
This morning all US citizens were ordered to leave Iraq immediately.
The killing of the general – Iran’s second in command and head of the elite Quds Force – marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned that a ‘harsh retaliation is waiting’ for the US after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the ‘international face of resistance.’
Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death. Iran also summoned the Swiss charges d’affaires, who represents US interests in Tehran, to protest the killing.
The killing, and any forceful retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering US troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
Over the last two decades, Soleimani assembled a network of powerful and heavily armed allies stretching all the way to southern Lebanon, on Israel’s doorstep.
The Defense Department said it killed Soleimani because he ‘was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.’
It also accused Soleimani of approving the orchestrated violent protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
Iranian state television called Trump’s order to kill Soleimani ‘the biggest miscalculation by the US’ since World War II. ‘The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay,’ it said.
The airport strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, and five others, including the PMF’s airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda, Iraqi officials said.
Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-born activist based in Washington, D.C., said most Irpeople in his native country want an end to all foreign intervention.
Jarrar warned that while the embassy protest was clearly orchestrated by the Iran-backed militia, the U.S. should not respond by escalating its proxy war against Iran in Iraq.
“The U.S. and Iran are seen by the majority of Iraqis as partners in crime when it comes to supporting these sectarian militias,” Jarrar said. “The right move is to de-escalate, withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, and end U.S. military aid to the Iraqi government and its deadly sectarian militias.”
More than 700 US Army paratroopers are headed to Kuwait, as many as 5,000 more paratroopers and Marines are expected to be sent to the Persian Gulf in the coming days.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump carried out the strike without authorization and killing the commander of Iran’s Quds Force “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”