Trump urges Iraqi PM to protect US personnel after protesters storm embassy

President Trump on Tuesday spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi about the safety of American personnel at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.

© Thomson Reuters Protesters and militia fighters attack a reception room of the U.S. Embassy, during a protest to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

The White House said Trump and al-Mahdi of Iraq discussed “regional security issues” and that the president “emphasized the need to protect United States personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

Trump is in Florida spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort. He spent just under an hour at his golf club in West Palm Beach on Tuesday where he said he had a meeting on the Middle East and the military.

The call came hours after thousands of demonstrators and supporters of an Iran-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Some chanted “Death to America” and set small fires inside the walls of the compound.

Iraqi security forces reportedly did not intervene to stop the demonstrators from advancing until a commander arrived and gave them orders.

The protests were triggered by U.S. airstrikes on Sunday against five Kata’ib Hezbollah targets in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 25 militia fighters. The airstrikes came in response to an attack that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. service members.

The Trump administration blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, which is backed by Iran, for the attack.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said additional U.S. forces would be deployed to the facility in Baghdad to bolster security, and he called on Iraq to assist in the protection of embassy personnel.

The chaos at the embassy has renewed concerns among some U.S. lawmakers about the potential for conflict with Iran.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted that embassy personnel “deserve protection from the Iraqi host government and smart, strong national security strategy from U.S. leaders. Escalation and violence must end.”

The Trump administration has made confronting Tehran a cornerstone of its foreign policy and has hammered its leaders with sanctions over the past year.

The two countries have also been on the brink of conflict at times, including after Trump said in June he called off a military strike at the last moment after the U.S. accused Iran of shooting down an American drone.