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Trump expects Iraq to 'use its forces' to protect US embassy in Baghdad

It was the first time in years that protesters have been able to reach the US embassy, which is guarded by a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone.

FILE: US President Donald Trump listens during a meeting about the Governors Initiative on Regulatory Innovation in the Cabinet Room of the White House on 16 December 2019 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Tuesday he expects Iraq to "use its forces" to protect the US embassy in Baghdad as he blamed Iran for orchestrating an "attack" that breached the wall of the compound.

Iraqi supporters of pro-Iran factions protested at the embassy on Tuesday, chanting "Death to America," throwing rocks, tearing down security cameras and setting a sentry box ablaze in anger over weekend air strikes that killed two dozen fighters.

It was the first time in years that protesters have been able to reach the US embassy, which is guarded by a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone.

"We expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!" Trump tweeted, saying Iran "will be held fully responsible" for the unrest.

The State Department said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had delivered a similar message Tuesday in separate phone calls with Iraq's acting prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and President Barham Saleh.

Both Iraqi leaders assured Pompeo "that they took seriously their responsibility for and would guarantee the safety and security of US personnel and property," the department said.

Pompeo "made clear the United States will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq, it said.

The demonstrators were protesting against US air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters from the hardline Kataeb Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) paramilitary group on Sunday.

ATTACK

The strikes were in response to a 36-rocket attack last week that killed an American contractor at an Iraqi base, the latest in a series targeting US interests in the country.

The attacks have not been claimed, but US security assessments have largely blamed them on Kataeb Hezbollah, which it says is closely supported by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In his tweet, Trump blamed Iran for killing the American and for "orchestrating" the embassy "attack."

The US "strongly responded" to the attack that killed the US contractor, and "always will," he said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close confidant of Trump, meanwhile issued a veiled threat to Iran that its refining industry could be at risk.

"To the Iranian government: Be careful what you wish for -- a country that depends on the ability to refine oil for its existence needs to be cautious," Graham tweeted.

"President Trump, unlike President Obama, will hold you accountable for threats against Americans and hit you where it hurts the most. Choose your battles wisely," he wrote.

Graham also echoed Trump's call for the Iraqi government to help defend the US diplomatic mission.

"This is your moment to convince the American people the US-Iraq relationship is meaningful to you and worth protecting," he said.

"Protect our American personnel. You will not regret it."