As of 1700 local time (1400 UTC) on 31 December 2019, hundreds of protesters — many of whom are supporters of the Iranian-sponsored militia group Kataeb Hizballah (KH) — are currently occupying the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, located in the city’s International Zone. Latest reports indicate that demonstrators breached the outer wall of the compound and then set fire to a reception area and three trailers, as well as vandalized the main gate and several of the facility’s security cameras. Iraqi security forces, along with embassy guards, responded to the scene and attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas; there were also unconfirmed reports of gunfire coming from within the compound. Although initial reports indicated that embassy officials had evacuated in response to the unrest, the most recent reports suggest that the compound is on lockdown, with an unknown number of U.S. embassy personnel sheltering in place within a safe room. A spokesperson for the KH militia group alleges that at least 20 demonstrators have been injured thus far, but there are currently no reports of fatalities.

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in protest of U.S. airstrikes against KH militant positions on 29 December, which killed at least 25 militants. The airstrikes were allegedly a response to the group’s attack on a U.S. military base on 27 December, which killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. soldiers.

Analyst Comment: The attack on the embassy represents a significant escalation by Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and indicates that the Iranian-linked threat to U.S. nationals in Iraq has increased significantly. Further anti-U.S. demonstrations are likely, as well as the likelihood of protest-related violence and Iranian-linked attacks against U.S. personnel and assets in Iraq.