The U.S. State Department has updated its travel warning for Iraq in the wake of this week's siege of the American embassy in Baghdad, notifying travelers that its operations there have been affected because of “damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks.”
The update comes as The Associated Press released stunning photographs showing the extent of the destruction at the embassy, which was targeted Tuesday by angry mobs who were protesting recent U.S. airstrikes.
“On December 31, 2019, the Embassy suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the Embassy compound,” the State Department says in its latest travel warning.
The U.S. continues to advise Americans not to travel to Iraq due to “terrorism, kidnapping and armed conflict."
“Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians,” the State Department says.
The embassy attack, one of the worst in recent memory, followed deadly U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed group, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The U.S. military said the airstrikes were in retaliation for last week's killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, which the U.S. blamed on the militia.
Supporters of the militia held funerals Tuesday for the fighters killed, before setting their sights on the embassy.
The mob shouted “Down, down USA!” as the crowd first tried to push inside the embassy grounds, hurling water and stones over its walls. They raised yellow militia flags and taunted the embassy's security staff, who remained behind the glass windows in the reception area.
The mob also sprayed red graffiti on the wall and windows, in support of the Kataeb Hezbollah, which read: “Closed in the name of the resistance.”
Following the breach of a main gate, an Associated Press reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound. Smoke from tear gas that was fired rose in the area, and at least six U.S. soldiers were seen standing on the roof of the main building pointing their firearms at the demonstrators.
The attack led President Trump to call for an immediate response that included a surge of U.S. Marines to quell the unrest.
American troops dropped flares from aircraft and fired tear gas to disperse the militia.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also announced the immediate deployment Tuesday of an infantry battalion of about 750 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to the Middle East.
Officials said more than 650 paratroopers are already on their way to Kuwait, and roughly 4,000 more have been told to pack their bags for a possible deployment.
The 750 soldiers deploying immediately are in addition to 14,000 U.S. troops who had deployed to the Gulf region since May in response to concerns about Iranian aggression, including its alleged sabotage of commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf. At the time of the embassy attack, the U.S. had about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mainly to train Iraqi forces and help them combat Islamic State extremists.
Iran denied involvement in the attack on the embassy. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted by media as saying that “if the Islamic Republic makes a decision to confront any country, it will do it directly."
Iran later summoned the Swiss charge d'affaires, who represents American interests in Tehran, to protest what it said was war-mongering by U.S. officials.
Fox News' Charles Creitz, Lucia I. Suarez Sang and the Associated Press contributed to this report.