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US Embassy In Iraq Stormed By Protesters Shouting 'Down Down USA'

Thousands of angry Iraqi protesters gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, railing against deadly U.S. airstrikes this week that killed 25 fighters from an Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq.

Shouting "Down, Down USA!," several dozen from the crowd managed to break down the gate to push inside the embassy grounds after hurling water bottles, setting fires and smashing security cameras outside.

The Reuters news agency reported that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller and members of his staff were evacuated from the heavily fortified compound for safety reasons as the protests raged, but there was no immediate confirmation from the U.S. government of evacuations.

Videos posted on social media showed the crowd outside the embassy growing as smoke billowed from at least one guard checkpoint on the perimeter of the compound.

The U.S. military carried out the strikes Sunday against the Iranian-backed Kataeb Hezbollah militia, calling it retaliation for last week's killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group.

The U.S. attack — the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years — and the calls for retaliation, represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the U.S. and Iran playing out in the Middle East.

The U.S. attack outraged both the militias and the Iraqi government which said it will reconsider its relationship with the U.S.-led coalition — the first time it has said it will do so since an agreement was struck to keep some U.S. troops in the country. It called the attack a "flagrant violation" of its sovereignty.

In a partly televised meeting Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Cabinet members that he had tried to stop the U.S. operation "but there was insistence" from American officials.

The U.S. military said "precision defensive strikes" were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria. The group, which is a separate force from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.

The U.S. maintains some 5,000 troops in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government to assist and train in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The attack that killed the American contractor and U.S. counter-strikes come as months of political turmoil roil Iraq. About 500 people have died in anti-government protests, most of them demonstrators killed by Iraqi security forces.

The mass uprisings prompted the resignation last month of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who remains in a caretaker capacity.