Three rockets have hit the US embassy in Iraq’s capital, wounding at least one person, in the first direct strike reported after months of close calls.
The attack on Sunday evening in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone marked a dangerous escalation in a series of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.
None of the attacks has been claimed but Washington has repeatedly blamed Iran-backed military factions in Iraq.
On Sunday one rocket hit an embassy cafeteria at dinner time while two others landed nearby, a security source told AFP.
A senior Iraqi official told AFP at least one person was wounded, but it was not immediately clear how serious the injuries were and whether the person was an American national or an Iraqi staff member. Reuters reported three people had been wounded.
The US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The US State Department called on Iraq late on Sunday to “fulfil its obligations to protect our diplomatic facilities”.
The Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, and the speaker of parliament, Mohammed Halbusi, both condemned the incident, saying it risked dragging their homeland into war.
Iraq has already been drawn into a worrying tit-for-tat between the US and Iran over the past month. A similar attack on a northern Iraqi base killed an American contractor, and the US retaliated with a strike on an Iran-backed faction known as Kataeb Hezbollah.
Less than a week later a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani outside the Baghdad airport – prompting Iran to fire ballistic missiles at an Iraqi base where US troops were stationed.
About 5,200 Americans are stationed in Iraq to lead the global coalition fighting Isis, but the US strike on Baghdad has rallied top Iraqi figures around a joint call to order them out.
Vehemently anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr organised a mass rally in Baghdad on Friday, where thousands of his supporters called for American troops to leave.
Sadr had previously backed separate anti-regime protests sweeping Iraq’s capital and south, even though he controls the largest bloc in parliament and top ministerial posts.
Bolstered by his own protest on Friday, Sadr announced he was dropping support for the youth-dominated reform campaign rocking the country since October.
His followers, widely regarded as the best-organised and well-stocked of the anti-government demonstrators, immediately began dismantling their tents and heading home.
Activists feared that without his political cover, authorities would move to crush their movement – and indeed, within hours, riot police tried to storm protest camps.
Those efforts continued into Sunday, with security forces using live rounds and tear gas to try to flush protesters out of squares and streets they had occupied for months.
One protester was shot dead in Baghdad and another in the flashpoint southern city of Nasiriyah, medical sources said, and dozens more were wounded across the country.
In the capital, riot police have tried to clear streets around the main protest camp of Tahrir Square but have yet to enter the symbolic area, where many protesters stood their ground even after tents there were dismantled.
Just after midnight in Nasiriyah, unknown assailants stormed the main protest camp in Habbubi Square and set the tents on fire.
The youth-led protests erupted on 1 October in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption before widening into calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence.
More than 470 people have died, the vast majority of them demonstrators, since the rallies began.
Protesters are now demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent prime minister and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.