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Protesters Storm Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad

Iraqi security forces stand guard near the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 27, 2019. Demonstrators were protesting a conference aimed at promoting Arab-Israeli peace.
Iraqi security forces stand guard near the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 27, 2019. Demonstrators were protesting a conference aimed at promoting Arab-Israeli peace.

Protesters stormed the Bahraini Embassy compound in Baghdad on Thursday night, removing the flag from above the building and replacing it with a Palestinian banner to protest a conference held in the Persian Gulf nation to promote peace between Arabs and Israelis.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, saying the kingdom was recalling its ambassador, Salah Ali al-Maliki, for discussions. It added that Iraqi authorities had a responsibility to protect the embassy in Baghdad.

The attack on the embassy could affect relations between Iraq and nearby Gulf nations at a time when they have been improving in recent months since Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi took office. It was believed to have been carried out by supporters of Iran-backed Iraqi militias.

Pledge to pursue attackers

Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Sahhaf told The Associated Press that Baghdad condemned the attack on the embassy, adding that Iraqi authorities would pursue the attackers and instigators.

No one was hurt in the standoff, which lasted more than an hour. Later in the night, Iraqi security forces were in control of the area.

An Iraqi security official said the protesters forced their way in by breaking through the main gate but stayed in the garden without storming the offices inside the compound. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said security forces opened fire in the air to disperse the protesters, and reinforcements were sent to Bagdad's western neighborhood of Mansour, where the embassy is.

More than an hour later, the nearly 200 protesters, waving Iraqi and Palestinian flags, dispersed. The official said 25 of the protesters were detained by Iraqi security forces later in the evening.

Iraq's newly named interior minister, Yasssin al-Yassiri, visited the compound around midnight.

The Bahraini diplomats were evacuated earlier from the compound into the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government headquarters, after the mission had received threats, the official said.

Economic support plan

The two-day workshop in Bahrain that ended Wednesday was aimed at promoting the Trump administration's $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians ahead of a Mideast peace plan, which is to be announced later.

Several Arab countries boycotted the Bahrain conference, including Lebanon and Iraq, as well as the Palestinian authority.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa was criticized by some Arab and Iranian media outlets for giving an interview to an Israeli TV station in which he said that Palestinians made a mistake by boycotting the workshop.

The Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, tweeted that "what is happening now at the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad is very regrettable."

Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for foreign affairs, tweeted that the attack on the embassy was "a major escalation on the legal and political levels." He called on the Iraqi Embassy to protect diplomatic missions in Iraq.

Iraq is home to Iran-backed militias, and the embassy attack comes amid tensions between the United States and Iran in the Middle East. Iraq has close relations with both Washington and Tehran and has been trying to ease tensions between them.

The crisis gripping the Middle East stems from President Donald Trump's withdrawal of the United States a year ago from the nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers and the subsequent imposition of crippling new sanctions on Tehran.