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Pompeo postpones Ukraine trip to monitor situation in Iraq

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-01-02 09:37

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. [Photo/Agencies]

BAGHDAD - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will postpone his trip to Ukraine and other four countries as the situation in Iraq has become tense these days after demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.

The US embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday announced the suspension of all public consular operations, although the protesters and supporters of the Iraqi paramilitary Hashd Shaabi (the Popular Mobilization Forces) militias were gradually withdrawing from the perimeter of the embassy hours ago.

The US embassy said in a statement, "due to militia attacks at the US embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. All future appointments are cancelled. US citizens are advised to not approach the embassy."

The US Consulate General in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, "is open for visa and American citizen services appointments," according to the statement.

The protest started on Tuesday when hundreds of mourners, wearing Hashd Shaabi's military uniforms, rallied outside the embassy, chanting slogans condemning airstrikes by the US forces against Hashd Shaabi bases in Iraq.

The protest then turned violent as the protesters managed to break into an outer yard of the embassy, but were repelled by the security forces who deployed tear gas against them.

Hours after the incident, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Tuesday that the United States will deploy about 750 troops immediately to the Middle East.

"This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today," Esper tweeted.

Pompeo will postpone his trip to Ukraine and other four countries due to the need to continue monitoring the situation in Iraq, said the State Department on Wednesday.

"Secretary Pompeo must postpone his visit to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Cyprus due to the need for the Secretary to be in Washington, D.C., to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq," said Morgan Ortagus, the department spokesperson, in a statement.

Pompeo's trip will be rescheduled in the near future, the statement added.

Pompeo's five-day tour was slated to kick off on Friday, with the first stop at Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, where he was scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior officials.

The protesters, outraged by the US airstrikes that killed 25 Hashd Shaabi militants, were gradually leaving the besieged US embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, according to media reports.

Earlier Wednesday morning, protesters torched US flags and threw stones toward the compound of the embassy, while security agents inside the embassy fired tear gas and wounded at least 20 people.

US President Trump blamed Iran for "orchestrating an attack" on the embassy in a Tuesday morning tweet. He later threatened in another tweet that Iran "will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities." Pompeo also held Iran "accountable" for the attack on the US embassy.

On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegations, noting that "the US officials had better drop their blame game policy and stop accusing us without presenting any evidence."

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