Paramilitary groups who have been protesting against US air strikes in Iraq told their supporters to withdraw from the perimeter of the US embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, although there was no immediate sign of a pullout, reported Reuters.
The embassy's outer perimeter was stormed on Tuesday by demonstrators angry at US air strikes against an Iran-backed group that killed at least 25 fighters. On Wednesday demonstrators hurled rocks at the building while security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades in an attempt to disperse them.
The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella group of mainly Shia militia said the crowds should withdraw now that their "message has been heard", and in deference to the Iraqi government which sought "to preserve the prestige of the state".
The protests mark a new turn in the shadow war between Washington and Tehran playing out across the Middle East, and raise questions over the continued US military presence in Iraq. US President Donald Trump, who faces re-election in 2020, on Tuesday threatened to retaliate against Iran but said later he did not want to go to war.
The United States launched deadly air strikes against bases of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah on Sunday in retaliation for missile attacks that killed a US contractor at a base in northern Iraq.
Crowds rallied on Tuesday to protest, chanting death to America, setting fires, throwing rocks and smashing surveillance cameras. They breached an outer perimeter but did not enter the main compound.
The huge embassy, built along the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad's fortified "green zone" during American occupation following the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, is the biggest US diplomatic mission in the world.
Washington says its diplomats are safe and it is rushing hundreds of extra troops to the region. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that 750 soldiers are being deployed to the Middle East, basing them initially in Kuwait. A further 4,000 troops will be ready for deployment within the coming days.
The anti-American action comes after months of protests in Iraq against the Iran-backed militias which support the government. Many Iraqis complain that their country has become a battlefield for a proxy war for influence between Washington and Tehran, and their leaders are too beholden to outside powers.
Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the violence at the US embassy and said Tehran would be held responsible.