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White House on Green Zone Storming: Diplomatic Security 'Always President's Top Priority'

The White House said today it’s “concerned” about reports that security guards let protesters into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, but insisted that security of U.S. diplomatic facilities is a “top priority.”

Hundreds of protesters against Iraqi government corruption, waving a sea of Iraqi flags, swarmed the Green Zone over the weekend. The U.S. Embassy is located within the Green Zone.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, though, asked protesters Sunday to leave and clean up after themselves.

“The president of the United States is concerned every day about the safety and security of Americans serving our country overseas, and that includes our diplomats,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today.

“That is always a top priority, and at the top of the list when it comes to making decisions about U.S. policy in countries around the world — for example, in the immediate aftermath of the ISIL advance across Iraq in 2014, the president’s primary concern was about the safety of American diplomats and American personnel in Irbil and in Baghdad,” he added.

“And the initial military response that President Obama mobilized was to safeguard those American citizens. So, this is always a top priority. I can tell that the U.S. has received assurances from Iraqi officials that they understand their obligations to protect diplomatic facilities, and we certainly take them at their word and — but look, we’re going to continue to closely monitor the situation, because the safety and security of our personnel is always the president’s top priority.”

When it was noted to Earnest that security guards essentially let the protesters into the protected zone, he replied that “it’s a pretty chaotic situation there.”

“I’m not sure that anybody knows exactly what happened on the ground, but look, we’re always interested in understanding how developments on the ground could have an impact on the safety and security of American citizens who are serving over in Iraq. That is the president’s top priority,” Earnest said.

“We’re going to continue to monitor the situation closely as a result, and we have received assurances from Iraqi government and from Iraqi Security Forces that they’re prepared to live up to their international obligations to protect diplomats that are serving in Baghdad.”

Any decisions to increase security for U.S. personnel in Baghdad would be made by the State Department, he said.

“But obviously, we’re continuing to closely watch the situation, and if the security experts determine that additional security is needed, we will make sure they have the resources necessary to make those changes,” Earnest added.

On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement noting that “while we recognize the right to peaceful protest, the United States joins the UN and the EU in urging restraint and respect for constitutional institutions and respect for the rights of others.”

“We now urge the Iraqi government, all political leaders, security officials, and civil society representatives to work together to restore security and move the political and economic reform process forward,” the Embassy said. “Da’esh [ISIS] remains a determined enemy and continues to carry out deadly attacks throughout the country, including in Baghdad. We also urge all parties to come together to defeat Da’esh and also to support the aspirations of the Iraqi people for transparent governance, economic stability, and physical security.”

“The United States remains a committed partner of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people in all fields as outlined on our Strategic Framework Agreement.