Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and set fires inside in anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend.
The men did not enter the main embassy buildings and later withdrew from the compound, joining thousands of protesters and militia fighters outside chanting “Death to America,” throwing rocks, covering the walls with graffiti and demanding that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq.
The situation remained combustible, with the crowd vowing to camp indefinitely outside the sprawling compound, the world’s largest embassy. Their ability to storm the most heavily guarded zone in Baghdad suggested that they had received at least tacit permission from Iraqi security officials sympathetic to their demands.
President Trump, faced with scenes of unfolding chaos at an American embassy, lashed out against Iran, which he blamed for the protests.
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” he said in a tweet. “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!”
He also spoke with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi about the need to protect Americans and American facilities, a White House statement said.
Roughly 750 additional American troops will deploy to the region immediately, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said late Tuesday. “This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities,” he said. The troops are likely to deploy to Kuwait.
Mr. Trump has long called for an end to American conflicts in the Middle East, but he has been reluctant to pull troops from the region despite his remarks on the campaign trail.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by telephone with Mr. Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih in separate calls, and “made clear the United States will protect and defend its people,” according to a summary of the call from the State Department. It said that the Iraqi leaders “assured the secretary that they took seriously their responsibility” to safeguard American officials and property.
The State Department said that American personnel were safe and that there were no plans to evacuate the embassy. The ambassador, Matt Tueller, had been traveling and was not at the embassy when it was breached on Tuesday.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Falih Hassan, Ben Hubbard and Alissa J. Rubin