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US sending additional forces to protect embassy threatened by protesters in Iraq

The United States will send “additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy” in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a written s...
Baghdad US Embassy Protest

The United States will send “additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy” in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a written statement Tuesday, as attacks broke out among hundreds of protesters in response to airstrikes in Iraq and Syria conducted by US forces on Sunday.

Esper said the US has “taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats” serving in Iraq.

“As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so,” Esper added in the statement.

The US has also sent two Apache helicopters to fly over the embassy in a show of force, a US official told CNN. The additional forces are expected to come from Kuwait, but the official told CNN that an additional military unit based in the United States has also been put on standby to deploy if the situation in Baghdad significantly deteriorates.

The move comes amid fallout over US airstrikes against five facilities the Pentagon says are tied to an Iranian-backed militia blamed for a series of attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities housing American forces.

Two sources at the demonstration on Tuesday witnessed an attempt to break into the premises, adding that security personnel fired tear gas to repel the attack. Video footage shows demonstrators smashing windows, burning items outside and throwing rocks over the walls. The embassy, in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, has been put under lockdown, but protesters have not been able to breach the compound, an embassy spokesperson told CNN.

The airstrikes occurred at about 11 a.m. ET Sunday, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. Killing at least 25 people and wounding 51, they stand as the first significant military response in retaliation for attacks by the Shia militia group, known as Kataib Hezbollah, that have injured numerous American military personnel, according to US officials.

Esper briefed Trump Saturday before carrying them out with the President’s approval, according to a US official familiar with the strikes.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman described the strikes against the group as “precision defensive strikes” that “will degrade” the group’s ability to conduct future attacks against coalition forces.

President Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday that the airstrikes were a response to a recent attack that killed a US contractor. He blamed Iran both for the contractor’s death and Tuesday’s attack on the embassy.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!” Trump tweeted.