The United States is sending around 750 more troops to the Middle East immediately, following an attack by pro-Iranian demonstrators on the US embassy in Baghdad, the Pentagon has said. More troops from a rapid response unit of the 82nd Airborne Division are prepared to deploy over the next several days, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement on Tuesday.
“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,” he said.
“The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.”
Earlier, US President Donald Trump warned Iran that it faces significant retaliation if Americans are killed or its facilities damaged in attacks by the Islamic Republic.
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday, after pro-Iranian protestors stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.
“They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” wrote Trump, adding “Happy New Year!” Trump meanwhile thanked Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and President Barham Saleh for “their rapid response upon request” to the embassy attack.
Trump spoke with Abdel Mahdi earlier by telephone, stressing the need to protect Americans and US facilities in Iraq, the White House said.
An Iraqi government statement said the attacks "force Iraq to review its relations and its security, political and legal framework to protect its sovereignty".
The protesters who besieged the US embassy on Tuesday carried posters reading: "Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will!" Late Tuesday Kataeb Hezbollah hailed the protest outside as a "first lesson" to Washington, "so that Trump knows he did something extremely stupid".
"This may well be the low point of US policy in Iraq," said Iraq expert Fanar Haddad of Singapore University's Middle East Institute.
But US officials said there were no plans to evacuate the mission, and no US personnel were reported injured. Ambassador Matthew Tueller, who had been on holiday leave, was on his way back to the embassy.