President Donald Trump has warned Iran that it would be held accountable after protesters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in response to recent U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “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!”
Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters breached the compound on Tuesday, the last day of 2019, smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area as protests raged over U.S. airstrikes over the weekend that killed members of the Iran-backed militia.
The U.S. strikes followed a rocket attack Friday at an Iraqi coalition base in Kirkuk that killed a U.S. civilian contractor and injured several American service members. The U.S. believes the Iraqi Shiite militia is the culprit behind Friday’s attack in Kirkuk, along with multiple other attacks targeting coalition installations in recent months. Iran has rejected accusations that it was involved in any recent attacks though.
Pentagon sources say that 100 Marines are being sent to the embassy to bolster existing security. A U.S. Apache helicopter gunship also flew over the embassy and dropped flares in a “show of force,” attempting to disperse the crowd. Defense Secretary Mark Esper later confirmed additional forces are being sent.
The storming of the compound represented a grave new challenge to the Iraq-U.S. relationship, as Iran competes for influence. Iraq has long sought to balance ties with both countries, but reports from the scene indicated Iraqi security forces did not initially stop protesters as they marched to the heavily fortified Green Zone following a funeral held for those killed in the U.S. airstrikes.
In a statement to the press, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, said, “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had separate phone calls with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih on Tuesday, in which he made it clear the United States will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq.”
Ortagus added that both Iraqi leaders “assured the secretary that they took seriously their responsibility and would guarantee the safety and security of U.S. personnel and property.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., backed Trump in a Twitter thread, crediting the president for “acting decisively” and saying he’s put the world on notice “there will be no Benghazis on his watch.” This referred to the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Libya in which four Americans were killed. The Obama administration faced heavy criticism both for the embassy’s vulnerability as well as conflicting statements regarding the nature of the attack and what led to it.