Updated Dec 31, 2019 - World

U.S. deploying 750 troops to Middle East after embassy attack in Iraq

The  US embassy in Iraq on December 31 smoke billowing from an entrance of the embassy in the capital Baghdad

Smoke billowing from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Photo: U.S. Embassy in Iraq/AFP via Getty Images

The United States has stepped up its response to unrest in Iraq after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked by deploying 750 troops to the region at the direction of President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday.

"[The] soldiers will deploy to the region immediately & additional forces from the [Immediate Response Force] are prepared to deploy over the next several days. This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today. The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world."
— Esper's announcement via Twitter

Driving the news: The deployment comes after thousands of protesters and militia fighters attacked the U.S. Embassy in gates in Baghdad in fury at U.S. airstrikes in Iraq following a Hezbollah rocket barrage last Friday that killed a U.S. defense contractor in a military compound in northern Iraq.

Why it matters: The developments represent a major downturn in U.S.-Iraq relations that could further undermine American influence in the region and also weaken Washington's hand in its maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

What they're saying: Esper said in a statement the Departments of Defense and State were working closely together to ensure the security of "our Embassy and personnel in Baghdad." 

"We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy. 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. The United States continues to support the Iraqi people and a free, sovereign, and prosperous Iraq."
  • Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida that he doesn't want a war with Iran, nor does he envisage there being one.
  • "I want to have peace. I like peace," he said. "And Iran should want to have peace more than anybody. So I don’t see that happening."

Background: Trump tweeted earlier: "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 also tweeted: "To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!"

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper