Updated Jan 1, 2020

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

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

Protesters withdraw from U.S. embassy in Baghdad after militia orders

Supporters of the Iranian-backed militia group Kataib Hezbollah at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31. Photo: Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Protestors withdrew from the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday following orders from the Iranian-backed militia group Kataib Hezbollah, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The militia leaders said they had won a victory that allowed their message to be heard, signaling they would now try to remove U.S. troops from Iraq by taking action in the country’s parliament.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 2, 2020

NYT: U.S. resumes military operations with Iraq

A U.S. soldier walks past a drone on Jan. 13 during a press tour at the Ayn al Asad air base in Iraq. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

American troops resumed joint military operations with Iraq on Wednesday, the New York Times reports, citing two anonymous U.S. military officials.

Why it matters: Operations are rebooting two weeks after thousands of protesters and militia fighters swarmed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad protesting U.S. airstrikes in the country, which predated the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Go deeperArrowJan 16, 2020

Trump administration: "The game has changed" on Iran

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that there are indications Iran or its proxies may be planning additional attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East following the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve, according to AP.

"We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces and protect American lives. The game has changed, and we’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region. ... Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it."
— Esper to reporters
Go deeperArrowJan 2, 2020