The Pentagon has sent 100 Marines to the US Embassy in Baghdad to bolster security in the wake of an attack on Tuesday where around 6,000 pro-Iran militia members stormed the compound, set walls ablaze and chanted ‘Death to America!’ in retaliation for American air strikes.
US soldiers inside the embassy have fired tear gas, stun grenades and warning shots, wounding 62 of the hundreds of fighters who broke down the main door to the compound and set a fire in the reception area, according to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group for the militias recognized by the Iraqi government.
The ambassador to Iraq was on leave at the time of the attack and embassy staff had already been evacuated before the US Marine guard became besieged behind the bullet-proof glass and on the rooftops.
Tuesday’s attack on the embassy was is in retaliation for US air strikes on the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah on Sunday night, which killed two dozen fighters. Those strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor at a US base in Kirkuk.
On Tuesday US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US was sending additional forces to the Baghdad embassy, while calling on Iraq to help protect American personnel, hours after President Donald Trump slammed the attack and warned that Iran will be ‘held fully responsible’.
Video footage from the scene shows the US military sending in Marines from Kuwait in two Army Aviation UH-60M utility helicopters and two CH-47F Chinook helicopters, which were then used to evacuate the embassy. Another clip shows a US Apache helicopter dropping warning flares above the embassy.
‘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,’ Esper said in a statement, according to AP.
‘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,’ he added.
An AH-64E Guardian attack helicopter was also seen flying over the embassy ready to open fire in case any Kataeb Hezbollah members attacked the incoming Marines.
The deployed Marines are reportedly from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, a ground force deployed to the Middle East that specializes in crisis response, U.S. officials confirmed to Military.com. That force was created after the 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
On Tuesday morning Trump condemned the attack on the US embassy and pointed the blame to Iran.
‘Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will.’ Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. ‘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!’
‘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!’ the president added.
The attack on Tuesday unfolded after thousands attended the funerals of the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah fighters killed in the American airstrikes on Sunday. After the processions, mourners and protesters rushed through the heavily fortified Green Zone without being stopped by Iraqi military as they burned U.S. flags and changed ‘Death to America! on their way to the consulate.
There were roughly 6,000 protesters at the height of the demonstrations, a U.S. official estimated, most hailing from Kataeb Hezbollah.
US fighter jets bombarded three locations in Iraq on Sunday night, in retaliation for last week’s 36-rocket attack which killed an American contractor and injured several others at a base in Kirkuk, 170 miles north of Baghdad.
On Sunday the US struck a total of five Kataeb Hezbollah controlled weapon depots in Iraq and Syria, killing at least 25 people and wounding 51.
Baghdad had warned the American government that relations with the US were at risk following the airstrikes. There are also concerns over whether Iraqi forces allowed protesters to reach the Embassy, located in a usually restricted area. Militiaman claims nobody will be left alive inside US.
he US attack – the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years – and the calls for retaliation represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the US and Iran playing out in Iraq.
Kataeb Hezbollah, which is separate but linked to the Lebanese Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned predominantly Shiite militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Many are supported by Iran.
The US says Kataeb Hezbollah is responsible for 11 attacks on US-led coalition bases in the past two months.
It was the first time in years that protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in Baghdad, the nation’s largest embassy which spans 104 acres.
The embassy, located in Baghdad’s Green Zone, has been placed on lockdown.
US Security guards were seen retreating inside the embassy early Tuesday as protesters hurled bottles and smashed security cameras outside the buildings.
Flames rose from the compound as furious rioters pressed up against the bullet-proof windows within the complex, taunting the US soldiers within and spraying pro-Hezbollah graffiti over the glass.
Half a dozen US Marine guards fired warning shots from the rooftops, followed by tear gas and stun grenades, at rioters who set blazes and smashed up barricades on the ground.
Hundreds of angry protesters, many in military fatigues, set up tents outside the embassy and set fire to trailers used by security guards along the embassy wall.
Many were seen carrying posters that read, ‘Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will’. Some carried banners with Trump’s face crossed out.
Some protesters carried what they said were the coffins of the fighters killed in the American airstrikes. Many were heard chanting ‘America, leave, leave!’, as per NPR.
Sixty-two people have been reported injured in the carnage by the PMF.
A spokesman for Kataeb Hizbollah said they intend to stake out the street in front of the embassy to push US officials to leave Iraq. ‘We will not leave these tents until the embassy and the ambassador leave Iraq,’ Mohammed Muhi said, according to the Times.
The US State Department disputed reports of a breach and said all US personnel are safe.
‘US personnel are secure and there has been no breach. There are no plans to evacuate Embassy Baghdad,’ a State Department spokesperson tells DailyMail.com. ‘The US Ambassador to Iraq, Matt Tueller, has been on previously scheduled personal travel for over a week and reports that he has been evacuated are false. He is returning to the Embassy.’