US troops on Wednesday fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of pro-Iranian militia members who hurled rocks at the US Embassy as a tense standoff in Baghdad entered its second day.
Scores of demonstrators camped outside the embassy overnight after they stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone on Tuesday, chanting “Death to America,” lighting fires at security posts, spraying graffiti on walls and trying to bust through sealed entrances.
US Marines fired tear gas into the crowds that returned on Wednesday and set fire to the roof of a reception area.
At one point, Iraqi soldiers and counterterrorism forces positioned themselves between the militia members and the compound.
The unrest erupted after US jet fighters attacked five bases in Iraq and Syria belonging to the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah over the weekend, killing 25 fighters and wounding dozens more.
The US strike was in retaliation for a rocket attack on an Iraq base by the group that killed an American contractor and wounded four US service members.
President Trump was asked about the escalating situation in Iraq and whether the US was planning on going to war with Iran.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn’t last very long. Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace. And Iran should want peace more than anybody. So I don’t see that happening. No, I don’t think Iran would want that to happen. It would go very quickly,” Trump told reporters before a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mainly Shiite-aligned militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, called on its supporters to move away from the compound after the Iraqi government said their “message has been heard.”
Mohammed Mohieh, a spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, said the group’s members would not budge until the US ambassador is removed and US troops leave Iraq.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US would deploy about 750 troops to the Middle East in response to the storming of the embassy.
“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,” Esper said in a statement. “The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.”