U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that he has decided to immediately dispatch a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq following violent protests at the American embassy in Baghdad.
“At the direction of the Commander in Chief @POTUS, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the @82ndABNDiv to the @CENTCOM area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq,” Esper said on Twitter.
“Approximately 750 #Soldiers will deploy to the region immediately & additional forces from the IRF 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.”
Earlier in the day, thousands of Iraqis stormed the U.S. embassy compound, protesting against airstrikes Sunday in Iraq and Syria against the Kataib Hezbollah militia that killed at least 25 fighters.
The airstrikes were in response to a rocket attack Friday on a U.S. military base in Kirkuk blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, which is part of the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi group, or Popular Mobilization Forces.
Friday’s attack killed one U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. service members.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said Baghdad condemns the airstrikes on Iraqi military elements and warned those taking part in funeral marches to stay away from foreign buildings and compounds.
“Iraqi security forces will respond to any act of aggression or harassment against foreign embassies in Iraq, and those responsible will face the full force of the law,” Abdul-Mahdi said on Twitter.
President Donald Trump said in a tweet that Iran will pay a heavy price for any attack on the American embassy in Baghdad amid protests against the U.S. airstrikes over the weekend.