By Ronn Blitzer, Lucas Tomlinson | Fox News
Trump administration officials and U.S. lawmakers turned up pressure on Iraq’s government to keep American personnel in the country safe, after a stunning assault on the embassy in Baghdad renewed concerns about the influence of Iran.
Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters breached the compound Tuesday, smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area as protests raged over U.S. airstrikes that killed members of the Iran-backed militia. President Trump accused Iran of “orchestrating” the attack, while defending the airstrikes as in response to an attack that killed an American contractor.
US CARRIES OUT AIRSTRIKES IN IRAQ AND SYRIA AFTER CONTRACTOR IS KILLED
A U.S. defense official told Fox News that 100 Marines are being sent to the embassy to bolster security. A U.S. Apache helicopter gunship also flew over the embassy and dropped flares in a “show of force,” in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Defense Secretary Mark Esper later confirmed additional forces are being sent.
The storming of the compound represented a grave new challenge to the Iraq-U.S. relationship, as Iran competes for influence. Iraq has long sought to balance ties with both countries, but reports from the scene indicated Iraqi security forces did not initially stop protesters as they marched to the heavily fortified Green Zone following a funeral held for those killed in the U.S. airstrikes.
A U.S. official later told Fox News that “Iraqi security forces did participate” in protecting the embassy — and Trump made clear he expects Iraq to protect U.S. personnel.
“[W]e expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!” Trump said in his tweet blaming Iran.
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!97.6K7:02 AM – Dec 31, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had separate phone calls with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih Tuesday, in which he “made clear the United States will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
TRUMP BLAMES IRAN FOR U.S. EMBASSY ATTACK IN IRAQ
Ortagus added that both Iraqi leaders “assured the Secretary that they took seriously their responsibility for and would guarantee the safety and security of U.S. personnel and property.”
Yet as news of the embassy clashes spread, the Iraqi National Security Council put out a statement instead condemning the U.S. airstrikes that preceded them.
“The Iraqi Government condemns this act and considers it a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” the statement said. “This is a serious violation of the rules of engagement of the Coalition forces, including the US forces, in carrying out operations without the approval of the Iraqi Government.”
The statement went on to say that the U.S. “relied on their own conclusions and political priorities, not the priorities as assessed by the government and people of Iraq.”
Pompeo defended American actions on social media Tuesday, stating that the U.S. “responded defensively to the Iranian proxy attack that killed an American citizen,” and which wounded Americans and Iraqis.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., backed Trump in a Twitter thread, crediting the president for “acting decisively” and saying he’s put the world on notice “there will be no Benghazis on his watch.” This referred to the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Libya in which four Americans were killed. The Obama administration faced heavy criticism both for the embassy’s vulnerability as well as conflicting statements regarding the nature of the attack and what led to it.
In his Twitter thread, Graham laid down the gauntlet, challenging Iraq to continue working with the U.S., insisting that it would be in their best interest.
Very proud of President @realDonaldTrump acting decisively in the face of threats to our embassy in Baghdad.
He has put the world on notice – there will be no Benghazis on his watch.
(1/4)18.6K8:42 AM – Dec 31, 2019
“To our Iraqi allies: This is your moment to convince the American people the US-Iraq relationship is meaningful to you and worth protecting,” Graham said. “Protect our American personnel. You will not regret it.”
President Trump, unlike President Obama, will hold you accountable for threats against Americans and hit you where it hurts the most.
Choose your battles wisely.
To our Iraqi allies:
This is your moment to convince the American people the US-Iraq relationship is meaningful to you and worth protecting.
Protect our American personnel. You will not regret it.
(4/4)7,0188:42 AM – Dec 31, 2019
Both sides of the aisle called on Iraq to cooperate. Frequent Trump critic Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called the storming of the embassy “deeply disturbing” and urged Iraq to do its part.
“The first priority is the safety of our personnel. Iraq has an obligation to protect them,” Schiff said.
The storming of our embassy in Baghdad by protestors and Iran-backed militias is deeply disturbing.
The first priority is the safety of our personnel. Iraq has an obligation to protect them.
Once secure, we need to be clear-eyed about reducing tensions and the path forward. https://twitter.com/ap/status/1211951038363820032 …The Associated Press
The situation remains fluid in Baghdad. By early evening, protesters had set up tents outside the embassy where they said they intended to stage a sit-in. Dozens of yellow flags belonging to Iran-backed Shiite militias fluttered atop the reception area and were plastered along the embassy’s concrete wall along with anti-U.S. graffiti.
Esper said in a statement that the Pentagon and State Department are working closely to ensure the safety of those at the embassy, confirming they are sending “additional forces” to support personnel at the scene.
He added: “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.”
Fox News’ Trey Yingst and Judson Berger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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