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Pentagon deploying 750 more US troops to region after protest at US Embassy in Iraq

U.S. Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAFTF-CR-CC) 19.2, prepare to deploy from Kuwait in support of a crisis response mission, Dec. 31, 2019. The SPMAGTF-CR-CC is designed to move with speed and precision to support operations throughout the Middle East. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Robert Gavaldon)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States is immediately deploying 750 additional troops to the Middle East and more in the coming days after pro-Iranian protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

“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,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement on December 31.

He continued: “The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.”

Demonstrators attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on December 31 to condemn U.S. air strikes two days earlier that killed at least 25 members of an Iran-backed militant group, causing Iraqi security forces and compound guards to fire tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

Reuters reported that 12 militiamen were injured during the attack, which U.S. President Donald Trump blamed on Iran.

“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” Trump tweeted late on New Year’s Eve.

“They will pay a very BIG PRICE!” wrote Trump, adding, “Happy New Year!”

Tehran denied it was behind the violent protests at the U.S. Embassy and warned against any retaliation.

“American officials have the astounding audacity of attributing to Iran the protests of the Iraqi people against [Washington’s] savage killing of at least 25 Iraqis…,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement on a ministry website.

Thousands of protesters converged on the U.S. compound in response to the U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria on December 29 that targeted members of the Kata’ib Hizbullah militia.

Washington appeared surprised and expressed fury over the ease with which the protesters entered the Green Zone, reaching the U.S. Embassy for the first time in years.

The protesters were seen carrying flags of the Kata’ib Hizbullah, or Hezbollah Brigades, a paramilitary group supported by Iran.

The attack may be the most violent against a U.S. Embassy since the 2012 assault against a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in that attack.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet that he called Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih on December 31 to warn them of “their obligation to protect our U.S. personnel and property.”

The United States earlier said it had carried out “precision defensive strikes” against five targets in response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbullah attacks on Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops, including one on December 27 that killed a U.S. defense contractor and injured U.S. and Iraqi forces.