After hundreds of supporters of an Iran-backed Shiite Iraqi militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, President Trump pointed squarely at Iran, accusing the country — the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — of “orchestrating” the attack and promising that Iran “will be held fully responsible.” Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded Wednesday by taunting Trump, declaring, “You can’t do a damn thing.”
In response to recent attacks by the Iran-supported Kataeb Hezbollah militia, including an attack Friday that resulted in the death of an American contractor, the U.S. military conducted strategic airstrikes on five of the militia’s facilities in Iraq and Syria on Sunday. Kataeb Hezbollah, the U.S. Department of Defense noted in a statement on the airstrikes, has “a strong linkage” with Iran’s Quds Force, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
In retaliation for the airstrikes, which killed some 25 of the militia’s fighters, hundreds of supporters of the Iran-backed group converged on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, with dozens breaking into the compound and setting fires amid shouts of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
Trump responded by blaming Iran and vowing to take action. “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!” Trump tweeted Tuesday, adding in another post: “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
On Wednesday, Khamenei made his first public remarks about the attack on the embassy by tauntingly responding to Trump’s threat.
“That guy has tweeted that we [the United States] see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad and we will respond to Iran,” Khamenei said in a televised address on state-controlled TV Wednesday, as reported by The Daily Mail.
“First of all, you can’t do a damn thing! This has nothing to do with Iran,” Khamenei continued. “Secondly, be logical…The people of this region hate America. Why don’t Americans understand this? You Americans have committed crimes in Iraq, you have committed crimes in Afghanistan. You have killed people.”
“If the Islamic Republic decides to oppose or fight against a country, it will do this explicitly,” said the leader.
Late Tuesday, the Defense Department announced that Trump has deployed 750 U.S. soldiers to the region and has ordered an additional 3,000 or so to prepare for potential deployment in the coming days.
In a press statement issued Tuesday night, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that he has ordered the immediate deployment of 750 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The full brigade, which consists of about 4,000 soldiers, is preparing for potential deployment.
“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,” Esper said in the statement.
During an impromptu press conference Tuesday evening, Trump was asked if he could “foresee going to war with Iran.””I don’t think that would be a good idea for Iran,” he said. “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.”