SAN DIEGO — Marines from two San Diego bases were among the U.S. service members deployed to defend America’s embassy in Baghdad after it was rocked by destructive protests, authorities confirmed.
U.S. officials hold the target of the strikes, the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, responsible for a growing number of rocket attacks against American facilities in Iraq, including one that killed a U.S. contractor.
A Marine Corps spokesperson told FOX 5 that a mission to protect the embassy included units from Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, as well as the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, near Joshua Tree.
The units are part of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, which flew into Iraq by helicopter from neighboring Kuwait to protect the embassy, the Marine Times reports.
Security forces regained control of the area around the compound Wednesday after it was rocked by a second day of mass protests.
Earlier that day, security personnel fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of protesters — some of whom were seen trying to climb the building’s walls — eyewitnesses told CNN.
Other witnesses said the protesters were hurling rocks, and trying to set fire to walls and security booths at the embassy’s main entrance.
But by Wednesday evening, the protesters had cleared away from the embassy compound’s entrance.
“We have issued the order for everyone to withdraw, because America should have received our message,” said a spokesman for the main protest group, Kataib Hezbollah, which had been targeted by the U.S. airstrikes.
President Donald Trump blamed Iran for both the U.S. contractor’s death and the attacks on the embassy, and warned Iran’s leaders they would be held responsible for any deaths or destruction at the embassy.
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” Trump tweeted. “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded by tweeting that the U.S. “can’t do anything.”
“If you were logical — which you’re not — you’d see that your crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan… have made nations hate you,” Khamenei added.
Eyewitnesses also told CNN that local law enforcement forces around the embassy had not been seen doing anything significant to stop the protesters demonstrating in front of the compound, or from throwing stones at it.
The airstrikes and ensuing protests come at a time of high tension between the US and Iran, and have stoked fears of a new proxy war in the Middle East.
The militia targeted by US airstrikes
The Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah is militantly anti-American. In 2017 and 2018, its fighters in Syria tried to attack the US-supported garrison at al-Tanf on the Iraqi border.
It has provided hundreds of fighters for the Assad regime in Syria — part of a broader Iranian effort to help stamp out the insurgency there — and is an important element in Iranian efforts to extend its influence through northern Iraq and into Syria. The US strikes, notably, were against targets along the main route between Iran and Syria.
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah told CNN that the embassy protests were only a “first step.”
“The American administration should understand the following: the first step was to protest near the American embassy, we are waiting their reactions to determine the second step,” Mohamad Mouhiye said, calling for the US to shut down the embassy and withdraw from Iraq.
“First, close the doors of the evil embassy, which we consider a spy building and an operations room to administer and sabotage Iraq’s well-being,” Mouhiye said. “We also call on the US to withdraw their military forces which are in Iraq illegally.”