US to deploy 750 troops in ME

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Tuesday that the United States will deploy about 750 troops immediately to the Middle East, a move taken hours after demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. “Approximately 750 Soldiers will deploy to the region immediately & additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days,” said the Pentagon chief in a series of tweets. The IRF refers to the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division. “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 added. The Pentagon’s decision came hours after hundreds of demonstrators, mourning for the Hashd Shaabi members killed by a U.S. attack in Iraq on Sunday, stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone. U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran for “orchestrating an attack” on the embassy in a tweet. Paramilitary groups who have been protesting against U.S. air strikes in Iraq told their supporters to withdraw from the perimeter of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, although there was no immediate sign of a pullout. The embassy’s outer perimeter was stormed on Tuesday by demonstrators angry at U.S. air strikes against an Iran-backed group that killed at least 25 fighters. On Wednesday demonstrators hurled rocks at the building while security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades in an attempt to disperse them. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella group of mainly Shi’ite militia said the crowds should withdraw now that their “message has been heard”, and in deference to the Iraqi government which sought “to preserve the prestige of the state”. The protests mark a new turn in the shadow war between Washington and Tehran playing out across the Middle East, and raise questions over the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. U.S. President Donald Trump, who faces re-election in 2020, on Tuesday threatened to retaliate against Iran but said later he did not want to go to war. The United States launched deadly air strikes against bases of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah on Sunday in retaliation for missile attacks that killed a U.S. contractor at a base in northern Iraq. Crowds rallied on Tuesday to protest, chanting death to America, setting fires, throwing rocks and smashing surveillance cameras. They breached an outer perimeter but did not enter the main compound. The huge embassy, built along the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad’s fortified “green zone” during American occupation following the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, is the biggest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world. Washington says its diplomats are safe and it is rushing hundreds of extra troops to the region. Overnight, demonstrators pitched tents and camped outside the embassy walls. On Wednesday morning, they were bringing in food supplies, cooking equipment and mattresses, suggesting plans to stay for a long time. Senior Iraqi army officers had negotiated with those gathered outside the embassy in an attempt to convince them to leave but failed to do so.