On Tuesday evening, as Americans prepared to begin celebrating the New Year, the Pentagon distributed a statement from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, announcing that forces from the 82nd Airborne were headed for the Middle East.
The crisis at the US embassy compound in Baghdad, which was attacked on Tuesday by elements of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Kata’ib Hizbollah, is not over. The embassy remains under siege.
Initially, Iraqi guards did nothing to stop the assault in the usually heavily guarded Green Zone. However, following a telephone conversation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, Iraqi security forces stepped in, and the danger “of an imminent invasion of the embassy eased,” as The Washington Post reported.
The US embassy compound is huge. It is the world’s largest embassy, sprawling over 104 acres of land. The demonstrators were able to breach the embassy’s main reception space, but their advance has been stopped, and they may have been pushed outside the embassy compound entirely.
However, they are still camped around it, and they have vowed to remain there until US diplomats leave Iraq, and the facility is shut down.
In announcing the New Year’s Eve deployment of the 82nd Airborne, Esper explained that 750 soldiers were leaving immediately, and additional forces might depart “over the next several days.”
Fox News reported that the troops were headed for Kuwait, while as many as 4,000 soldiers could be sent to the Gulf sheikhdom.
That announcement followed an earlier Pentagon statement on Tuesday that 100 Marines had been dispatched from Kuwait to Baghdad to protect the embassy. The Marines were flown to Iraq in Osprey helicopters, which are often used for transport, while Apache attack helicopters circled overhead, lighting up the night sky.