Trump Says He Doesn’t Want War With Iran After Attack on US Embassy in Baghdad

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
January 1, 2020Updated: January 1, 2020

President Donald Trump said on Dec. 31 he does not want war with Iran, hours after he said that Iran “will be held fully responsible” after an attack led by Iranian-backed militias on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Speaking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump dismissed concerns that tensions between the two countries could spiral into a war.

“Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace,” he said. “And Iran should want to have peace more than anybody. So I don’t see that happening.”

Earlier on Dec. 31, Trump emphasized he was not just warning Iran when he said that the Ayatollah regime will be “held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities.”

He wrote on Twitter: “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!”

Trump’s threat came after a group of protesters, including supporters of Iran-backed terrorist group Kata’ib Hezbollah, breached the outer walls of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, threatening the lives of Americans inside.

The attack prompted the deployment of 100 Marines, part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force—Crisis Response—Central Command from Kuwait.

None of the groups’ members or protesters entered the embassy itself, the State Department said.

Some Iraqi security forces were keeping the groups at bay as the crowd scrawled slogans on walls, hurled stones at buildings, and chanted “Death to America.”

A contingent of Marines was inside the embassy awaiting reinforcements and two Apache helicopters were flown overhead as a show of force.

Early reports said the U.S. embassy was being evacuated but the State Department later said all U.S. personnel at the embassy were safe and that there were no plans to evacuate.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper later said in a statement that about 750 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division alert brigade were being rapidly deployed to Kuwait amid the unrest.

“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.

The Pentagon said preparations were being made to deploy additional troops over the next several days. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that as many as 4,000 troops could be sent to the region in the coming days if needed, Fox News reported.

The alert brigade, which has been told to prepare for deployment, is known as the Deployment Ready Brigade (DRB) and is made up of about 4,000 paratroopers, according to the news outlet. U.S. officials said the brigade had a 96-hour alert window to be dispatched to the region.

More than 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq supporting local forces. Since May, about 14,000 additional U.S. troops have been deployed to the region as tensions with Iran escalated in the region, according to the Pentagon.

Esper said he authorized the deployment of troops at Trump’s direction and “in response to recent events in Iraq.”

The groups who breached the embassy walls were ostensibly angry after the U.S. conducted “defensive strikes” on Kata’ib Hezbollah targets in Iraq and Syria. The Dec. 29 strikes were approved after the death of a U.S. defense civilian contractor who was killed in a rocket attack on a northern Iraqi military base.

At least 25 Kata’ib Hezbollah fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded in three U.S. air strikes in Iraq, and at least four local Kata’ib Hezbollah commanders were among the dead, according to Iraqi security and militia sources. The group’s headquarters near the western Qaim district on the border with Syria was one of the targeted sites. It was destroyed.

“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!” President Donald Trump said in a statement earlier Tuesday.

“To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!” Trump wrote.

Reuters and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.