update: The Marines have now landed, according to open-source analysis which appears to show the first deployment of the some 100 Marines flown in from Kuwait. Pentagon officials have also confirmed they are now on the ground.
Marines from SPMAGTF-CR-CC arriving to US Embassy in Baghdad pic.twitter.com/q9V1tzUfGq— Abraxas Spa (@AbraxasSpa) December 31, 2019
Contradicting prior reports, US personnel at the embassy have not evacuated, but are "safe" inside the sprawling compound:
US personnel at the American embassy in Baghdad, which has come under attack by pro-Iran protesters, are safe and there are no plans to evacuate, the State Department said Tuesday.
"Our first priority is the safety and security of US personnel," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
"US personnel are secure and there has been no breach," the spokesperson said. "There are no plans to evacuate Embassy Baghdad."
US Apache gunships are also said to be still encircling the area, attempting to intimidate the rioters on the ground, still encircling the embassy and attempting to set it on fire.
U.S. Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command deploy to Iraq to bolster security at the US Embassy and ensure the safety of American citizens, Dec. 31. pic.twitter.com/qD84tgKyYI— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) December 31, 2019
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham has praised Trump for "acting decisively" and has defended the president, saying “there will be no Benghazis on his watch.”
Regardless, none of this looks good for America's prospects in the Middle East moving into 2020.
This is the picture to close out the decade pic.twitter.com/RhwSC160R4— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) December 31, 2019
* * *
Dramatic footage over the US embassy in Baghdad as enraged protesters continue to encircle the compound with US Marines still inside, and reportedly with more Marines on the way from nearby Kuwait:
VIDEO: AH-64 Apaches protect @USEmbBaghdad. 🚁“We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens...and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy.”~@EsperDoD 🇺🇸🇮🇶 pic.twitter.com/amABHBAOcL— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) December 31, 2019
The Pentagon announced that a pair of AH-64s Apache helicopters would be used to attempt to disrupt and disperse protests. The US coalition in Iraq spokesman released video of low flying Apaches making aggressive maneuvers and releasing flares on the crowds below.
“We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens... and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy,” Col. Myles B. Caggins said in an official statement.
This was hours after the Pentagon announced the US will send additional troops to Baghdad specifically to protect the US Embassy in Iraq. According to the statements this is to include about 100 Marines sent from nearby Kuwait. According to one defense official cited by Bloomberg, the Marines will likely fly to the embassy area in V-22 Ospreys.
But the tactics don't appear to be working given the mob has set the embassy compound walls on fire, including the main gate and security pass through reception area.
Crucially, in a stunning image sure to send shockwaves through the US administration, multiple Kataib Hezbollah flags have now been erected along the walls of the US embassy.
Likely the Apaches will continue encircling the area through the night as things look to get worse before they get better.
From Shock and Awe to Tweet and Flare in 17 long years https://t.co/PP7t6vO0Cu— Aris Roussinos (@arisroussinos) December 31, 2019
A view from among the protests on the ground as Apaches swoop overhead:
All of this portends that the potential for even greater escalation and confrontation is in the air as Trump continues to call on Iranian proxies to leave Iraq.