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U.S. Sends Reinforcements After U.S. Embassy In Iraq Is Attacked

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Pentagon is deploying 750 additional troops to the Middle East after an attack by members of an Iranian-backed militia and their supporters on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed the decision after protesters stormed the embassy yesterday. They threw rocks and set fires. U.S. Marines hit them with tear gas in return. The demonstrations were a response to U.S. airstrikes targeting that Iran-linked militia over the weekend. Mustafa Salim is in Baghdad. He's a reporter for the Washington Post.

Thanks for being with us, sir.

MUSTAFA SALIM: Thank you.

KING: What is happening at the U.S. Embassy today?

SALIM: Today, the crowds resumed their sit-in around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. From last night, they have set up their tents, and they spent the night. This morning, also, hundreds of people joined them from around Baghdad and outside of Baghdad inside their tents. There were a few attempts also to burn more parts of the facility of the embassy, but they were stopped by the Iraqi army.

They don't have weapons, but they are standing like a buffer between those people and the embassy. They managed to burn, like, more parts, but it's less than yesterday so far. But it's still early. The violence might increase in a few hours. And those people have what they call their logistic support - that there are lots of cars came with their cooking supplies, and they are cooking food in order to increase momentum and increase the sit-in around the embassy.

KING: All right, you're saying something really interesting there. You said people have shown up. They've brought tents. They slept overnight. And they've brought now food and cooking supplies. It sounds to me like these people intend to stay outside of the U.S. Embassy for a while. Is that the impression you're getting?

SALIM: That's what they're saying. When I ask them, like, how long are you planning to stay? They are saying we are going to stay here as long as possible because our demands are - is the departure of the whole Americans from Iraq, the shutdown of the embassy facility, the departure of U.S. diplomats and also the departure of all U.S. troops from Iraq.

KING: They are demanding that the United States get out of Iraq.

SALIM: That's true.

KING: Can you describe the response that you saw from the U.S. military who were stationed at the embassy?

SALIM: By the time the people tried to breach inside the embassy, they responded with tear gas and small grenades - stun grenades - to put them away. That's it. And in fact, I mean, in the last two months, Iraq has been witnessing the largest anti-government demonstrations in decades in the central Baghdad. And the Iraqi police has been also using the tear gas canisters and smoke grenades and stun grenades as well. But they were - Iraqi forces, they were they were using them in a deadly way, that they killed more than 500 people. Those canisters that were used by the Americans yesterday are nothing compared to the ones that the Iraqis has been using.

KING: You're drawing a very interesting distinction here. There have been these anti-government protests in Iraq over the last few months. They have nothing to do with the protest outside of the embassy, but it sounds like what you're saying is the Iraqi security forces have felt comfortable cracking down very hard on those protests. The U.S. military, in contrast, you are saying is exercising restraint. It sounds like they're trying not to get anyone killed.

SALIM: That's true. That's true. And even those people in those groups who are around the embassy, they called these methods of crowd control as cute methods.

KING: Cute - cute methods. Wow. Wow. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq was out of the country when this happened. Do we know how many U.S. officials are still inside of that embassy?

SALIM: For security reasons, they haven't released any figures about how many people are there.

KING: OK.

SALIM: But I talked to some. And for sure, there are, like - there's hundreds of people are there inside the safe rooms.

KING: Mustafa, thank you so much for your time.

SALIM: Thank you.

KING: Mustafa Salim is a Washington Post reporter based in Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.