WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Amid renewed tensions in the Middle East, President Donald Trump on Tuesday blamed Iran for insurgents storming the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and threatened Tehran over the incident.
"Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities," Trump tweeted late in the day. "They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!"
He also said the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is safe and "has been for hours," and he thanked Iraqi leaders for their assistance.
Earlier in the day, Trump said Iran would be held "fully responsible" for violence targeting Americans.
"Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many," Trump said in his morning tweet. "We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq."
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site. Thank you to the President & Prime Minister of Iraq for their rapid response upon request....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
Supporters of the Iraq Shiite militia, which is backed by Iran, broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad earlier Tuesday, setting fire to a reception area amid tear gas and gunfire.
As protesters massed outside the U.S. compound in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement that "we are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy."
The episode hearkened to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Republicans were heavily critical of the Obama administration’s response to that attack, and that criticism become a central GOP talking point against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who was the Secretary of State at the time of the attack.
Trump sought to head off those comparisons by tweeting at one point that the U.S. response to this incident was "The Anti-Benghazi!"
Some lawmakers feared the escalating violence in Iraq could lead to military conflict with Iran.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said "the predictable result of the Trump administration’s reckless bluster, escalation and miscalculation in the Middle East is that we are now hurtling closer to an unauthorized war with Iran that the American people do not support."
The embassy attack in Baghdad followed U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters from the Iranian-backed militia. The U.S. described those strikes as retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on a military base in Iraq.
In defending the U.S.-led airstrikes, Trump tweeted that Iran "will be held fully responsible."
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
It was Trump's first public comment on Sunday's airstrikes.
As for the embassy attack, Trump said that "we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!"
The president, who is spending the holidays at his resort in Palm Beach, Fla., has been largely out of sight since taking questions from reporters on Christmas Eve. Trump briefly traveled to his golf course near the resort, but stayed for less than an hour, breaking his usual routine of spending several hours at the club.
In a later tweet, the president said he had a "very good meeting on the Middle East" and was returning to his Mar-a-Lago resort. He promised to provide "updates throughout the day" on the situation in Baghdad.
Speaking to U.S. soldiers by video call on Dec. 24, he thanked the military for its effort to eliminate the last remnants of the Islamic State’s territory and for the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But on Tuesday the president remained largely out of sight and had no public events listed on his schedule.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed the president and blamed Iran for the confrontation at the embassy and for escalating tensions.
“When an Iran-backed militia killed an American in Iraq last week, it met with a firm response. Now our embassy in Baghdad — sovereign U.S. territory — has been attacked in yet another reckless escalation,” Cotton said in a statement. “As the president notes, Iran must be held responsible.”
In describing the invasion of the U.S. embassy in Iraq, the Associated Press said its reporter "saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three U.S. soldiers on the roof of the main building inside the embassy."
The AP added: "There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound but it was unclear what had caused it. A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: 'The message was delivered.'”
Critics said Trump's policy toward Iran is flawed, starting with his decision to withdraw from the multi-national nuclear agreement with the regime in Tehran. As the U.S. renews economic sanctions on Iran, its government is threatening to revive programs that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
"It’s hard to overstate what a total failure Trump’s Iran policy has been," tweeted Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy aide to President Barack Obama. "Nuclear program resumed. Regional provocations escalated. US isolated."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump threatens Iran for storming of US Embassy in Iraq