WASHINGTON — The United States is sending approximately 3,000 soldiers to the Middle East after thousands of people stormed the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, three U.S. defense officials and one U.S. military official confirmed to NBC News on Friday.
The news came hours after an American airstrike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s secretive Quds Force and one of the country’s most powerful figures, but U.S. defense officials said the deployments were not in response to the strike.
The deployment of additional soldiers from a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, comes after thousands of people, most of them affiliated with the Iran-backed Shiite militia group Kataeb Hezbollah, descended on the embassy compound Tuesday.
The soldiers will join roughly 650 others already deployed to the region and stay there for some 60 days, the officials said. The immediate-response-force soldiers will be spread throughout the region, with some in Iraq and others in Kuwait.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said the attack on the embassy compound began as a large crowd gathered after funerals for some of those who were killed in U.S. airstrikes Sunday.
The protesters marched to the embassy compound, where they tried several times to breach security and enter the main embassy building, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the situation, who said the crowd threw Molotov cocktails over the walls and tried to burn down the entry gates.
At least 25 militia fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes Sunday on weapons depots in Iraq and Syria that the United States said were linked to Kataeb Hezbollah.