Iran's Leader Responds to Trump's Threat

'You can't do anything,' says supreme leader, as anti-US protests continue in Iraq
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 1, 2020 8:00 AM CST
Updated Jan 1, 2020 3:15 PM CST
Anti-US Protests Continue at Embassy in Iraq
Iraqi security force stands guard while firefighters work at the scene of a fire set by pro-Iranian militiamen in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.   (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Anti-American protests continued for a second straight day near the US embassy in Iraq on Wednesday, prompting US forces to fire tear gas at one point. However, Reuters reports that protesters have withdrawn after a militia umbrella group told demonstrators to disperse. Meanwhile, US-Iran tensions were rising over the situation. Coverage:

  • Banner: Despite leaving, the protesters left their mark by putting up a green banner bearing the name of the umbrella group—the Popular Mobilization Forces—"as if to remove any doubt of who was in charge," says the New York Times.
  • Iran responds: On Tuesday, President Trump blamed Iran for fomenting the anti-American protests and promised the nation would pay a "big price." But on Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader dismissed the threat, reports Newsweek. "You can’t do anything," said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a speech in Tehran. "If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge and fight, it will do so unequivocally."

  • Context: The Washington Post provides some context to the situation, observing that "Trump now faces a potentially combustible situation where the United States and Iran are elbowing for influence in Iraq as US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, along with some of Trump’s in-house advisers, urge a more forceful confrontation with Tehran over its aggressive tactics across the Middle East."
  • Americans safe: As the protests have unfolded, American staffers and diplomats have remained holed up in the heavily fortified embassy. No injuries have been reported inside or outside the compound.
  • Umbrella group: The number of protesters dwindled after the Popular Mobilization Forces called on them to withdraw. "Your message has been received," the group said. Its message came after the Iraqi government made a similar appeal.
  • Powerful allies: Iran's allies in the Iraqi government now plan to press for a parliamentary vote to have US troops withdrawn from Iraq, notes the Wall Street Journal. The paper adds that the ordeal "starkly revealed the dominance of factions allied to Tehran within the Iraqi government, drawing it more closely into Iran’s orbit."
  • More troops: On Tuesday, Trump ordered the deployment of about 750 soldiers from Fort Bragg to the Middle East, reports the AP. The soldiers are from the infantry division of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, and they are believed to be en route to Kuwait. A bigger deployment may follow. Defense chief Mark Esper said the deployment is in "response to recent events" in Iraq.
(These US airstrikes set off the protests. They were in retaliation for the killing of a US contractor in Iraq.)

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