Iranian military leaders have warned Washington against threatening military action after U.S. President Donald Trump said Tehran would be held responsible for anti-U.S. protests in Iraq.
"We are not leading the country to war, but we are not afraid of any war and we tell America to speak correctly with the Iranian nation,” Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on January 2.
“We have the power to break them several times over and are not worried," he said in a speech in the southwestern city of Ahwaz.
Meanwhile, army chief Major General Abdolrahim Musavi said Iranian armed forces were ready to confront the "enemy."
“If anyone makes the slightest mistake, they will decisively react," Musavi said, according to state broadcaster IRIB.
Later, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Iran or its proxy forces may be planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East, adding that the United States will take action – preemptively, if it has sufficient warning.
On December 31, a crowd angered by U.S. air strikes targeting an Iran-backed militia, attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Clashes continued on January 1 as demonstrators hurled stones while U.S. forces protecting the embassy fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowd that had camped out overnight.
By the evening, the Iraqi military announced that all groups had withdrawn from the perimeter of the facility.
The attack, in which no U.S. personnel were injured, came amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran -- the two main sponsors of the Iraqi government.
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the attack and said the country “will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities.”
“They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat,” he tweeted on December 31.
Esper announced that about 750 soldiers would be deployed to the region in response to “increased threat levels against U.S. personnel…and facilities."
"There are some indications out there that they may be planning additional attacks, that is nothing new right, we've seen this for two or three months now," Esper told reporters on January 2.
"If that happens then we will act and by the way, if we get word of attacks or some type indication, we will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces, to protect American lives."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on January 1 dismissed U.S. accusations that Tehran had orchestrated the protests.
“Americans need to understand that people in the region, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, hate them for their crimes,” he said.
The Baghdad protesters were angry over U.S. air strikes on December 29 that killed at least 25 members of an Iran-backed militant group.
The United States said the strikes were in response to repeated attacks by Kataeb Hizbullah, a paramilitary group supported by Iran, on bases that house U.S. troops.
One on December 27 killed a U.S. defense contractor and injured U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Currently, there are about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq involved in operations against the Islamic State extremist group and training missions with the Iraqi security forces.