President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that Iranian cultural sites were fair game for the U.S. military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so could constitute a war crime under international law. He also warned Iraq that he would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled American troops in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian official.
Trump’s comments came amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force. Iran has vowed to retaliate and Iraq’s parliament responded by voting Sunday to oust U.S. troops based in the country.
Trump first raised the prospect of targeting Iranian cultural sites Saturday in a tweet. Speaking with reporters Sunday as he returned to Washington from his holiday stay in Florida, he doubled down, despite international prohibitions.
“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” Trump said.
The targeted killing of Soleimani sparked outrage in the Middle East, including in Iraq, where more than 5,000 American troops are still on the ground 17 years after the U.S. invasion. Iraq’s parliament voted Sunday in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling for the expulsion of the American forces.
Trump said the U.S. wouldn’t leave without being paid for its military investments in Iraq over the years — then said if the troops do have to withdraw, he would hit Baghdad with economic penalties.
“We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” he said. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
He added: “We’re not leaving until they pay us back for it.”
The administration has scrambled to contend with the backlash to the killing of Soleimani. Though he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, the targeted American strike marked a stark escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. military may well strike more Iranian leaders if the Islamic Republic retaliates. He tip-toed around questions about Trump’s threat to attack Iranian cultural sites, a military action that likely would be illegal under the laws of armed conflict and the U.N. charter.
Pompeo said only that any U.S. military strikes inside Iran would be legal.
“We’ll behave inside the system,” Pompeo said. “We always have and we always will.”
Trump’s warnings rattled some administration officials. One U.S. national security official said the president had caught many in the administration off guard and prompted internal calls for others in the government, including Pompeo, to clarify the matter. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly to the issue, said clarification was necessary to affirm that the U.S. military would not intentionally commit war crimes.
See What Major News Sources are Saying about this Below:
President Donald Trump insisted that Iranian cultural sites were fair game for the U.S. military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so could constitute a war crime under international law.
By suggesting strikes on “52 Iranian sites,” including some that are important to “the Iranian culture,” Donald Trump threatened a way of waging war that has drawn growing outrage in recent decades, critics argued.
Iran’s cultural heritage is suddenly a topic of urgent global interest, after President Trump threatened to strike such sites if the country retaliates for the United States’ killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani.