Trump threatens to strike Iran, sanction Iraq as Middle East tensions grow

Tensions in the Middle East are at a boiling point after the U.S. killing of General Qassem Soleimani of Iran, but the president of the United States isn’t backing down from the regime’s bluster.

President Donald Trump doubled down on his threats to strike Iran in response to potential retaliation, specifically referencing some 52 targeted “cultural sites,” and he also floated sanctions on Iraq as the country’s parliament demanded that all foreign troops leave its soil, Fox reported. Iran has vowed to respond forcefully to the killing of its top military leader, but it has not yet taken action outside of withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal.

“It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame. 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,” Trump said.

Trump stands firm

The United States killed Soleimani in a strike outside Baghdad’s airport last week that followed a steady decay in relations between Washington and Tehran. The weekend saw continued threats being traded back and forth between the two nations as the world watched for signs of a new Middle Eastern war.

As Democrats and Western leaders called for de-escalation, the president said that he too was seeking to avert war, not start one, but made it clear that it was Iran’s choice whether to strike back and risk annihilation, or cool off. In a series of tweets and statements, Trump warned that America would strike Iran proper and any of 52 targeted “cultural sites” should Iran retaliate, prompting accusations from Iran and from American lawmakers that Trump was signaling a willingness to commit war crimes.

“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 Sunday, doubling down on the threats.

Meanwhile, Trump said that his tweets would serve as his official notifications to Congress going forward as the situation continued to rapidly evolve. In another twist, Iraq’s parliament voted to have all foreign troops leave its soil Sunday, prompting Trump to threaten sanctions on the war-torn country and also demand that Iraq repay the United States for “a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there” before Americans leave.

Crisis escalates

Iranian officials chanted “death to America” and vowed swift revenge as hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets to mourn Soleimani on Sunday. In yet another key development, Iran announced that it would no longer follow the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, cementing the worsening of relations between America and Iran that started when Trump originally withdrew from the agreement and slapped crippling sanctions on the regime.

Supporters of Donald Trump’s airstrike said that Iran’s subsequent decision proved what had been suspected all along: that Iran is a rogue nation that cannot be trusted to honor diplomatic agreements, and that the killing of Soleimani is therefore a justified act of “deterrence” against Iranian threats. But Democrats have responded by introducing legislation to prevent the start of a war while also accusing Trump of “war crimes” for needlessly risking a destructive conflict without Congressional authorization,

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted: “You are threatening to commit war crimes. We are not at war with Iran. The American people do not want a war with Iran. This is a democracy. You do not get to start a war with Iran, and your threats put our troops and diplomats at greater risk. Stop.”

Uncertainty abounds

It’s unclear precisely which “sites” Trump has in mind as possible targets, but Iran is home to ancient treasures like the famous capital of Persepolis, the center of Cyrus the Great’s Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus is mentioned in the Bible for his legendary role in liberating the Jews from Babylonian captivity.

There was also confusion Monday after reports emerged of a Pentagon letter honoring Iraq’s demands to leave, only for Defense Secretary Mark Esper to say that “no decision” of that nature has yet been made.

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