Iraq’s parliament called for US and other foreign troops to leave as a backlash grows against the US killing of a top Iranian general and President Donald Trump doubled down on threats to target Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliates.
Deepening a crisis that heightened fears of a major Middle East conflagration, Iran said it was taking another step back from commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.
Iran’s most prominent general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed on Friday in a US drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that carried U.-Iranian hostilities into uncharted waters.
An Iranian government minister denounced Trump as a “terrorist in a suit” after the US president sent a series of Twitter posts threatening to hit 52 Iranian sites, including targets important to Iranian culture, if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets to avenge Soleimani’s death.
Talking to reporters on Air Force One en route to Washington from Florida , Trump stood by hiscomments.
“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,” he said.
Democratic critics of the Republican president said Trump was reckless in authorising the strike and some said his comments about targeting cultural sites amounted to threats to commit war crimes. Many asked why Soleimani, long seen as a threat by US authorities, had to be killed now.
Republicans in Congress generally backed Trump’s move.
Trump also threatened sanctions against Iraq and said if US troops were required to leave the country, Iraq’s government would have to pay Washington for the cost of a “very extraordinarily expensive” air base.
He said if Iraq asked US forces to leave on an unfriendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for an end to all foreign troop presence, reflecting the fears of many in Iraq that Friday’s strike could engulf them in another war between bigger powers long at odds in Iraq and across the region.
While such resolutions are not binding on government, this one is likely to be heeded: Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi earlier called on parliament to end foreign troop presence as soon as possible.
Iran and the United States have been competing for clout in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
VOTE ON FOREIGN TROOPS
Before Trump’s comments to reporters, a State Department spokeswoman said the United States was waiting for clarification of the legal nature and impact of the resolution and strongly urged Iraqi leaders to reconsider the importance of the two nations’ ongoing economic and security relationship.
Some 5 000 US troops remain in Iraq, most in an advisory role.
Abdul Mahdi said despite the “internal and external difficulties” the country might face, cancelling its request for help from US-led coalition military forces “remains best for Iraq on principle and practically.”
He said he was scheduled to meet Soleimani the day he was killed and the general was due to deliver an Iranian response to a message from Saudi Arabia Abdul Mahdi earlier passed to Tehran. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran were about to “reach a breakthrough over the situation in Iraq and the region”, Abdul Mahdi said.
Despite decades of US-Iran enmity, Iranian-backed militia and US troops fought side by side during Iraq’s 2014-17 war against Islamic State. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in Friday’s strike.
Sunday’s parliamentary resolution was passed by overwhelmingly Shi’ite lawmakers, as the special session was boycotted by Sunni Muslim and Kurdish lawmakers.
A Sunni member of parliament told Reuters both groups feared kicking out US-led forces would leave Iraq vulnerable to insurgents, undermine security and heighten the power of Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias.
The ‘E3’ group of countries comprising France, Britain and Germany called on Iran to refrain from violent action and urged it to respect arrangements laid out in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The three nations reaffirmed their determination to fight Islamic State and called on Iraqi authorities to continue giving the necessary support to the coalition.
It was Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the deal in 2018 and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran that touched off new tensions after a brief thaw following the accord.
On Sunday, Iran further distanced itself from the agreement, saying it would continue to co-operate with the UN nuclear watchdog but would not respect limits to its uranium enrichment work.
That meant “there will be no limitations in enrichment capacity, level of enrichment and research and development and it will be based on Iran’s technical needs,” state TV said, quoting a government statement. It said the rollback of its nuclear commitments could be reversed if Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran.
As head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Soleimani masterminded Iran’s clandestine and military operations abroad, creating an arc of Shi’ite power with the help of proxy militias confronting the regional might of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of mourners, many chanting, beating chests and wailing in grief, turned out across Iran to show their respects when his body was returned to a hero’s welcome.