WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insists that Iranian cultural sites are fair game for the U.S. military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so could constitute a war crime under international law.
Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader wept Monday over the casket of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, his prayers joining the wails of an estimated million mourners who flooded the streets of Tehran demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.
Trump first raised the prospect of targeting Iranian cultural sites Saturday in a tweet. Speaking with reporters Sunday as he flew back to Washington from his holiday in Florida, he refused to back 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.
On Iraq, Trump said the U.S. wouldn’t leave Iraq without being paid for its military investments there 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. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look 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.”
Questions at home
Trump’s threat to attack cultural sites, 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 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.
Two top Senate Democrats called on Trump to immediately declassify the administration’s reasoning for the strike on Soleimani, saying there is “no legitimate justification” for keeping the information from the public.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Sunday the House would introduce and vote this week on a war powers resolution to limit the president’s military actions regarding Iran. In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi called the airstrike “provocative and disproportionate” and said it had “endangered our servicemembers, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.” A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate.
Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, has complained that Trump did not provide advance notice of his airstrike on Soleimani in Baghdad. Trump did meet the 48-hour deadline required by the War Powers Act to notify Congress after the deadly drone strike, though the document was classified and no public version was released.
The funeral for the Revolutionary Guard general drew a crowd said by police to be in the millions in the Iranian capital, filling thoroughfares and side streets as far as the eye could see. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs even were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.
Authorities later brought his remains and those of the others to Iran’s holy city of Qom, turning out another massive crowd.
It was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war.
Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened the U.S. military in the Middle East while also warning President Donald Trump, whom she called “crazy.”
“The families of the American soldiers … will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” she said to cheers.
Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani and referred to him as a “living martyr,” broke down in tears four times while offering Muslim prayers for the dead.
Demonstrators burned Israeli and U.S. flags, carried a flag-draped U.S. coffin or displayed effigies of Trump. Some described Trump himself as a legitimate target.