U.S. President Donald Trump threatened sanctions against Iraq and said that if U.S. 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 there.
He said if Iraq asked U.S. 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 two bigger powers long at odds in Iraq and across the region.
While such resolutions are not binding on the government, this one is likely to be heeded: Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had earlier called on parliament to end foreign troop presence as soon as possible.
The step was in reaction to the killing of Iran’s most prominent general, Qassem Soleimani. He was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that carried U.S.-Iranian hostilities into uncharted waters.
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 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most in an advisory role.
Abdul Mahdi said that despite the “internal and external difficulties” the country might face, canceling its request for help from U.S.-led coalition military forces “remains best for Iraq on principle and practically.”
He said he had been scheduled to meet Soleimani the day he was killed, and that the general had been due to deliver an Iranian response to a message from Saudi Arabia that Abdul Mahdi had earlier passed to Tehran. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran had been about to “reach a breakthrough over the situation in Iraq and the region”, Abdul Mahdi said.
Talking to reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Washington from Florida on Sunday evening, Trump also stood by the threats directed to Iran. U.S. president sent a series of Twitter posts on Saturday threatening to hit 52 Iranian sites, including targets important to Iranian culture, if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets to avenge Soleimani’s death.
“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 have said Trump was reckless in authorizing 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 U.S. authorities, had to be killed now.