Iraq should brace for sanctions that will make the ones placed on Iran look weak in comparison if it kicks out the US troops without first covering the costs for an airbase, US President Donald Trump said.
“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build, long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday.
The punitive measures that the US is ready to slap on its supposed ally in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) will be even harsher than the crippling sanctions already in effect against Tehran, the president said.
“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
Trump’s warning to Iraq comes after Iraqi MPs passed a non-binding resolution, championed by the country’s caretaker prime minister, asking the Iraqi government to expel foreign troops by cancelling a request for military assistance from the US-led coalition.
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The resolution, adopted earlier on Sunday, envisions that some foreign troops might stay in Iraq for training purposes, but the number of foreign instructors deemed necessary should be reported back by the Iraqi authorities.
‘We are not allowed to touch Iran’s cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way’
Trump also doubled down on his threat to wipe out Iranian cultural sites in retaliation for potential future attacks from Tehran, which has vowed to avenge the assassination of its top general, Qassem Soleimani, by the US.
Accusing Iran of “torturing” and “maiming” American soldiers in suicide attacks and by planting roadside bombs, Trump hinted that attacks on US troops justify potential war crimes – the destruction of a nation’s cultural heritage.
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“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’s statement on Saturday that the US might fire upon 52 sites that are important to Iran’s people and culture has courted controversy in the US, with many of the Trump administration’s critics noting that Washington would mimic the methods of its declared adversary, Islamic State – which is notorious for damaging and destroying globally-significant cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.
Tensions between the US and Iran have been mounting ever since a series of US airstrikes against the Shia Kataib Hezbollah militia in Syria and Iraq on December 29 killed at least 25 fighters, triggering a siege of the US Embassy in Baghdad that saw demonstrators chanting “death to America” and setting checkpoints on fire. The US blamed the showdown at its diplomatic compound on Tehran and its “proxies.” On Thursday, the US launched a drone strike at a convoy travelling near Baghdad International Airport, killing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani, along with senior Iraqi militia leaders.
The murder of Soleimani, who played a key role in the fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, has drawn outrage across Iran and Iraq, with Tehran vowing to avenge the assassination, calling it “an act of international terrorism.” Washington, meanwhile, insists that Soleimani was the mastermind behind a spate of attacks on American personnel, including at the US Embassy, and says he was plotting new assaults.
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