(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that Iranian cultural sites were fair game for the U.S. military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so would constitute a war crime under international law. He also warned Iraq that the U.S. would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled American troops in retaliation for a U.S. strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian official.
Trump’s comments came amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following last week’s strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force. Iran has vowed to retaliate and Iraq’s parliament responded by voting Sunday to oust U.S. troops based in the country.
“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 told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from a holiday stay at his Florida estate.
Trump cast his response to the Iraq parliament’s decision in monetary terms, saying the U.S. expected to be paid for its military investments in Iraq before leaving the country and threatening economic sanctions if the U.S. is not treated properly.
“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,” he told reporters.
“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,” 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.”