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Trump Says US Will Not Leave Iraq Until Baghdad Pays for American Air Base, Threatens Sanctions

© AP Photo / Khalid Mohammedraqi SWAT team stands guard as security forces and others gather next to a U.S.- made F-16 fighter jet during the delivery ceremony at Balad air base
raqi SWAT team stands guard as security forces and others gather next to a U.S.- made F-16 fighter jet during the delivery ceremony at Balad air base - Sputnik International
The Iraqi parliament on Sunday voted to expel all foreign troops from the nation's territories and cut off ties with the US-led international anti-terrorist coalition after Friday's assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Baghdad, by the US.

US President Donald Trump was reportedly referring to the Balad military base that houses US forces some 50 miles north of Baghdad.

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase 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 [...] We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame”, Trump said Sunday, while traveling back to DC from Florida.

Earlier in the day, Iraq’s parliament voiced its support to a recommendation put forward by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi to order the withdrawal of US-led coalition troops from the country and ending cooperation with the international coalition.

The Trump administration expressed its disappointment over the Iraqi parliament’s decision. The US-led international coalition said it would suspend anti-terrorist operations in Iraq, adding that its activities would be focused on protecting US military bases in the wake of the assassination and recent attacks on the facilities hosting US troops.

Due to the likelihood of expelling US troops from Iraq, EU leaders called on Baghdad to ensure continued support for the international US-led anti-terrorism coalition, as well as the 2015 Joint Cooperative Plan of Action nuclear treaty.

Kataib Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shia militias within the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, earlier threatened to launch attacks on military installations used by US forces in Iraq unless the Trump administration quickly implements the group's ultimatum to withdraw US troops from the nation.

Over the weekend, the Iraqi capital witnessed several rocket attacks, including in the residential area of Al-Jadriya and at the Balad military base. No one has claimed the responsibility for the shellings.

Trump Doubles Down on Threats to Target Iranian Cultural Sites

Trump also suggested that his administration "may discuss" releasing intelligence related to Soleimani's assassination and reiterated his recent threat to attack Iranian cultural sites.

"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 site? It doesn't work that way", Trump said.

Trump, who without informing the US Congress that had authorized the assassination of the top Iranian general, attempted to justify the extrajudicial killing by framing it as a preemptive, defensive move to prevent war, later boasting that Washington had targeted 52 additional Iranian cultural and military sites for US airstrikes if Iran decides to retaliate.

Trump’s statement has roused serious backlash from Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif slammed Washington, and stated that any attack on Iranian culture would constitute a war crime.

US State Secretary Mike Pompeo stated that all action would be within the bounds of legality.

“We’ll behave lawfully, we’ll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will,” the secretary of state remarked.

Targeting cultural sites is a war crime according to the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The UN Security Council also passed a resolution in 2017 that called the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites a war crime.

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