Donald Trump has defended his threat to target Iranian cultural sites – widely seen as a war crime – if Tehran retaliates for the killing of General Qassem Suleimani.
On bellicose form, the US president also lashed out at Iraq following its parliament’s demand for American troops to be expelled from that country, and vowed to respond with crippling sanctions.
Trump’s comments suggest he was making no idle threat when, on Saturday night, he tweeted that the US has “targeted 52 Iranian sites … some at a very high level & important to Iran & Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One a day later, he sought to offer a justification. “They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “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.”
Targeting cultural sites is prohibited by international conventions signed in Geneva and at the Hague. In 2017, the United Nations security council passed unanimously a resolution condemning the destruction of heritage sites. The action previewed by Trump would almost certainly involve the deaths of civilians.