WASHINGTON (AP) — United States (US) President Donald Trump insists that Iranian cultural sites are fair game for the US military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so could constitute a war crime under international law.
He also warned Iraq that he would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled American troops in retaliation for a US airstrike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian official.
But Congress is pushing back, in what’s expected to be a pivotal week as lawmakers return from a holiday recess. Yesterday, two top Senate Democrats called on Trump to immediately declassify the administration’s reasoning for the strike on the Iranian official, General Qassem Soleimani, saying there is “no legitimate justification” for keeping the information from the public.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last Sunday the House would introduce and vote this week on a war powers resolution to limit the president’s military actions regarding Iran.
In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi called the airstrike “provocative and disproportionate” and said it had “endangered our service-members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.” A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate.
Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, has complained that Trump did not provide advance notice of his airstrike on Soleimani in Baghdad. Trump did meet the 48-hour deadline required by the War Powers Act to notify Congress after the deadly drone strike, though the document was classified and no public version was released.
The administration is expected to brief lawmakers on its actions this week.
In their letter to Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said the White House’s classified notification sent to Congress last Saturday under the War Powers Act was insufficient and inappropriate.
“It is critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner,” they wrote. “An entirely classified notification is simply not appropriate in a democratic society”. They asked that the notification be declassified “in full”.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking yesterday on Fox & Friends, dismissed the letter as a “partisan action”.
Pelosi said the notification “raises more questions than it answers. This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran.”
Iran has vowed to retaliate for Trump’s targetted killing of Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force. It has sparked outrage in the Middle East, including in Iraq, where more than 5,000 American troops are still on the ground 17 years after the US invasion.
Iraq’s parliament voted last Sunday in favour of a nonbinding resolution calling for the expulsion of the American forces.
Trump first raised the prospect of targetting Iranian cultural sites last Saturday in a tweet. Speaking with reporters last Sunday as he flew back to Washington from his holiday in Florida, he refused to back down, despite international prohibitions.
“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 said.