Donald Trump has threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation for the drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and an Iraqi militia leader.
Showing no signs of seeking to ease the tensions raised by the strike that killed Suleimani and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad airport, Trump issued a stern threat to Iran on Twitter on Saturday. The strike ordered by the US president has raised the spectre of wider conflict in the Middle East.
Iran, Trump wrote, “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets” in response to Suleimani’s death. Trump said the US had “targeted 52 Iranian sites” and that some were “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD”.
“The USA wants no more threats!” Trump said, adding that the 52 targets represented the 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for 444 days after being seized at the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979.
Trump did not identify the sites. The Pentagon referred questions about the matter to the White House, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Colin Kahl, a former Obama administration national security official, wrote on Twitter that he “found it hard to believe the Pentagon would provide Trump targeting options that include Iranian cultural sites. Trump may not care about the laws of war, but DoD planners and lawyers do … and targeting cultural sites is war crime.”
The series of tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike, a senior administration official said.
US law requires notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war.
The notification was classified and it was not known if a public version would be released. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the classified document suggests Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about national security.
Thousands of mourners took to the streets in Iraq after the strike, including many militiamen in uniform for whom Muhandis and Suleimani were heroes. They carried portraits of both men and plastered them on walls and armoured personnel carriers in the procession. Chants of “Death to America” and “No No Israel” rang out.
On Saturday evening, a rocket fell inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone near the US embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighbourhood and two more rockets were fired at the Balad air base north of the city, but no one was killed, the Iraqi military said in a statement. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Gholamali Abuhamzeh, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said Tehran would punish Americans “wherever they are in reach”, and raised the prospect of possible attacks on ships in the Gulf.
Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah militia warned Iraqi security forces to stay away from US bases in Iraq “by a distance not less than a thousand metres starting Sunday evening”, reported Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Trump said on Friday that Suleimani had been plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. Democratic critics said the Republican president’s action was reckless and risked more bloodshed in a dangerous region.
With security worries rising after Friday’s strike, the NATO alliance and a separate US-led mission suspended their programmes to train Iraqi security and armed forces, officials said.