This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country in the wake of a U.S. air strike that killed Iran’s top military commander, Qasem Soleimani, near Baghdad’s airport last week.
The Iraqi government “commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting [the Islamic State extremist group] due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” the lawmakers said in the resolution adopted on January 5.
The government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi “must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace, or water for any reason,” they added.
Parliamentary resolutions are nonbinding to the government, but Abdul-Mahdi had earlier urged parliament to take urgent measures and end the presence of foreign troops as soon as possible.
“Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically,” he told lawmakers in a speech.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington has identified 52 Iranian sites that will be hit “very fast and very hard” should Tehran strike any American target following the assassination of Soleimani.
Iran, which is officially mourning the death of the head of its powerful Quds Force, responded to the threat by accusing the United States on January 5 of violating international law, and criticizing Trump’s inclusion of cultural sites as possible targets.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later defended the president, telling ABC television that he had no doubt that the “Iranian leadership understands Trump’s view” and “gets the message clearly.”
Trump’s comments came in a series of January 4 tweets posted about the same time that rockets struck an air base housing U.S. troops in Iraq and mortar rounds hit a high-security zone that houses the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Soleimani was killed the previous evening by a U.S. air strike ordered by Trump outside Baghdad’s airport, prompting Iranian vows of retaliation.
“Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters,” Trump wrote on Twitter on January 4.
Trump added that Soleimani, who was killed as he left the airport in a convoy amid a regional tour, had already attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and was “preparing for additional hits in other locations.”
“If Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”
Trump’s reference to hostages taken by Iran refers to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 by Iranian revolutionaries, who held 52 Americans captive for 444 days.
The inclusion of “cultural” sites on a potential target list prompted immediate criticism from Iranian officials and observers.
“Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a January 5 tweet. “Jus cogens refers to peremptory norms of international law, i.e. international red lines. That is, a big(ly) ‘no no’.”
Iran has hit back verbally but so far has not taken any known military retaliatory measures following the January 3 attack, which also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a deputy commander of the Iran-backed Hashd Shaabi militia in Iraq.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also threatened “severe retaliation” against the “criminals” who killed Soleimani, while President Hassan Rohani said in televised remarks that the assassination will make Tehran more decisive in its resistance against the United States.
Rohani adviser Hesameddin Ashena wrote in a January 5 tweet that Iran has “zero problems with the American people” and noted that it had achieved deals with previous U.S. administrations.
“Our sole problem is Trump,” he wrote. “In the event of war, it is he who will bear full responsibility.”
Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani was praised by his Republican supporters but criticized by many Democrats, who say it could draw the United States into a war with Iran.
The Quds force formerly led by Soleimani is an arm of the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Both have been designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.
Demonstrators took to the streets in many American cities to protest against the targeted killing by U.S. forces.
Many traditional U.S. allies have also expressed concerns that the military strike could ignite a wider conflict in the already tense Middle East, although some have defended the United States’ right to defend itself.
Washington has blamed Iran for orchestrating attacks by Iraqi Shi’ite militias on U.S. and coalition sites, including an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by a mob that included pro-Iran paramilitary groups on December 31. The attackers withdrew on January 1 and no staff was hurt.