Trump issues threat of 'big' sanctions on Iraq

“We're not leaving (Iraq) unless they pay us back for it," said Trump, referring to the sanctions he plans to put if troops are asked to leave Iraq. AFP

President Donald Trump on Monday threatened to impose "very big" sanctions on Iraq after its Parliament called on the US military to leave the country for assassinating top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack in Baghdad.

The Iraqi Parliament on Sunday voted to expel the US troops from its territory which have been there to help the Iraq dispensation fight the Islamic State terror group.

Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the IS terror group.

Iraq's move comes in response to the killing of Maj Gen Soleimani, 62, the head of Iran's elite al-Quds force and architect of its regional security apparatus, in a US drone attack on a convoy that was leaving the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday. The strike also killed the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Soleimani's killing was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Iran and the US, already hit by serious differences over Tehran's ambitious nuclear programme.

“We're not leaving (Iraq) unless they pay us back for it," Trump said while responding to a question on the resolution passed by the Iraqi Parliament.

He was speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One while travelling from Mar-a-Lago in Florida to Andrews Joint Base in Maryland as he returned to the White House from his Christmas and New Year vacation.

“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,” he said.

However, Trump did not name the airbase.

“If they do ask us to leave, we don't do it in a very friendly basis. We will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before ever. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” Trump said issuing a strong warning to Iraq.

Trump also threatened to put "very big" sanctions on Iraq if there is any opposition from the Gulf country.

“If there's any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq,” he said.

Trump said that the US has spent a lot of money in Iraq.

“I told you, Iraq, was the worst decision, going into the Middle East was the worst decision ever made in the history of our country, and I've said that publicly so I guess I can say that right now going into the Middle East was the worst decision ever made in the history of our country, but we are there and they went into Iraq,” he said.

“Iraq, by the way, they didn't knock down the World Trade Center. That's been very nicely proven. But we went in and we're there and we're pulling out, pulling out of a lot of different areas. With Syria, I pulled out because I'm not going to guard his border. Why should I be guarding the border?” he asked.

“They've got troops, let them guard, that border's been under siege, for thousands of years they've been fighting on that border. We call it the safe zone, it's really the opposite of the safe zone, many many people have been killed and by the way, many people from Turkey have been killed, it's a double," Trump said.

As the tensions escalated between Iran and the US following the killing of Soleimani, Tehran on Sunday announced its fifth step back from the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, saying it would not observe the nuclear deal's restrictions on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities.

In a statement, Tehran, however, said it would continue cooperating "as before" with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the implementation of the nuclear deal.

President Trump abandoned the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018, saying he wanted to force Iran to negotiate a new deal that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles.

On Saturday night, Trump warned that the US will target 52 sites in Iran some of which are "at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture" if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.

Responding to Trump's remarks, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said targeting cultural sites was a 'war crime'.

Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei has vowed an act of revenge against the killing of his general, saying "severe revenge awaits the criminals" behind the attack.

Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran behind the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported directly to Ayatollah Khamenei and he was hailed as a heroic national figure. 

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