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News of the assassination of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani by the US military has ignited international criticism. After the attack, US President Donald Trump followed up on Twitter to threaten Iranians with the targeting of 52 sites, including, he wrote, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” The words, which he tweeted from the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, have caused a great deal of concern about what’s next in the escalating political battle between the United States and Iran.
Iranian officials and Political commenters have pointed out that his comments could amount to war crimes, as the targeting of cultural sites is a breach of international law. The 1954 Hague Convention, which was signed by the US, bars any military from “direct hostilities against cultural property.” In 2017, and in response to cultural destruction by ISIS, the United Nations Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the destruction of heritage sites.
According to the Washington Post, “Telecommunications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi compared Trump’s threats to strike cultural sites to the Islamic State group, Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan, calling the U.S. president a ‘terrorist in a suit.’”
The assassination of Soleimani was justified by the US as “self-defense,” but no credible proof has yet been given to the public about that claim. In fact, New York Times journalist Rukmini Callimachi took to Twitter on Saturday night to claim that the justifications for the strike, according to government sources, were “razor thin.” The killing was rejected by Iraq, where the assassination took place, and their parliament voted today to expel US troops.
The threat by the US president is being taken very seriously by political and cultural observers as Iran is home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Persepolis, Golestan Palace, the Sassanian cities of Yazd, and other sites of great historical importance.
For what it’s worth, I find 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. https://t.co/HXvJM0kdl0
— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) January 4, 2020
The Week columnist Ryan Cooper reminds Americans that the US is guilty of everything it currently accuses Iran of doing. He writes:
Events like this bring out the absolute worst in the American foreign policy community. Many conservative writers and thinkers, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran, and Commentary‘s Noah Rothman, openly cheered this Putin-style cold-blooded murder of a foreign statesman. Other more supposedly nonpartisan commentators uncritically parroted Trump administration assertions that Iran was planning something bad. Every top Democratic presidential candidate except Bernie Sanders was careful to foreground that Soleimani was a bad guy before condemning the assassination in their initial comments.
The truth is that Soleimani was not all that different from any of about five dozen current and former American politicians and bureaucrats — if anything, he was considerably more restrained about the use of force. Yes, he was involved in a lot of bloody wars — but so was every American president since 2000, and besides half the wars he fought in were started or fueled by the United States. It’s just another instance of America’s gigantic hypocrisy when it comes to war.
It’s unclear what steps the US and its dwindling list of allies will take next.
Update, January 5, 2019, 9:27pm EST: According to the New York Times, Trump has reiterated his treat against cultural sites. Even though such a move could be a war crime, the president argued on Sunday night: “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 site? It doesn’t work that way.”