In the four days since President Donald Trump ordered a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, the provocative move has created a huge mess for American interests, with Iran vowing reprisals and leaving the nuclear deal as more US troops head to the tense region.
Trump, who took a break from golfing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to order the deadly strike on Thursday, said it was meant to “stop a war.” But fears of a new conflict have only increased in the days since, as Iran has vowed to avenge the death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
The strike has seemingly pushed Iraq into the arms of Iran — and after months of Iraqis protesting Tehran’s overwhelming influence in their country’s internal affairs, the Soleimani strike has seen anti-Iran demonstrations morph into anti-American fervor.
“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” Trump said on Sunday. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
He added: “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.”
The US forces in Iraq were there to prevent ISIS from making a comeback, but US military officials on Sunday announced that anti-ISIS operations were suspended amid the escalating tensions following Soleimani’s killing. The officials cited attacks on Iraqi and US bases over the past two months.
“This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations,” a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve said, adding, “We have therefore paused these activities.”
On top of this, Iran on Sunday said it would no longer comply with the restrictions on its nuclear program under the 2015 deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The deal had been crumbling since Trump withdrew the US from it in May 2018, but other signatories, including key US allies, had been working to salvage it. Iran might have just put the final nail in the coffin, and this move could be perceived as a step toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.
On Monday, reports surfaced suggesting the US might soon begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper disputed this.
Trump is virtually friendless amid the tensions with Iran
Trump also made comments on Saturday that seemed to unnerve top US allies. In threats aimed at Iran, the president said that if any Americans or “American assets” were hit, then the US would strike 52 targets, some of which were “Iranian culture” sites.
“They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump told reporters. “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.”
Stoltenberg also refused to offer a clear answer on whether the alliance would come to the US’s defense under its mutual-defense clause if it were attacked by Iran. When asked about it at a press conference in Brussels on Monday, Stoltenberg said that commenting on the matter would “not help to de-escalate,” Bloomberg reported.
The US is sending more troops to the Middle East, and Iran is united against it
Though Trump said as recently as October that he would pull the US out of “stupid endless wars,” the US in recent days announced that it would send an additional 3,500 troops to the Middle East amid the heightened tensions with Iran.
“The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve,” a Defense Department representative said in a statement, per ABC News.
According to The New York Times, the sea of people chanted “death to America,” the anti-US-government refrain that dates back to the Islamic Revolution.
All the while, the Trump administration has not given a clear answer on the precise nature of the “imminent attack” it said was prevented by assassinating Soleimani, prompting uproar among Democrats in Congress and calls to limit the president’s war powers.