Trump fuels controversy over Iran general's killing

He says it 'doesn't really matter' if threat to US posed by commander was imminent

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump has fuelled controversy over his decision to kill Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, saying "it doesn't really matter" whether the latter posed an imminent threat to the United States.

"The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was 'imminent' or not, & was my team in agreement," Mr Trump tweeted on Monday.

"The answer to both is a strong YES, but it doesn't really matter because of his horrible past!"

Democrats, who are trying to pass legislation to rein in Mr Trump's ability to wage war on Iran without lawmakers' approval, have sharply disagreed.

"You cannot take military action against another nation without congressional consent unless to defend against an imminent attack," Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said on Twitter.

"It's clear now this was an illegal action. That also has made America less safe," he added, noting a report from NBC News saying Mr Trump had authorised the killing of Major-General Soleimani seven months ago.

Since confirming that Maj-Gen Soleimani was killed by a US air strike in Baghdad, administration officials have said they acted because of an imminent risk of attacks on American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

The Iranian commander was head of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which handles clandestine operations outside Iran, working with militias in the region blamed for attacks on US interests.

But US lawmakers, including some Republicans and Democrats, said the administration has failed to provide evidence that an attack was imminent.

Mr Trump's fellow Republicans justified the killing by citing the general's history, and accused Democrats of playing politics.

Ties between the two parties are at a particularly difficult juncture, given the vote last year to impeach Mr Trump in the Democratic-led House and his upcoming trial in the Republican-led Senate.

But US lawmakers, including some Republicans and Democrats, said the administration has failed to provide evidence that an attack was imminent.

Attorney-General William Barr told reporters on Monday that the White House consulted his department before the strike. He said Major-Gen Soleimani was a "legitimate military target" and the strike was a "legitimate act of self-defence".

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday blasted Democrats for "letting their domestic political grievances pollute their judgment of world affairs", and praised Mr Trump's "bold action".

"We appear to have restored a measure of deterrence in the Middle East. So let's not screw it up," Mr McConnell said.

Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress said they have not been given adequate, detailed briefings.

They also argued that the US Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the authority to declare war, and called for the Senate and House of Representatives to act to take that authority back from the White House.

The House voted nearly along party lines last week to pass a war powers resolution that would force the president to seek congressional approval for further military action against Iran.

A companion measure has been introduced in the Senate.

Mr McConnell said he expected debate on it to start "very soon" and pledged to strongly oppose it.

Last week, Mr Trump posited in an interview that Iran had been poised to attack four US embassies before Maj-Gen Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike on Jan 3.

But on Sunday, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he did not see specific evidence that Iran was planning an attack. "What the president said was that there probably could be additional attacks against embassies. I shared that view," he said. "The president didn't cite a specific piece of evidence."

When pressed on whether intelligence officers offered concrete evidence on that point, he said: "I didn't see one with regard to four embassies."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline 'Trump fuels controversy over Iran general's killing'. Subscribe