Trump defends Qasem Soleimani killing in formal notice to Congress

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Saturday submitted a required notice to Congress defending his decision to authorize a deadly attack on a top Iranian general, a stunning escalation of tensions that has drawn protests in the United States and threats of revenge from Iraq.

The White House did not release a public copy of the document it was required to submit to Congress under the War Powers Act of 1973, which requires formal notification to Congress within 48 hours of military-style action.

Three government officials confirmed that the notice was delivered late Saturday. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the document is classified. A senior Democratic aide told USA TODAY it was unclear if the White House will send out an unclassified version.  

The White House has said the strike was legally justified because Iran Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s organization had been declared terrorists and carried out a number of attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Trump and other officials have also argued that Suleimani was planning future attacks on U.S. interests in the region.

Trump himself stayed largely out of the public eye Saturday as supporters and detractors argued over his decision to approve the attack on Soleimani. He later warned Iran the U.S. would strike again if they retaliate.

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites” and they WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “The USA wants no more threats!”

Meanwhile, in Iran and in parts of Iraq, mourners shouted that “revenge is coming” to the United States for the drone attack that killed Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

“The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime,” tweeted President Hassan Rouhani.

Citing the crowds of protesters, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the “end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun.”

In the United States, critics questioned the Trump administration’s reasoning behind what some called an “assassination” of  Suleimani, saying the president and his aides have provided no concrete evidence that he was planning an imminent attack on U.S. interests.

The attack exposes the United States to reprisals from Iran, and could also undermine its relationship with Iraq, critics said. Some suggested Trump was seeking to divert attention from his upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a tweet that “Iran is full of malevolent evildoers, and Soleimani was the worst of them,” but it is also “a nation state.”

“And the reason the U.S. doesn’t kill leaders of other countries is because once you normalize assassinations, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle,” Murphy said.

Democratic presidential candidates also expressed concern.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said when Congress returns to session this month, its priority should be “to take immediate steps to restrain President Trump from plunging our nation into yet another endless war.”

Trump and aides said he began considering the operation after last week’s rocket attack by an Iran-backed militia that killed an American contractor in Iraq . The U.S. responded last weekend with strikes on militia camps that killed at least two dozen people.

Iranian supporters responded to that attack this past week by storming the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, burning facilities and threatening to breech the embassy itself.

Speaking with reporters Friday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump described the strike against the Iranian general as a defensive measure.

“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel,” Trump said. “But we caught him in the act and terminated him.”

Trump has spent the end-of-the-year holidays at Mar-a-Lago, and is expected to return to Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued to make calls to foreign leaders to discuss the attack that he described as a “defensive action.” Flagging his call with Iraqi President Barham Salih,  Pompeo said in a tweet that “I reaffirmed that the U.S. remains committed to de-escalation.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump gives Congress formal notice of Qasem Soleimani killing

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