Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar Accuse Trump of Threatening to Commit 'War Crimes' Against Iran

Progressive Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar accused President Donald Trump of threatening to commit "war crimes" against Iran in a series of Saturday tweets.

Trump warned Iran via Twitter that the U.S. had compiled a list of 52 sites in Iran that it would strike militarily if the Persian Gulf nation chose to retaliate to the early Friday killing of Qassem Soleimani. The Iranian general was one of Iran's top leaders, commanding the country's elite Quds Force and coordinating with Iran-backed groups throughout the Middle East. Viewed as widely popular among Iranians, Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. airstrike while his vehicle drove from Baghdad's airport after he arrived in Iraq.

"Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites," the president tweeted. "Some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD," he added.

Omar and Ocasio-Cortez were quick to argue that threatening cultural sites would constitute a "war crime" under international law.

"This is a war crime," Ocasio-Cortez, who hails from New York, wrote in a Twitter post, sharing the president's warning. "Threatening to target and kill innocent families, women and children - which is what you're doing by targeting cultural sites - does not make you a 'tough guy,'" she continued. "It does not make you 'strategic.' It makes you a monster."

"The President of the United States is threatening to commit war crimes on Twitter," Omar, who represents Minnesota, wrote. "God help us all!"

In a follow-up post, Omar, who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, argued that Congress should re-assert its control over war powers to check the president.

"This is a major test for our country," she wrote. "Will we allow decades of executive overreach and militarism to continue? Or will Congress step in and perform our Constitutional role to stop a war? The world is watching."

Omar and other prominent progressives, such as Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have long called for Congress to block the Executive Branch from carrying out military strikes and acts of war without congressional authorization, citing the Constitution. Sanders announced on Twitter that he and and Democratic Representative Ro Khanna intended to introduce legislation in a bid to prevent the president from escalating tensions with Iran, and curbing the possibility of war.

"I am introducing a bill with Rep. Khanna to stop Donald Trump from illegally taking us to war against Iran," Sanders posted to Twitter on Friday. "It's working-class kids who will have to fight and die in a disastrous new Middle East conflict—not the children of billionaires."

Khanna told MSNBC on Friday that the bill would "cut off any funding for offensive action against Iran or Iranian officials."

Newsweek has reached out to the White House for comment.

Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) listen during a press conference, to address remarks made by US President Donald Trump earlier in the day, in Washington, D.C. on July 15 BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Beatrice Maneshi, an Iranian-American who is the founder of Netherlands-based Catalystas Consulting, explained to Newsweek that it would be a war crime if Trump attacked cultural heritage sites that are recognized by UNESCO. She noted that Iran and the U.S. are both signatories of UNESCO's 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Event of Armed Conflict, meaning such sites are "not supposed to be targeted under any circumstances during a conflict."

Maneshi pointed out that Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley "called the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIS as a crime against the UNESCO treaty itself and cited it as one of the many things that was wrong with Daesh [an Arabic acronym for ISIS] at the time."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also described Trump's warning as threatening a war crime, while comparing it to ISIS.

"A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage: Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries," Zarif wrote on Twitter. "Where are they now? We're still here, & standing tall," he added.

Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies and administration at the American University of Beirut, told Newsweek that Iran would likely be cautious in its response to the U.S.

"The Iranians and their proxies have very limited options. They know the U.S. will respond directly and hit the Iranians," Khashan said. "The Iranians will bite the bullet."

However, he noted that the attack against Soleimani has united Iranians against the U.S., despite recent domestic protests.

"Iran is a nationalistic country. It does not matter if many Iranians may like or dislike the regime, the killing of Soleimani has created a massive wave of anger and sadness," he said. "Domestic differences are one thing, but humiliating foreign intervention is another matter."