Trump faces criticism for threatening Iran's cultural sites

US President Donald Trump is contradicted by Pentagon as the department of defense claims an attack on cultural sites goes against international conflict law

The ancient city of Persepolis in southern Iran
The ancient city of Persepolis in southern Iran

US President Donald Trump threatened Iran's cultural sites in his characteristic tweets, saying that the US was ready to strike 52 Iranian sites. 

He identified the sites as being "at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture," threatening they would be "hit very fast and hard" if Iran carried out revenge attacks following the US killing of military commander Qasem Soleimani.

However, targeting such sites are considered war crimes under international law and both the US and Iran have signed conventions to protect each's cultural heritage even during conflict. 

After Trump's statements, the Pentagon itself contradicted the president and said that striking cultural sites was out of the question. The defense secretary acknowledged that such a move was prohibited under the laws of armed conflict.

The director general of the UN's cultural organisation, UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said both Iran and the US had signed a 1972 convention to protect the world's natural and cultural heritage, but Trump had pulled out from UNESCO in 2018, claiming it had anti-Israeli bias. 

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Zarif said an attack of the sort Trump was threatening Iran with was a war crime. US Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy both echoed those sentiments. 

In recent history, the area around Afghanistan suffered numerous cultural attacks carried out by the Islamic State group, which had targeted mosques, churches, cities and famous cities, such as Palmyra in Syria.