A funeral procession for Iran’s slain military commander Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and other Iraqi militia members killed in a US air strike has been attended by thousands in Baghdad on Saturday, January 04.
General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, was killed in an air strike early Friday near the Iraqi capital’s international airport. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar.
The mourners, mostly men in black military fatigues, carried Iraqi flags and the flags of Iran-backed militias that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani. They were also mourning Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior Iraqi militia commander who was killed in the same strike.
The procession began at the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad, one of the most revered sites in Shiite Islam. Mourners marched in the streets alongside militia vehicles in a solemn procession.
The mourners, many of them in tears, chanted: “No, No, America,” and “Death to America, death to Israel.” Mohammed Fadl, a mourner dressed in black, said the funeral is an expression of loyalty to the slain leaders. “It is a painful strike, but it will not shake us,” he said.
Two helicopters hovered over the procession, which was attended by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and leaders of Iran-backed militias. The procession later made its way to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, in central Iraq.
Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, raising fears of an all-out war. US President Donald Trump says he ordered the strike to prevent a conflict. His administration says Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered American troops and officials, without providing evidence.
An official with the US-led coalition in Iraq said it has scaled back operations and boosted “security and defensive measures” at bases hosting coalition forces in the country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity according to regulations.
Washington has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighbouring Kuwait.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilising militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Iraq, which is closely allied with both Washington and Tehran, condemned the air strike that killed Soleimani and called it an attack on its national sovereignty.
The Iraqi parliament is to meet for an emergency session on Sunday, and the government has come under mounting pressure to expel the 5,200 American troops based in the country, who are there to help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group.
On Saturday, billboards appeared on major streets in Iran showing Soleimani and carrying the warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that “harsh revenge” awaits the US.
Iranian state television also aired images of a ceremony honouring Soleimani at a mosque in the Shiite holy city of Qom, where a red flag was unfurled above the minarets. Red flags in Shiite tradition symbolise both blood spilled unjustly and serve as a call to avenge a person who is slain.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Soleimani’s home in Tehran to express his condolences.
“The Americans did not realise what a great mistake they made,” Rouhani said. “They will see the effects of this criminal act, not only today but for years to come.”
On the streets of Tehran, many said they mourned Soleimani and some demanded revenge. (Source: France 24)