Tens of thousands march in Baghdad to mourn others, Soleimani
Baghdad: Tens of thousands of people marched in Baghdad on Saturday to mourn Iran’s military chief Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed in a US air strike that has raised the spectre of broader conflict in the West Asia.
Gholamali Abuhamzeh, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, said Tehran would penalize Americans”wherever they are in reach”, and raised the possibility of potential attacks on ships in the Gulf.
The US Embassy in Baghdad urged citizens to leave Iraq. Dozens of American employees of foreign oil firms left the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday. The USA and its allies have suspended training of Iraqi forces due to the increased threat, the military said in a letter seen by Reuters late on Friday.
Muhandis was the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella body of paramilitary groups. A PMF-organised procession carrying the bodies of Soleimani, Muhandis and other Iraqis killed in the U.S. attack happened in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
Mourners included many militiamen for whom Soleimani and Muhandis were heroes. They carried portraits of both men and plastered them on walls and armoured personnel carriers in the procession, and chanted, “Death to America” and “No No Israel”.
Militia commander Hadi al-Amiri and prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the top candidate to succeed Muhandis and a Iran ally, attended.
Mourners brought the bodies of those killed in the strike by car. The procession was to end in Najaf, another town where the Iraqis and Muhandis killed will be put to rest.
Soleimani’s body will be transferred on Saturday. On Sunday it will be carried to the Shi’ite holy city of Mashhad in Iran’s northeast and from there to Tehran and his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday, state media said.
Trump said on Friday Soleimani had been plotting imminent attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.
The U.S. strike followed a sharp increase in U.S.-Iranian hostilities in Iraq since last week when pro-Iranian militia attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after a deadly U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
On Friday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to retaliate and said Soleimani’s death would intensify the Islamic Republic’s immunity to the United States and Israel.
Abuhamzeh, the Revolutionary Guards commander in Kerman province, mentioned a set of potential targets for reprisals including the Gulf waterway through which about a third of the planet’s shipborne oil is exported to global markets.
“The Strait of Hormuz is a very important point for the West and a high number of American destroyers and warships cross there,” Abuhamzeh was quoted as saying on Friday evening from the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
“Vital American targets in the area have long since been identified by Iran. .
In Iran, some people worried that the country might be pushed by the death of Soleimani into war with a superpower.
“I feel so miserable for Soleimani’s departure but what if America and Iran begin a war? I have children. What if they ship my (university student) son to war?” Stated Monireh.
Mohamed Raad, a political leader in Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah movement, stated retaliation by the Iran-backed”axis of resistance” – militia groups in nations from Lebanon to Yemen – would be decisive, al-Mayadeen TV reported Saturday.
‘REVENGE ON THE MURDERERS’
Many Iraqis condemned the U.S. attack, regarding Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating Islamic State militants who captured large swathes of central and north Iraq in 2014.
“It is necessary to take revenge on the murderers. The martyrs got the prize they wanted – the decoration of martyrdom,” said one of the marchers, Ali al-Khatib.
Many Iraqis also voiced fear of being engulfed in a significant U.S.-Iranian conflict, and of militia reprisals against people involved in months of street protests against the Iranian-backed Baghdad government over alleged misrule and corruption.
They said Soleimani and Muhandis had endorsed the use of force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and established militias which demonstrators blame for many of Iraq’s social and economic woes.