Thousands of mourners attend funeral procession for Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners on Saturday attended the formal funeral processions for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and six others killed in a US air strike in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
Dressed in black and raising the flags of the powerful paramilitary umbrella group Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces or PMF), the large crowds gathered near the shrine of Hazrat Imam Musa Kazam to pay their respects to the dead.
Friday’s attack on Baghdad airport, authorised by US President Donald Trump, signalled a major escalation in a Middle East ‘shadow war’ between Iran and the United States and American allies, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The US Embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens to depart Iraq following Soleimani’s killing and dozens of American employees of foreign oil companies left the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday.
On Saturday, close US ally Britain warned its nationals to avoid all travel to Iraq, outside the autonomous Kurdistan region, and avoid all but essential travel to Iran.
Soleimani, a 62-year-old general, was Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its spreading influence in the Middle East. Muhandis was the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella body of paramilitary groups.
US-Iranian hostilities have intensified in Iraq since last week when pro-Iranian militia attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad following a deadly US air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
A senior Trump administration official said Soleimani had been planning imminent attacks on US personnel across the Middle East. US Democratic party critics said the order by the Republican president was reckless and that he had raised the risk of more violence in a dangerous region.
Soleimani burial in hometown Kerman
Soleimani’s body will be transferred to the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan that borders Iraq, then on Sunday to the Shi’ite holy city of Mashhad in the northeast and from there to the capital Tehran and on to his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday, Iranian state media reported.
In Baghdad, marchers waved Iraqi and militia flags in a sombre atmosphere, with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and Iraqi militia commander Hadi al-Amiri, a close Iran ally and the top candidate to succeed Muhandis, attending the procession.
Friday’s air strike divided Iraqi opinion.
Many condemned the US attack, regarding Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating the Islamic State militant group that had seized wide swathes of north and central Iraq in 2014.
“The broad participation in this procession proves the public’s condemnation of America and its allies for their human rights abuses whilst claiming to fight terrorism,” said Ali al-Khatib, a mourner in the Iraqi capital. “It is necessary to take revenge on the murderers. The martyrs got the prize they wanted – the prize of martyrdom.”