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Thursday 23 January 2020

Mourners shout ‘Death to America’ at funeral for Iranian general

Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US air strike in Baghdad on Friday.

People attend the funeral of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq (Nasser Nasser/AP)
People attend the funeral of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq (Nasser Nasser/AP)

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press

Thousands of mourners chanting “Death to America” have marched in a funeral procession through Baghdad for Iran’s top general and Iraqi militant leaders killed in a US air strike.

Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, was killed in an air strike early on Friday near Baghdad airport in an attack which caused regional tensions to soar.

Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, raising fears of an all-out war – though US President Donald Trump has said he ordered the strike to prevent a conflict as his administration believes Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered American troops and officials.

Mourners reach for the coffin of Soleimani during his funeral in Baghdad (Nasser Nasser/AP)

The mourners 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”.

In Tehran, Iran, protesters demonstrated against the killing (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Two helicopters hovered over the procession, which was attended by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and leaders of Iran-backed militias.

Mourner Mohammed Fadl said the funeral was an expression of loyalty to the killed men.

“It is a painful strike, but it will not shake us,” he said.

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.

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.

Mourners burn a US flag during the funeral (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Hadi al-Amiri, who heads a large parliamentary bloc and is expected to replace al-Muhandis as deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Iran-backed militias, was among those paying their final respects.

Speaking beside al-Muhandis’s coffin, he warned: “Rest assured, the price of your pure blood will be the exit of US forces from Iraq forever.”

The US, UK and France have ordered all citizens to leave or avoid Iraq amid fears for their safety.

Many protesters were emotional during a demonstration against the killing of Soleimani in Tehran (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Global powers had warned on Friday that the killing of Soleimani could spark a dangerous new escalation, with many calling for restraint.

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 President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate in the country’s political establishment, earlier visited Soleimani’s home in Tehran to express his condolences.

“The Americans did not realise what a great mistake they made,” Mr Rouhani said.

“They will see the effects of this criminal act, not only today but for years to come.”

PA Media

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