Thousands of Iraqis chanting “Death to America” on Saturday mourned an Iranian commander and others killed in a US drone attack that sparked fears of a regional proxy war between Washington and Tehran.
The killing of Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani on Friday was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Iran and the US, which pledged to send thousands more troops to the region. Iraqi political leaders and clerics attended the mass ceremony to honour 62-year-old Soleimani and the other nine victim of the pre-dawn attack on Baghdad international airport, including Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
US President Donald Trump said on Friday he had decided to “terminate” Iran’s military mastermind to prevent an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and troops. “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” he insisted.
But the strike — which killed four more Iranian Guards and five members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network — infuriated Iran, whose ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, called it an “act of war” by its arch-enemy.
On Saturday, the Hashed said a new strike had hit a convoy of their forces north of Baghdad, with Iraqi state media blaming the US. But US-led coalition spokesman Myles Caggins denied involvement, telling AFP: “There was no American or coalition strike.”
Mass ceremonies started in Baghdad Saturday for Soleimani — a veteran military figure revered as a hero by many in Iran and the region — and the other victims of Friday’s attack.
Iraq’s caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi joined Muhandis associate Hadi al-Ameri, Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, former PM Nuri al-Maliki and other pro-Iran figures in large crowds accompanying the coffins.
The coffins were first brought to a revered Shia shrine in northern Baghdad, where thousands of mourners chanted “Death to America!” Dressed in black, they waved white Hashed flags and massive portraits of Iranian and Iraqi leaders, furiously calling for “revenge”.