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Mourners Attending Soleimani’s Funeral Procession Chant ‘Death To America’ Slogan In Baghdad

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BAGHDAD– Chanting ‘Death to America’ slogans, a huge crowd in Iraq’s capital Baghdad is taking part in a funeral procession for the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was martyred in a US airstrike on Thursday.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s Middle East operations and Iran vowed to take “severe revenge” for his death.

The gathering in Baghdad on Saturday marked the beginning of days of mourning for Soleimani.

His body is to be returned to Iran for a funeral and burial in his home town.

The crowds in Baghdad were also there to mourn the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group and effectively led the Popular Mobilisation units – an umbrella of militias in Iraq dominated by groups aligned with Iran.v

Mourners started gathering in Baghdad from the early hours, ahead of the start of the procession, waving Iraqi and militia flags and chanting “death to America”. The procession snaked though the streets, some carrying portraits of Soleimani and some of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Reports said the bodies of the Iranians would then be flown on Saturday evening to Iran, which has declared three days of mourning for the murdered general. His funeral is to be held on Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman in central Iran.

Some Iraqis, conversely, celebrated in Baghdad’s streets at the news of Soleimani’s death. He was accused of orchestrating violent crackdowns on peaceful pro-democracy protests there in recent months.

Fresh airstrikes in Iraq

Iraqi state television said on Friday there had been another air strike in the country, 24 hours after the killing of Soleimani. An Iraqi army source told the Reuters news agency that six people were killed in the new strike, which hit a convoy of Iraqi militia in the early hours of Saturday morning local time.

A US military spokesman denied that the American-led coalition fighting in the region was responsible.

“FACT: The Coalition @CJTFOIR did NOT conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days,” said Colonel Myles Caggins III, in a post on Twitter.

The United States said it had deployed an additional three-thousand troops to the Middle East to help respond to any backlash from the strike.

Burning debris outside Baghdad International Airport
Image captionThe burning wreckage of Soleimani’s convoy outside Baghdad International Airport

Speaking at a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the US president, Donald Trump said: “The United States military executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani.”

Mr Trump said Soleimani was “plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him”.

But Trump administration officials did not give any details about what planned attacks had prompted them to move quickly to kill Soleimani. Both President Barack Obama and President George Bush rejected a strike on the general as too risky.

The US state department issued a warning in the wake of the strike, advising American citizens to leave Iraq immediately via any means possible.

How did Iran react?

In a statement following Soleimani’s death, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”

Qasem Soleimani
Image captionThe Pentagon confirmed that US forces had killed Gen Soleimani

Simmering US-Iranian hostilities had escalating rapidly last week after the US conducted air strikes in Iraq and Syria against an Iran-backed Iraqi militia, which the blamed for an earlier rocket attack that killed a US civilian contractor. Pro-Iranian militia attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad in response.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, responding to the strike on Soleimani, Iranian ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said that Iran reserved the right to self-defence under international law. Analysts said Iran could deploy cyber-attacks against the US, or attempt to strike US military targets or interests in the Middle East.

SOURCE: BBC NEWS