THOUSANDS of mourners have marched in a funeral procession through Baghdad for Iran’s top general and Iraqi militant leaders, who were killed in a US airstrike, chanting: “Death to America.”
The bodies of Iranian General, Qassem Soleimani and others killed in a US drone strike were taken on a funeral procession starting in Baghdad on Saturday before a public farewell for the slain military leader in Tehran on Sunday, according to officials in Iran.
The procession began at the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad, one of the most revered sites in Shia 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.”
Mohammed Fadl, a mourner dressed in black, said the funeral was an expression of loyalty to the slain leaders. “It is a painful strike, but it will not shake us,” he said.
Two helicopters hovered over the procession, which was attended by Iraq’s Prime Minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and leaders of Iran-backed militias.
Fresh airstrikes against Iran-backed militias were reported in the Iraqi capital on Saturday morning as Iranian leaders declared Soleimani’s targeted assassination outside Baghdad airport on Friday morning to be “an act of war”.
Soleimani killing is the latest in a long, grim line of US assassination efforts.
The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of paramilitary groups, claimed five medics had been killed in the latest attack. But the US denied it had carried out any attacks and the Iraqi military later issued a statement saying that no attack had taken place.
Iran’s envoy to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, told Iranian state media that Abdul-Mahdi had insisted on holding a public funeral for Soleimani in Baghdad along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi militia leader killed in the same operation.
Funeral processions were also being held in the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf, Iranian officials said, before Soleimani’s remains are returned to Iran on Sunday morning.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would lead a prayer ceremony for Soleimani in Tehran and his body would be buried in his hometown.
Echoing fiery threats of retaliation from across Iran’s leadership, the country’s ambassador to the UN said on Saturday that the killing of Soleiman could not go unanswered. “There will be harsh revenge,” Majid Takht Ravanchi said. “The time, the place will be decided by Iran.”
Soleimani (62), oversaw the external operations of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and was the architect of an expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East in the past decades.
A Pentagon statement accused Soleimani’s Quds force of being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers and the wounding of thousands more.
Often mooted as a future presidential candidate, Soleimani was thought to be considered untouchable until Friday morning’s strikes by Reaper drones on his convoy outside Baghdad airport.
His killing triggered rejoicing in parts of Iraq and Syria, where the ruthless strategist was implicated in tens of thousands of civilian deaths.
But the general reaction in world capitals was apprehension.
“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint,” the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said. “The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf.”
The Pentagon ordered 3,000 reinforcements to the region on Friday but US leaders including President Donald Trump have characterised Soleimani’s killing as a pre-emptive strike to prevent the deaths of Americans in imminent attacks.
In a brief address from his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago on Friday, Donald Trump described Soleimani as the “the number one terrorist anywhere in the world”, and claimed the general was planning “imminent and sinister” operations against on US diplomats and personnel.
– The Guardian