Thousands in Baghdad mourn Soleimani
Tens of thousands of people marched in Baghdad on Jan. 4 to mourn Iran's military chief Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed in a U.S. airstrike that has raised the spectre of a wider conflict in the Middle East.
By ordering Jan.3's airstrike on the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's foreign legions, President Donald Trump has taken Washington and its allies, mainly Saudi Arabia and Israel, into uncharted territory in its confrontation with Iran and its proxy militias across the region.
Mourners included many militiamen in uniform for whom Muhandis and Soleimani were heroes. They waved Iraqi and militia flags. They also carried portraits of both men and plastered them on walls and armoured personnel carriers in the procession, and chanted, "No No Israel" and "No No America".
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and Iraqi militia commander Hadi al-Amiri, a close Iran ally and the top candidate to succeed Muhandis, attended.
Mourners later brought the bodies by car to the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala south of Baghdad. The procession was to end in Najaf, another sacred Shi'ite city where Muhandis and the other Iraqis will be laid to rest.
Soleimani's body will be transferred on Jan. 4 to the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan that borders Iraq. On Jan. 5 it will be taken to the Shi'ite holy city of Mashhad in Iran's northeast and from there to Tehran and his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Jan. 7, state media said.
'Revenge on the murderers'
Many Iraqis condemned the U.S. attack, regarding Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating the ISIL 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 while claiming to fight terrorism," said one of the marchers, Ali al-Khatib.
"It is necessary to take revenge on the murderers. The martyrs got the prize they wanted - the prize of martyrdom."
Many Iraqis also voiced fear of being engulfed in a major U.S.-Iranian conflict, and of militia reprisals against those involved in months of street protests against the Iranian-backed Baghdad government over alleged misrule and corruption.
They said that Soleimani and Muhandis had backed the use of force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and established militias that demonstrators blame for many of Iraq's social and economic woes.