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Thousands in Iraq & Iran mourn Soleimani, while rockets rock Baghdad’s Green Zone

A PMF-organised procession carried the bodies of Soleimani and Muhandis, and those of others killed in the US strike, through Baghdad's Green Zone

With shouts of “Death to America”, tens of thousands of people marched in Iraq on Saturday to mourn Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader who were killed in a US air strike that has raised the spectre of wider conflict in the Middle East.

Reuters reports that on Saturday evening, a rocket fell inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone near the US Embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighbourhood and two more rockets were fired at the Balad air base north of the city, but no one was killed, the Iraqi military said in a statement. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

With security worries rising after Friday’s strike, the NATO alliance and a separate US-led mission suspended their programmes to train Iraqi security and armed forces, officials said.

Soleimani, 62, was Iran’s pre-eminent military leader – head of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas Quds Force and the architect of Iran’s spreading influence in the Middle East. Also killed in the attack, the Iraqi militia leader Muhandis, was de facto leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the umbrella body of paramilitary groups.

US to hit Iran with ‘new’ equipment if attacked: Trump

A PMF-organised procession carried the bodies of Soleimani and Muhandis, and those of others killed in the US strike, through Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Mourners included many militiamen in uniform for whom Muhandis and Soleimani were heroes. They carried portraits of both men and plastered them on walls and armoured personnel carriers in the procession. Chants of “Death to America” and “No No Israel” rang out.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also attended. Mahdi’s office later said he received a phone call from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and they “discussed the difficult conditions facing Iraq and the region.”

Mourners later brought the bodies by car to the Shia holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, then to Najaf, another sacred Shia city, where they were met by the son of Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and where Muhandis and the other Iraqis killed will be laid to rest.

Soleimani’s body will be transferred to the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan that borders Iraq. On Sunday it will be taken to the Shia holy city of Mashhad in Iran’s northeast and from there to Tehran and his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday, state media said.

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Read: Palestinians in Gaza mourn Iran’s Soleimani

Qassem Soleimani was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the mastermind of its regional security strategy. He was killed early Friday near the Baghdad international airport along with senior Iraqi militants in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar and tested the US alliance with Iraq. Fearing escalation, the British Navy has committed to escort every UK-flagged ship across the Straits of Hormuz.

Showing no signs of seeking to reduce tensions, the US president has since issued a stern threat to Iran on Twitter, saying that the US has targeted 52 Iranian sites that it would strike if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in response to the US drone strike that killed Soleimani. He later added that the US will use ‘new’ equipment to strike Iran.

The attack took Washington and its allies, mainly Saudi Arabia and Israel, into uncharted territory in their confrontation with Iran and its proxy militias across the region.

Read: Pope calls for dialogue and restraint amid growing US-Iran tensions

France stepped up diplomatic initiatives on Saturday to ease tensions. French President Emmanuel Macron talked with Iraq President Barham Salih, Macron’s office said.

Gholamali Abuhamzeh, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said Tehran would punish Americans “wherever they are in reach”, and raised the prospect of possible attacks on ships in the Gulf.

Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia warned Iraqi security forces to stay away from US bases in Iraq, “by a distance not less than a thousand metres starting Sunday evening,” reported Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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