Iraq crowds mourn Qasem Soleimani’s death

A demonstration in Karbala, Iraq, on Saturday against the U.S. air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani.

A demonstration in Karbala, Iraq, on Saturday against the U.S. air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani.  

Political leaders, clerics attend mass ceremony to honour slain Iranian commander.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis, many chanting “Death to America”, on Saturday mourned a top Iranian commander and others killed in a U.S. drone attack that sparked fears of a regional proxy war between Washington and Tehran.

The killing of Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani on Friday was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Iran and the United States, which pledged to send thousands more troops to the region.

Iraqi political leaders and clerics attended the mass ceremony to honour Soleimani and the other nine victim of the pre-dawn attack on Baghdad international airport.

U.S. President Donald Trump said 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,” he insisted. “We did not take action to start a war.” But a furious Iran has vowed revenge for the killing of Soleimani, the chief architect of its military operations across West Asia. “The response for a military action is a military action,” Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi told CNN, calling the strike an “act of war”. “By whom, by when, where? That is for the future to witness.”

In the hours after the strike, the U.S. reached out to Iran, with which it has had no direct diplomatic ties for decades.

Zarif speaks to Wang

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, who argued that “the dangerous U.S. military operation violates the basic norms of international relations and will aggravate regional tensions and turbulence,” according to Chinese media. The strike killed a total of five Iranian Guards and five members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, whose members have close ties to Tehran.

Among the dead was the Hashed’s deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was a top adviser and personal friend to Soleimani. Mass ceremonies started in Baghdad on Saturday for the dead, with Iraq’s caretaker Premier Adel Abdel Mahdi and top pro-Iran figures in large crowds accompanying the coffins. They 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”. The remains were then moved to the shrine city of Karbala and would ultimately end up in Najaf, where the Iraqis will be buried. The Guards’ remains would be flown to Iran, which has declared three days of mourning and religious rituals.

A lethal foe of U.S.

As head of the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, Soleimani was a powerful figure domestically and oversaw Iran's wide-ranging interventions in regional power struggles.

He had long been considered a lethal foe by Washington, with Mr. Trump saying he should have been killed “many years ago”.

Tehran has already named Soleimani’s deputy, Esmail Qaani, to replace him.

His first order of business was made clear on Friday when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death.

Iraqis worry the U.S. strike could unleash a new wave of destabilisation for Iraq, which only two years ago announced it had defeated the Islamic State group.

Amid the tensions, the Pentagon said up to 3,500 additional U.S. troops would be dispatched to Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait, to boost some 14,000 reinforcements already deployed to the region last year. About 5,200 U.S. troops are stationed across Iraq to help fight IS.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 5:47:48 AM |

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