Mourners chanted “America is the Great Satan” and “death to Israel” as they marched in a funeral procession in Baghdad for Iran’s top general after he was killed in a US air strike – as the region braced for the Islamic Republic to fulfil its vows of revenge.
General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, was killed early Friday near Baghdad international airport along with senior Iraqi militants in an air strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.
The attack has caused regional tensions to soar and tested the US alliance with Iraq. Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, raising fears of an all-out war, but it is unclear how or when it might respond.
Any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In Baghdad, thousands of mourners, mostly men in black military fatigues, carried Iraqi flags and the flags of Iran-backed militias that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani at Saturday’s ceremony.
The mourners, many of them in tears, chanted “No, No, America,” and “Death to America, death to Israel”.
Billboards and images of Soleimani, who was widely seen as a national icon and a hero of the so-called Axis of Resistance against Western hegemony, appeared on major streets in Iran Saturday with the warning from the supreme leader that “harsh revenge” awaits the US.
Trump says he ordered the strike, a high-risk decision that was made without consulting Congress or US allies, to prevent a conflict. Since the strike, and Iran’s vow to revenge his death, the US has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighbouring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilising militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group.
He was also blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back decades.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, in Lebanon, the deceased Iranian general’s supporters hung billboards commemorating Soleimani in Beirut’s southern suburbs and in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel, according to the state-run National News Agency.
Both are strongholds of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has close ties to Soleimani.
A portrait of Nasrallah could be seen in Soleimani’s home when mourners paid tribute there.
Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, including the territory’s Hamas terror rulers, opened a mourning site for the general and dozens gathered to burn American and Israeli flags.
Iran has long provided aid to the armed wing of Hamas and to the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group.
Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official, said the killing of Soleimani was “a loss for Palestine and the resistance”.