Tens of thousands march in Baghdad to mourn Qassim Suleimani, others died in a US air strike

BAGHDAD: Tens of thousands of people marched in Baghdad on Saturday to mourn the military commander of Iran.

and the commander of the Iraqi militia Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in a conflict that has sparked the specter of a broader conflict in the Middle East.

Friday attack, authorized by the president Donald Trump , he noted a major escalation in a shadow war in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and their US allies, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Gholamali Abuhamzeh, a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard elite, said Tehran would punish Americans wherever they are within reach, and raised the possibility of possible attacks against ships in the Gulf.

The US embassy in Baghdad urged US citizens to leave Iraq after the attack at the Baghdad airport that killed

Qassim Suleimani. Dozens of US employees of foreign oil companies left the city of Basra in southern Iraq on Friday.

The close US ally, Great Britain, warned its citizens on Saturday to avoid all trips to Iraq, outside the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and avoid all essential trips to Iran.

Suleimani, a 62-year-old general, was the most prominent military commander in Tehran and, as head of the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guard, the architect of Iran's growing influence in the Middle East.

Muhandis was the umbrella commander of the paramilitary groups of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq.

An elaborate procession organized by the PMF to mourn Soleimani, Muhandis and other Iraqis killed in the US attack began in the heavily fortified green area of ​​Baghdad.

The protesters included many militiamen in uniform for whom Muhandis and Soleimani were inspiring heroes. Waving Iraqi and militia flags. They also carried portraits of both men and stuck them on walls and armored vehicles in the procession.

They chanted No No Israel and No No America.

The Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and the Iraqi militia commander Hadi al-Amiri, a close ally of Iran and the main candidate to succeed Muhandis, attended.

The procession should proceed by car to the Shiite sacred city of Kerbala and end in Najaf, another Shiite sacred city where Muhandis and others will be buried.

The US attack followed a sharp increase in hostilities between the United States and Iran in Iraq since last week when the pro-Iranian militia attacked the US embassy in Baghdad following a US air strike in the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.

A senior Trump administration official said Soleimani had been planning imminent attacks against US personnel throughout the Middle East. Democratic critics of the Republican president said Trump's order was reckless and that he had increased the risk of more violence in a dangerous region.

Soleimani's body will be transferred on Saturday to the province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, which borders Iraq. Then, on Sunday he will be taken to the Shiite sacred city of Mashhad in the northeast and from there to Tehran and then to his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday, Iranian state media reported.

'US vital goals'

On Friday, the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised a strong revenge against the criminals who killed Soleimani and said his death would intensify the resistance of the Islamic Republic to the United States and Israel.

Abuhamzeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Kerman province, mentioned a number of possible targets for reprisals, including the Gulf waterway, through which a significant proportion of oil is exported on board to world markets.

The Hormuz Strait is a vital point for the West and a large number of US destroyers and warships cross there, Abuhamzeh said Friday afternoon by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Iran has long identified US vital goals in the region ... About 35 US targets in the region, as well as Tel Aviv, are within our reach, he said, referring to the largest city in Israel.

'Revenge of the murderers'

In Baghdad, many condemned the US attack, considering Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating the militant group of the Islamic State that had taken over large areas of northern and central Iraq in 2014.

Broad participation in this procession demonstrates that the public condemns the United States and its allies for their human rights abuses while claiming to fight terrorism said one of the protesters, Ali al-Khatib.

It is necessary to take revenge on the murderers. The martyrs got the prize they wanted: the martyrdom prize.

At first, some Iraqis reacted with joy to the US attack only to quickly fear the consequences, particularly for those involved in months of street protests against the Baghdad government backed by Iran for alleged errors and corruption.

They said Soleimani and Muhandis had backed the use of force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and established militias that protesters blame for many of Iraq's social and economic problems.

Protesters now worry that they may become targets for reprisals by Shiite militias, who have been portraying the wave of anti-government demonstrations as an American conspiracy.