Large crowds march in Baghdad to mourn Soleimani, others died in US airstrike

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Maha El Dahan BAGHDAD (Reuters) - With cries of Death to the United States, tens of thousands of people marched in Iraq on Saturday to mourn the Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader who died in an American air strike that raised the specter of broader conflict in the Middle East. With the rise in security concerns after Friday's attack, the NATO alliance and a separate US-led mission suspended its programs to train Iraqi security and the armed forces, authorities said. [nL8N2990BV] The security of our staff in Iraq is paramount. We continue to take all necessary precautions, NATO interim spokesman Dylan White said in a statement. Soleimani, commander of the foreign legions of the Revolutionary Guard, died in the US attack on his convoy at Baghdad airport. The attack led Washington and its allies, mainly Saudi Arabia and Israel, to an unknown territory in its confrontation with Iran and its delegated militias throughout the region. [nL8N298282] Gholamali Abuhamzeh, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard, said Tehran would punish Americans wherever they are within reach, and raised the possibility of possible attacks against ships in the Gulf. [nL1N299036] The US embassy in Baghdad urged US citizens to leave Iraq. Dozens of US employees of foreign oil companies left the city of Basra in southern Iraq on Friday. [nL8N2981ZG] The close US ally, Great Britain, warned its citizens to avoid all trips to Iraq, outside the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and to avoid all less essential trips to Iran. [nL8N29905H] Soleimani, 62, was the preeminent military leader of Iran, head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards abroad and the architect of Iran's growing influence in the Middle East. The leader of the Iraqi militia killed in the attack, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was the deputy commander of the umbrella body of paramilitary groups of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of Iraq. A procession organized by the PMF that transported the bodies of Soleimani, Muhandis and other Iraqis killed in the US attack took place in the heavily fortified green area of ​​Baghdad. The mourners included many militiamen in uniform for whom Muhandis and Soleimani were heroes. They carried portraits of both men and stuck them on the walls and transported armor in the procession. Songs of Death to America and No, not Israel were heard. 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. Later, the mourners took the bodies by car to the holy Shia city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad. The procession was to end in Najaf, another sacred Shia city where Muhandis and the other Iraqis killed will be buried. Soleimani's body will be transferred on Saturday to the province of Khuzestan, in southwestern Iran, which borders Iraq. On Sunday he will be taken to the Shiite holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran and from there to Tehran and his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday, state media said. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, said Friday that Soleimani had planned imminent attacks against US diplomats and military personnel. Democratic critics said Trump's action was reckless and that it had exacerbated the risk of more bloodshed in a dangerous region. The US attack followed a sharp rise in hostilities between the United States and Iran in Iraq since last week when the pro-Iranian militia attacked the US embassy in Baghdad after a US air strike in the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis . 'AMERICAN VITAL OBJECTIVES' On Friday, the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised to retaliate and said Soleimani's death would intensify Tehran's resistance 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 approximately one third of the oil is exported on board the world 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 and Tel Aviv are within our reach, he said, referring to the largest city in Israel. In Iran, some people worried that Soleimani's death could push the country into a ruinous war with a superpower. I feel very sad about the death of Soleimani, but what if the United States and Iran start a war? I have kids. What happens if my son (university student) is sent to war? said Monireh, a retired teacher. [nL8N29909I] Mohamed Raad, a political leader in the heavily armed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, said reprisals by the Iran-backed resistance axis, militia groups in countries from Lebanon to Yemen, would be decisive, al-Mayadeen TV reported on Saturday. 'REVENGE OF THE MURDERERS' Many Iraqis condemned the United States attack, considering Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating Islamic State militants who seized large parts of northern and central Iraq in 2014. It is necessary to take revenge on the murderers. The martyrs got the prize they wanted, the martyrdom prize, said one of the protesters, Ali al-Khatib. Many Iraqis also expressed fear of being involved in a major conflict between the United States and Iran, and of militia reprisals against those involved in months of street protests against the government of Baghdad 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. (Report by Ahmed Aboulenein and Maha El Dahan; Additional report by Kate Holton in London, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Nadine Awadallah in Beirut, John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Frances Kerry) This story has not been edited by The Times of India and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe. (This story has not been edited by timesofindia.com and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe.)

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