Thousands in Iraq mourn the Iranian chief general killed by the United States; rockets fired in Baghdad

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. On Saturday night, a rocket fell into the heavily fortified green zone of Baghdad, near the US embassy. UU., Another hit the nearby neighborhood of Jadriya and two more rockets were fired at the Balad air base north of the city, but no one died, the Iraqi army said in a statement. There was no attribution of immediate responsibility. 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. 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. France stepped up diplomatic initiatives on Saturday to ease tensions in the Middle East. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Iraqi President Barham Salih, Macron's office said. The two presidents agreed to remain in close contact to avoid further escalation of tensions and act to ensure stability in Iraq and the region in general, a statement from the Macron office said. Macron also discussed the situation with the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. 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. 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. 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. 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 Green Zone 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. The mourners then took the bodies by car to the Shia holy 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. US President Donald Trump said Friday that Soleimani had planned imminent attacks against US diplomats and military personnel. Democratic critics said the Republican president's action was reckless and risked 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, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 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 Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of US destroyers and warships cross there, said Abuhamzeh quoted 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. 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. 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. (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 and Grant McCool; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis) 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 and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe.)