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Crowd gather for Soleimani funeral in Iraq

Mourners surround a car carrying the coffin of Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. Photo: BBC

A huge crowd in Iraq’s capital Baghdad has followed the coffin of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US air strike on Thursday.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s Middle East operations and the country has vowed to take “severe revenge”.

The funeral procession in Iraq marked the beginning of days of mourning for Soleimani.

His body is to be returned to Iran for a funeral and burial in his home town.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has promised members of the dead commander’s family that Americans will “feel the impact” of their “criminal act for years ahead”.

The crowds in Baghdad were also there to mourn the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group and effectively led the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) – an umbrella of militias in Iraq dominated by groups aligned with Iran.

Mourners gathered in Baghdad from the early hours, waving Iraqi and militia flags and chanting “death to America”.

Mourners in Karbala, 4 January
Image captionMourners awaited the funeral in Karbala

The funeral began at the city’s Al Muthana Airport, then moved to the gate of the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the US embassy is located.

As the procession snaked though the streets, some mourners carried portraits of Soleimani while others held portraits of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Later, the procession left for the Shia Muslim holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Reports say the bodies of Soleimani and four other Iranians killed in the air strike will be flown on Saturday evening to Iran, which has declared three days of mourning for the assassinated general.

His funeral in Iran is to be held on Tuesday.

Some Iraqis, conversely, celebrated in Baghdad’s streets at the news of Soleimani’s death.

He was accused of orchestrating violent crackdowns on peaceful pro-democracy protests there in recent months.

BBC

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