Thousands of mourners have joined the formal funeral processions for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and six others killed in a US air strike in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
Dressed in black and raising the flags of the powerful paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces or PMF), the large crowds first gathered near the Shia shrine of Khadhimiyya in Baghdad to pay their respects to the dead at the holy site.
Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and mastermind of its regional influence, was killed early on Friday near Baghdad’s international airport in an air strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.
Top Iraqi PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack.
The attack came just days after Hashd members and supporters attempted to storm the US embassy in Baghdad after the US launched air attacks against Kataib Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria. Al-Muhandis had been among the crowds of PMF members and supporters.
“We are here to mourn the death of these brave fighters, Soleimani and Muhandis,” 34-year-old Amjad Hamoud, who described himself as a member of the PMF, told Public Hours
“Both of them sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Shia world and for the sake of Iraq,” he added.
The mourners, most of which include supporters of the PMF, an umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed armed groups, will then march through the Green Zone where government offices and foreign embassies, including the US embassy, are based.
Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who stepped down in November due to mass anti-government protests since early October, but who remains in office in a caretaker capacity, attended the funeral processions.
Also attending were several powerful Shia leaders including former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who now leads the State of Law Coaltion and has close ties with Iran. Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Hikma parliamentary bloc, and Faleh Fayyad, head of the Hashd al-Shaabi were also at the processions.
Mohannad Hussein, a media representative of the PMF, which organised the funeral processions, told Public Hours
“That the crowds will end their march at Hurriya Square in central Baghdad for members of the public to pay their final respects, before the bodies are taken to the holy Shia city of Karbala where funeral prayers will be held later on Saturday”.
Karbala is the base of Iraq’s top Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who condemned the US attack and called on all parties to practice restraint in a statement from his office for the Friday sermon.
“Ready to fight”
Some of the mourners called on Iraq and the PMF to respond to the attack, saying it violated Iraqi sovereignty and targeted their fighters.
“We want the Hashd and the Iraqi government to respond to the US attack in an appropriate manner,” said Ali, 24, who described the killings as “very painful”.
“If a political response isn’t enough, then militarily one is necessary,” he added.
“This is a very sad day for all of us. But each fighter [in the PMF] considers himself a martyr and so we are ready to give up our lives like our leaders did,” said Hussein.
“The US has opened a new chapter in its relations with Iraq and made clear that it is the real enemy,” said Hussein.
“As part of the military, the Hashd al-Shaabi will do what the government orders us to do. We are ready to fight,” he added.
The Iran-backed PMF was integrated into Iraq’s armed forces last year, but critics say that some factions continue to operate independently of Baghdad.
Published On Public Hours January 4th, 2020