Thousands of Iraqi mourners have condemned the “American occupiers” a year after a US drone strike killed the revered Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and the Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
The anniversary of their deaths in Baghdad – which brought the main enemies of the United States and Iran to the brink of war – was also marked on Sunday in Iran and by supporters in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The streets leading to Tahrir Square in central Baghdad were filled with thousands of protesters who had converged on the site since early Sunday morning.
Protesters lifted photos of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, as well as flags of Iraq, Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), of which al-Muhandis was a leader, and others Iraqi factions.
They also carried banners with slogans demanding the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and chanted retaliation against those who carried out the assassination.
Speaking to the protesters, Hashd al-Shaabi leader Faleh al-Fayyad vowed retaliation against those who committed the crime and called on US troops to leave Iraq.
Charles Stratford of Al Jazeera, reporting from Tahrir Square in Baghdad, said Iraqi protesters were calling for the immediate and swift withdrawal of all remaining US troops in Iraq.
“They also call for the continuation of the kind of fiery rhetoric that we heard in a few days around the anniversary of the assassination of the leader of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani. They are demanding and promise revenge, ”he said.
Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said the mood was similar in Iran where the country’s head of justice, Ebrahim Raisi, as well as the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said Tehran had not finished avenging the death of Soleimani.
“It will come in due course. This is something we heard from the Supreme Leader as well as the President earlier in December, ”she said.
The powerful pro-Iranian paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi network in Iraq under al-Muhandis led the dark and angry vigils for him and Soleimani, who headed the elite foreign operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iraq. ‘Iran.
The commemorations began on Saturday evening when thousands of mourners dressed in black converged at the spot near Baghdad International Airport where the United States struck the two vehicles and killed Soleimani, al-Muhandis and eight others. men.
By candlelight, they honored their “martyrs” and condemned the “great American Satan” on the site where the neighboring walls are still scarred by shrapnel.
“We say to America and the enemies of Islam that they can inflict the greatest sacrifices on us, but we will continue to resist despite the bloodshed,” said Hashd supporter Batul Najjar.
The Hashd – factions Washington has blamed for rocket attacks on its embassy and troops in Iraq – has increasingly challenged Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whom it accuses of helping plan the drone strikes .
This has heightened tensions in the war-ravaged and politically fragile country the United States invaded in 2003, and which is grappling with an economic crisis amid low oil prices and a coronavirus pandemic.
Giant posters of Soleimani and al-Muhandis were hung above the square, which at the end of 2019 became the center of major anti-government protests, from an abandoned building known as the Turkish Restaurant.
Amid the tensions, Iraqis, and many in the wider region, nervously watch for any signs of escalation before US President Donald Trump leaves the White House on January 20.
Trump faced Iran, a decades-old foe, by pulling out of its nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and launching a “maximum pressure” campaign to punish and further economically isolate the country.
Trump recently said on Twitter that the United States was hearing “the chatter of more attacks on Americans in Iraq,” and warned, “If an American is killed, I will hold Iran accountable.” Reflect.”
In recent days, US B-52 bombers have flown over the region for the second time in less than a month but, in what some read as a sign of de-escalation, Washington has also reportedly ordered its aircraft carrier Nimitz to leave the Gulf. .
Iran and the United States – bitter enemies since the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis at the American embassy in Tehran – have twice been on the brink of war since June 2019, most recently after the murder of Soleimani .
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused Trump of seeking to fabricate a “pretext for war” after the president accused Tehran of a December 20 rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad .
In the war of words, Zarif also claimed on Saturday that in Iraq, “Israeli agent provocateurs are plotting attacks on Americans (to put) Trump in a bind with a false casus belli (to act to justify the war).”