Mourners organize a mock funeral procession on the highway leading to the airport in the city where the strike of January 3, 2020 took place.
A mock funeral procession in Iraq marked the first anniversary of the drone strike near Baghdad by the United States that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Thousands of mourners joined the march on the highway leading to Baghdad airport on Saturday night where the strike that killed the two men took place.
As the highway remained blocked by cars, protesters carrying posters of Soleimani and al-Muhandis adorned both sides of the road lined with tents that served food and drinks for those walking.
The bombing scene was transformed into a shrine-like area cordoned off with red ropes, with a photo of Soleimani and al-Muhandis in the middle, as mourners lit candles.
Traces of shells were still visible on the asphalt and walls in the area.
Soleimani was the leader of the elite Quds Force of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s foreign operations, and frequent shuttles between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
His assassination dramatically increased tensions in the region and brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war.
Charles Stratford of Al Jazeera, who reports from Baghdad, said more protests were expected in Iraq on Sunday.
“The protests are aimed at demanding that the Iraqi government put pressure on the Americans to withdraw the remaining soldiers from the country,” he said.
“Meanwhile, people on the streets are concerned about any potential escalation or any sort of deterioration in the security of this country.”
The Baghdad procession came as the Iraqi military said explosives experts and its naval forces had successfully dismantled a mine that had been discovered stuck to an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf two days earlier.
Saturday’s statement said Iraqi authorities had opened an investigation into the incident. No group has claimed responsibility for setting up the mine.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have increased as the first anniversary of the murder of an Iranian general approaches.
In a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Iran condemned US “military adventurism” in the Gulf and Arabian Sea, and “false information, baseless accusations and threatening rhetoric” against Tehran.
A day earlier, the US military flew two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over the Gulf in a deterrent message to Iran, the latest in a series of such measures over the past month.
“New intelligence from Iraq indicates Israeli agent provocateurs are planning attacks on Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli (act justifying war),” Iranian foreign minister said Mohammad Javad Zarif in a tweet on Saturday.
“Watch out for the pitfalls, @realDonaldTrump. Any fireworks will turn badly, ”Zarif wrote.
With less than a month in the White House, Trump is under pressure major Middle Eastern allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to take action against Iran, Danny Postel, deputy director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University, told Al Jazeera.
“Trump is a very injured, very cornered animal in an endgame scenario. He has a few weeks left and we know he is capable of extremely erratic behavior, ”said Postel, an expert on Iranian and US foreign policy.