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Thousands Mourn Iranian General In Iraq


Funeral Procession Held In Baghdad For Soleimani, Others Killed In U.S. Air Strike
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WATCH: Funeral Procession Held In Baghdad For Soleimani

Thousands of people gathered in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq on January 4 to mourn Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader killed one day earlier in a U.S. air strike in the Iraqi capital that has escalated already heightened tensions in the region and Iran warned has "started a military war."

In the evening of January 4, a rocket fell inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone near the U.S. Embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighborhood, and two more rockets were fired at the Balad air base north of the city, but no one was killed, the Iraqi military said in a statement. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Meanwhile, a southern Iranian military commander pledged on January 4 that his country "will punish Americans wherever they are within Tehran's reach," Reuters reported, citing Iran's Tasnim news agency.

General Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander in Kerman Province, said “The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there."

He said that Iran had identified "vital American targets in the region" and that "some 35 U.S. targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach," the agency quoted Abuhamzeh as saying.

NATO announced later on January 4 that it is suspending a training mission for soldiers in the Iraqi army.

"The safety of our personnel in Iraq is paramount. We continue to take all precautions necessary," acting NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement.

Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign legions, was killed in the U.S. strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport. Iran-backed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed.

Many of the participants in the funeral procession in Iraq waved Iraqi national flags or the banners of militias amid chants of "Death to America!"

Mourners later brought the bodies by car to the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, then to Najaf, another sacred Shi'ite city, where they were met by the son of Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and where Muhandis and the other Iraqis killed will be laid to rest. Soleimani is to be buried in his hometown of Kerman on January 7, state media reported.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was among those who joined the march.

Abdul-Mahdi has stayed on to head a caretaker government since his resignation last month amid public protests over government failures and concern at perceived Iranian influence in Iraq, as well as at the political system put in place after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif by telephone on January 4 and emerged urging the United States not to "abuse" the use of force and resolve issues "via dialogue," according to Reuters.

Wang also said Beijing would play a constructive role in maintaining peace and security in the Persian Gulf region.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had spoken with Wang and with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas about the situation in the Middle East and that all agreed on the need to preserve Iraqi sovereignty and stability, Reuters reported.

Le Drian also said Paris, Berlin, and Beijing agreed on the importance of ensuring that Tehran does not violate the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers to trade sanctions relief for limits on Iran's nuclear activities.

Zarif also discussed the killing of Soleimani with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on January 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Lavrov expressed his condolences over the killing," according to the statement issued January 4. "The ministers stressed that such actions by the United States grossly violate the norms of international law."

Tehran has taken what it has described as "steps toward" abrogating the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since Trump announced in 2018 that the United States was withdrawing from it and reimposing tough sanctions on Iran.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said late on January 3 that the attack "in fact was an act of war on the part of the United States and against Iranian people."

"Last night they started a military war by assassinating by an act of terror against one of our top generals. So what else can be expected of Iran to do? We cannot just remain silent. We have to act and we will act," Ravanchi told CNN.

Donald Trump speaking from Florida on January 3.
Donald Trump speaking from Florida on January 3.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned of “severe retaliation."

Ali Fadavi, a top IRGC commander, told Iranian state television late on January 3 that the United States "resorted to diplomatic measures...on Friday morning" after the attack. He claimed that the Americans had "even said that if you want to get revenge, get revenge in proportion to what we did," according to AFP.

U.S. President Donald Trump said that he ordered the attack to “stop a war” and that the slain general had been in the process of organizing “imminent and sinister” attacks on U.S. interests and allies.

Trump's comments came shortly before new reports out of Iraq suggested that a second drone strike early on January 4 near Camp Taji north of Baghdad had hit the convoy of an Iran-backed militia.

But a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said early on January 4 that its forces have not conducted air strikes near Camp Taji in recent days.

The Iraqi military later similarly denied that any such attack had taken place.

Trump’s order to strike at Iran's top general has met with praise from his supporters, concern from his domestic and foreign critics, and calls for an easing of tensions from many in the global community.

"We took action to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said.

"We do not seek regime change in Iran," he said, but added that the United States knew the location of its enemies and that he was "prepared to take any action that's necessary," in particular regarding Iran.

Washington blames Iran-backed militias for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi personnel and sites, including on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was overrun by pro-Iran groups earlier in the week.

Trump and many in the West also blame Iran for sponsoring terror groups throughout the region, an accusation Tehran has denied.

Analysis: Iraqi Shi'ite Militias 'Shocked' By Soleimani's Killing
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WATCH: The U.S. strike that killed Qasem Soleimani has caused shock and confusion among the ranks of Iran-backed Shi'ite militias in Iraq. That's according to Radio Sawa correspondent Saleem Al-Abbasi.

Late on January 3, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited conversations with Middle Eastern and other partners in the previous two days, hinting at tensions between Washington and Europe.

"I spent the last day and a half, two days, talking to partners in the region, sharing with them what we were doing, why we were doing it, seeking their assistance. They've all been fantastic," Pompeo told Fox News.

"And then talking to our partners in other places that haven't been quite as good. Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be."

Members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants have suspended the training of Iraqi security forces amid the heightened tensions, according to announcements by Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden quoted by dpa.

The German military reportedly said it was a precautionary step to protect soldiers deployed in Iraq under Operation Inherent Resolve.

Later on January 4, a NATO spokesperson confirmed the alliance had suspended its training missions in Iraq.

The United States last week sent in some 750 additional troops amid the unrest.

The United Kingdom on January 4 advised its nationals against travel to Iraq or parts of Iran.

Soleimani was head of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s IRGC, and has been blamed for orchestrating deadly attacks throughout the region.

The Quds Force has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.

Mohsen Rezaee, secretary of Iran’s influential Expediency Council, suggested that Israel had provided intelligence that contributed to the operation that killed Soleimani.

“[Soleimani] entered Baghdad from Syria last night," Rezaee said on Iranian state television late on January 3. "After his plane landed, he got into the car with Abu Mahdi [al-Muhandis], who had been waiting for him, and...they were [killed] by a U.S. air strike after passing a checkpoint. There is a high possibility that Israel had taken information from Syria about his flight and passed the intelligence to America."

The IRGC, which helps oversee the Quds Force, said Soleimani would be laid to rest on January 7 in his hometown of Kerman after three days of ceremonies across Iran.

The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a deputy commander of the Iran-backed PMF militia in Iraq.

Prior to the official U.S. and Iraqi denials, Newsweek quoted unnamed Pentagon officials as saying that a drone strike targeted the Iman Ali Brigades and that there was a "high probability" that leader Shubul al-Zaidi was killed.​

The militia cited an attack but said the convoy was a “humanitarian” mission and that medics, not senior militia leaders, were killed.

The January 3 U.S. strike on one of Iran’s most powerful military leaders raised concerns of potential retaliatory action by Tehran that could lead to a widespread armed conflict.

Iran on January 3 sent a letter to the UN secretary-general and the Security Council stating that Tehran “reserves all of its rights under international law to take necessary measures” in response to the killings.

Analysis: Slain Quds Force Commander 'Irreplaceable' For Iran
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WATCH: Radio Farda Director Mehdi Parpanchi Says Slain Quds Force Commander 'Irreplaceable' For Iran

The United States said it was sending some 3,000 more troops to the Middle East and it urged Americans to immediately leave Iraq amid the raised tensions.

With reporting by Radio Farda, AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

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