Thousands march in Baghdad on Soleimani assassination anniversary

Mourners hold a mock funeral procession on the highway leading to city’s airport where the January 3, 2020 strike took place.

Iraqis gather to mark the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis [Khalid Al-Mousily/Reuters]

A mock funeral procession in Iraq marked the first anniversary of the drone strike near Baghdad by the United States that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Thousands of mourners joined the march on the highway leading to the Baghdad airport on Saturday evening where the strike that killed the two men took place.

As the highway remained blocked with cars, demonstrators 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 scene of the bombing was turned into a shrine-like area sealed off by red ropes, with a photo of Soleimani and al-Muhandis in the middle, as mourners lit candles.

Flowers laid near pictures of Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

Shrapnel marks were still visible on the asphalt and walls in the area.

Soleimani headed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic republic’s foreign operations and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

His assassination dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the region and brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.

Demonstrators in Baghdad mark the first anniversary of Soleimani’s killing [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Baghdad, said more protests are expected across Iraq on Sunday.

“The protests are focused on 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 kind of deterioration in security of this country.”

The Baghdad procession came as Iraq’s military said explosives experts with its naval forces successfully dismantled a mine that was discovered stuck to an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf two days earlier.

The statement on Saturday said Iraqi authorities have opened an investigation into the incident. No group has claimed responsibility for placing the mine.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been rising in the run-up to the first anniversary of top Iranian general’s killing.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Iran condemned US “military adventurism” in the Gulf and the Sea of Oman, and “fake 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 message of deterrence to Iran, the latest in a series of such moves in the past month.

“New intelligence from Iraq indicate(s) that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli (act justifying war),” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet on Saturday.

“Be careful of a trap, @realDonaldTrump. Any fireworks will backfire badly,” Zarif wrote.

With less than a month left in the White House, Trump is under pressure from key Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, to act against Iran, Danny Postel, assistant director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University, told Al Jazeera.

“Trump is a very wounded and very cornered animal in an end-game scenario. He’s got a few weeks left, and we know that he is capable of extremely erratic behaviour,” Postel, an expert on Iran and US foreign policy, said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies