A huge crowd in Iraq’s capital Baghdad is taking part in a funeral procession for the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike on Thursday.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s Middle East operations and Iran vowed to take “severe revenge” for his death.
The gathering in Baghdad on Saturday marked the beginning of days of mourning for Soleimani.
His body is to be returned to Iran for a funeral and burial in his home town.
The crowds in Baghdad were also there to mourn the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group and effectively led the Popular Mobilisation units – an umbrella of militias in Iraq dominated by groups aligned with Iran.
Mourners started gathering in Baghdad from the early hours, ahead of the start of the procession, waving Iraqi and militia flags and chanting “death to America”. The procession snaked though the streets, some carrying portraits of Soleimani and some of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Reports said the bodies of the Iranians would then be flown on Saturday evening to Iran, which has declared three days of mourning for the murdered general. His funeral is to be held on Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman in central Iran.
Some Iraqis, conversely, celebrated in Baghdad’s streets at the news of Soleimani’s death. He was accused of orchestrating violent crackdowns on peaceful pro-democracy protests there in recent months.
Iran’s retaliation is certain – when, where, how is not. For now, the priority is to cement Qasem Soleimani’s status as a national hero to ensure he remains powerful in death, as in life.
Elaborate plans for his funeral have been expanded – a mix of carefully scripted ceremony with outpourings of grief filling the streets. It begins in Baghdad where he died, and where so much of his legacy lives.
From there his remains travel to Iran’s holy city of Mashhad, to his hometown Kerman, and then to Tehran where the supreme leader will preside over final prayers – a rare honour to send another signal. Ayatollah Khamenei has promoted his loyal officer to Lieutenant General.
More important is to elevate his martyrdom, to draw in rivals who resented his status, and Iranians who reviled his costly foreign adventures. Iranian leaders hope his killing will unite a nation as it stares at a far more uncertain future.