“BAGHDAD: On Sunday, one year after the US drone strike killed Iran’s revered commander Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, thousands of Iraqi mourners chanted “revenge” and “no to America.
In Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, pro-Iranian supporters, many clad in black, massed to also condemn Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi as a “coward” and a “American agent.”
The anniversary of the drone attack in Baghdad, which took Washington and Tehran to the verge of war in early 2020, has also been marked in Iran and by backers in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere in recent days.
In the weeks before US President Donald Trump, who directed the killings, left the White House, the run up to the commemorations of the commanders sharply heightened international tensions.
For the “martyr” Soleimani, who has been immortalised in paintings, drawings, ballads and a forthcoming TV series, Iran has held a series of commemorative activities. Tehran also unveiled his autobiography on Sunday, which focuses primarily on his adolescence and early adulthood, and a postage stamp in his honour.
In Iraq, the strong pro-Iranian, state-sponsored Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network controlled by Muhandis led wrathful vigils for him and for General Soleimani, who headed the international operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran.
The Baghdad rally on Sunday was a show of power for the armed groups, who have steadily threatened the Kadhemi government despite being officially incorporated into the Iraqi security apparatus.
Thousands of mourners had gathered at the spot near Baghdad’s international airport on Saturday night, where the US struck both vehicles and killed Soleimani, Muhandis and eight other citizens. They praised their “martyrs” through candlelight and denounced the American “great Satan” at the location where shrapnel is now pockmarked by surrounding buildings.
“We are telling America and the enemies of Islam that they can make the greatest sacrifices for us, but in spite of the bloodshed, we will continue to resist,” Hashed supporter Batul Najjar said.
The Hashed has increasingly questioned Kadhemi, whom it accused of having helped plot the drone attacks, groups of which Washington blamed for missile strikes against its embassy and troops in Iraq. In the war-torn and politically unstable world annexed by the United States in 2003, which remains mired in an economic recession in the midst of low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, this has once again taken tensions to a boil.