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Thousands gather in Baghdad to commemorate Soleimani after airstrike

Thousands of people marched in Baghdad Saturday to mourn Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s late top general, and several Tehran-backed militia fighters who were killed in a U.S. airstrike this week.

The procession – organized by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Iranian-supported paramilitary groups – began in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone and continued to the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, according to Reuters.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a militia leader, and other Iraqi fighters will be buried in Najaf, while Soleimani will be buried in his hometown of Kerman in southeast Iran.

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In a sign of the gravity of the repercussions of Soleimani’s death, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attended the procession. 

The U.S. strike against Soleimani and Muhandis this week sent shockwaves through the region, raising the prospects for retaliation from Iran and an extended conflict between Washington and Tehran that may not be confined to the borders of Iraq or even the confines of the Middle East.

The Trump administration defended the strike against Soleimani, who directed Iran’s proxies across the world, including many in Iraq who fought U.S. troops, saying he had American blood on his hands and was planning another imminent attack.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to the U.S. attack by vowing “harsh retaliation.”

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq urged Americans to leave the country following the killing, and Britain warned its citizens to avoid all travel to Iraq and avoid all-but-essential travel to Iran.

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