Hundreds trample on Israel, US flags at Baghdad rally marking Soleimani’s death

BAGHDAD — Chanting anti-American slogans, hundreds of people rallied in the Iraqi capital Saturday to mark the anniversary of the killing of a powerful Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader in a United States drone strike.

American and Israeli flags were strewn on the ground as protestors trampled on them.

Iran has claimed Israel “directed” the 2020 killing of Gen. Qassim Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the overseas branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and was considered the architect of Iran’s regional security strategy.

Supporters of Iran-aligned Shiite factions were bused in from various Iraqi provinces to the rally, near the headquarters of the powerful militias.

The crowd in Baghdad called for the expulsion of remaining American forces from Iraq during the demonstration commemorating the airstrike at Baghdad airport which was ordered by then-US president Donald Trump.

“We will not let you stay after today on in the land of the martyrs,” some of the placards read.

Members and supporters of Iraq’s al-Hashed al-Shaabi ex-paramilitary alliance take part in a demonstration and a symbolic funeral for Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad, on January 1, 2022. (Sabah Arar/AFP)

The killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis at Baghdad’s airport pushed Iran and the US perilously close to all-out conflict.

Five days after the strike, Iran retaliated by firing missiles at a US air base in Ain al-Assad housing American troops in Iraq, and another near Erbil in the north.

No US troops were killed in those strikes, but Washington said dozens suffered traumatic brain injuries from the explosions.

Iran said Friday the current US administration is also “responsible” for the assassination two years ago of Soleimani.

Supporters and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces hold posters of a powerful Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad, Iraq, on January 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The foreign ministry’s statement came as Iran launched week-long activities to commemorate Soleimani’s killing.

Authorities said the main event of the remembrance will be held on Monday, without elaborating.

They added that on January 7 a display of “Iran’s missile capabilities” will be held.

Iranian officials have pledged repeatedly that Soleimani will be avenged.

On the first anniversary of his killing, then-judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi — who is now Iran’s president — warned that even Trump was not “immune from justice” and that Soleimani’s killers would “not be safe anywhere in the world.”

The killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis also sparked outrage in Iraq, leading parliament to pass a non-binding resolution days later calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.

An Iranian woman walks past a large poster of slain top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani (right) and senior Hashed commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis ahead of the second anniversary of their death, in the capital Tehran, on December 31, 2021. (AFP)

The US-led coalition formally ended it’s combat mission supporting Iraqi forces in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group at the end of December.

Some 2,500 troops will remain for the foreseeable future, however, to continue supporting Iraqi forces in an advisory role

Some militia leaders have insisted on the departure of all US troops.

Senior Hashed official Faleh al-Fayyad reiterated the demand Saturday, saying the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis was “a crime against Iraqi sovereignty.”

“We will not accept anything less than full withdrawal as revenge for the blood of our martyrs,” said Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Iran-aligned coalition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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