Thousands of members of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shabi paramilitary alliance gathered in Baghdad on Tuesday to mourn comrades killed in American air attacks along the Syrian border.
The US raids early on Monday sparked an exchange of fire between pro-Iranian militias and the United States-led coalition in eastern Syria, as well as fears of a new US-Iran escalation amid faltering efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
With chants of “Death to America” and “Vengeance for the martyrs”, they massed in Freedom Square near the capital’s high-security Green Zone – the site of the US embassy.
Security forces were deployed in large numbers, sealing the Green Zone after a string of recent incursions by armed groups backed by Washington’s archenemy Tehran.
Ahmad al-Maqsusi – a commander with the Sayid al-Shuhada militia, which has vowed “open war” with US troops – said it was time for the Americans to leave.
“Since the parliament passed a resolution the presence of foreign troops in the country is unlawful,” said al-Maqsusi. “They are here since 2014 and they did nothing to the Iraqis but destruction.”
Several high-ranking Hashd commanders took part in the symbolic funeral, including its top commander Faleh al-Fayyadh and Hadi al-Ameri, head of one of its main factions, the Badr Organisation.
The mourners, accompanied by vehicles full of gunmen, wore black and held up signs reading: “Attacks on the Hashd must speed up the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.”
Others carried pictures of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Hashd second-in-command Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who were killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport last year.
“The rifles and drones of the resistance will move now. The time has come to avenge the death of our heroes including Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis,” said one fighter Haydar Karrar.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said seven fighters had been killed and at least six more wounded in the raids on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.