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Tehran, Iran (CNB News) –Thousands of mourners have joined the formal funeral processions for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and six others killed in a US air strike in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.

Dressed in black and raising the flags of the powerful paramilitary umbrella group Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces or PMF), the large crowds first gathered near the Shia shrine of Kadhimiyya in Baghdad to pay their respects to the dead.

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and mastermind of its regional influence, was killed early on Friday near Baghdad’s international airport in an air strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.

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.v

The attack came just days after Hashd members and supporters attempted to storm the US embassy in Baghdad, angry at US air attacks against Kataib Hezbollah – a member of the umbrella organisation – positions in Iraq and Syria. Al-Muhandis had been among the crowds of PMF members and supporters.

“We are here to mourn the death of these brave fighters, Soleimani and Muhandis,” 34-year-old Amjad Hamoud, who described himself as a member of the PMF, Said.

“Both of them sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Shia world and for the sake of Iraq,” he added.

The mourners, most of whom are supporters of the PMF, will then march through the Green Zone where government offices and foreign embassies, including the US embassy, are based.

Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi – who stepped down in November after to mass anti-government protests that started in early October – but who remains in office in a caretaker capacity, attended the funeral processions.

Also attending were several powerful Shia leaders including former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who now leads the State of Law Coalition and has close ties with Iran. Shia scholar Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Hikma parliamentary bloc, and Faleh Fayyad, head of the Hashd al-Shaabi, were also at the processions.

Mohannad Hussein, media representative of the PMF, which organised the funeral processions, told Al Jazeera that the crowds will end their march at Hurriya Square in central Baghdad for members of the public to pay their final respects before the bodies are taken to the holy Shia city of Karbala where funeral prayers will be held later on Saturday.

Karbala is the base of Iraq’s top Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who condemned the US attack and called on all parties to exercise restraint in a statement from his office for the Friday sermon.

Hussein said the bodies will then be taken to the holy Shia city of Najaf where al-Muhandis will be buried later on Saturday along with other Iraqis killed in the attack. The body of Soleimani will be flown to Tehran for funeral processions on Sunday.

Iran is observing three days of national mourning in honour of Soleimani who is widely believed to have been the second-most powerful figure in Iran. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei promised to exact “harsh revenge” for the targeted killing.

How did Iran react?

In a statement following Soleimani’s death, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”

Who was Qasem Soleimani?

The 62-year-old was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported directly to the ayatollah, and Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure.

He was widely considered an architect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s war against rebels in Syria, the rise of pro-Iranian paramilitaries in Iraq, the fight against the Islamic State group, and many battles beyond.

Charismatic and often elusive, the silver-haired commander was revered by some, loathed by others, and a source of myths and social media memes. He had emerged in recent years from a lifetime in the shadows directing covert operations to achieve fame and popularity in Iran, becoming the subject of documentaries, news reports and even pop songs.

Under his 21-year leadership of the Quds Force, Iran bolstered Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militant groups in Lebanon; expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria; and orchestrated Syria’s offensive against rebel groups in that country’s long civil war.

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