A volley of missiles appeared to target the US’s embassy and one of its bases in Iraq on Saturday night, sparking fears an Iran-backed militia had begun taking revenge for the killing of its commander and Iran’s top general.
A Katusya rocket struck inside the Green Zone close to the American mission in Baghdad, followed minutes later by a two rockets 40 miles away on al-Balad airbase, which houses US Air Force trainers.
Three Iraqi military personnel were reported to have been injured in the second assault.
Katib Hizbollah militia, which operates under the PMF, issued a call last night for Iraqi security forces to "move away from American bases by a distance of no less than 1km," starting from Sunday evening, suggesting the attacks would continue.
While such attacks, which have in the past been claimed by the Population Mobilisation Forces (PMF), on US installations in Iraq are not unusual, the timing and targets appeared to suggest a coordinated response.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who effectively led the PMF - an umbrella of militias in Iraq dominated by groups aligned with Iran - was killed on Friday alongside Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's powerful Quds force.
The group had vowed revenge, as has Iran, which will likely be plotting a much more significant attack on American interests in the region.
Mourners yesterday chanted “Death to America” as they escorted the pair’s coffin through the streets of Iraq, while a red flag symbolising a call for revenge was raised in Iran’s holiest city.
The tens of thousands-strong crowd, dressed mostly in black and military fatigues, carried the banners of the PMF that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani.
The tens of thousands-strong crowd, dressed mostly in black and military fatigues, carried the banners of Iran-backed militias that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani.
Many more stayed off the streets, expressing fear that the killing by the US of the head of the powerful Quds Force would spark a new deadly confrontation in the region and Iraq would become the staging ground.
Iranian state television aired images of a ceremony honouring Soleimani at Jamkarān mosque in the city of Qom, where the red flag was hoisted above the minarets. Red flags in Shia Islam tradition symbolises blood spilled unjustly and serves as a call to avenge a person who is killed.
On the flag were the Arabic words “ya Latharat al-Hossein,” meaning “Revenge for Hussein”, in reference to Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
According to experts, who said they believed it was the first time the flag had been raised above the mosque, it will not be lowered until the assassination of the 62-year-old general is avenged.
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Abel Abdul Mahdi, who has good relations with both Tehran and Washington, moved through the crowds in Baghdad as he paid his respects, though he did not give an address.
Watch: First Time In The History of Iran, Red Flag hoisted Over The Holy Dome Of Jamkarān Mosque,Iran.
This is one of the most significant Mosque of Iran
Red Flag: A Symbol Of Severe Battle/War To Come. pic.twitter.com/bZlO38U76U
— Wars on the Brink (@WarsontheBrink) January 4, 2020
The funeral procession is expected to last several days as Soleimani’s coffin is led through Shia holy cities in both countries, to Tehran for a public farewell, and then to his home province of Kerman for burial on Tuesday.
In neighbouring Iran, billboards appeared on major streets showing Soleimani and carrying the warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that "harsh revenge" awaits the US.
Flags flew at half-staff around the country and its embassies across the globe, concerts and sports events were cancelled.
Illustrating Soleimani's regional reach, Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, including the territory's Hamas rulers, opened a mourning site for celebrated commander and dozens gathered to burn American and Israeli flags.
Iranian state TV showed Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, meeting Soleimani’s daughters to offer his condolences. “Who will take the revenge of my father?” one asked.
He is heard to reply to the sobbing young woman in a black hijab: "Rest assured that his revenge will be taken. Everyone will take revenge.”
Mr Rouhani, who is often described as a moderate in the government, added. “There will be a thunderbolt reponse (...) The Americans will see the effects of this criminal act, not only today but for years to come."
An Iranian commander suggested that dozens of American facilities and military assets in the Middle East were at risk, along with Israel, a key US ally.
“Thirty-five vital American positions in the region are within the reach of the Islamic Republic, and Tel Aviv,” the commander, Brig. Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh, was quoted as saying.
“The Strait of Hormuz is a vital thoroughfare for the West, and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf.”
Some Iraqis, conversely, celebrated in Baghdad's streets. Soleimani was accused of orchestrating violent crackdowns on peaceful pro-democracy protests there in recent months, in which hundreds have been killed.
Demonstrators have been out on the streets for weeks protesting against perceived government corruption and growing unemployment, as well as Iran’s interference in the country’s affairs.
It was reported yesterday that Soleimani met with Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) commanders in Baghdad in October and told them to step up attacks on the US in Iraq. According to Reuters, he had formed a secret new group and sent them a batch of weapons.
“While Soleimani is hated by many, including many Iraqi Shias, there are Shia who feel like they’re under an existential threat and are mourning the killing of soleimani who was seen as the fighter against ISIS,” one activist said.
“And it has to do with some Shias feeling like they need to stick with those who will protect them against being wiped out.”
Shokoufeh, a 21-year-old student in the central city of Shiraz, neither mourned nor celebrated. She said she feared what was coming next.
She and some others hoped Washington and Tehran would use diplomacy to ease the worst crisis in relations since Iranian hardline students stormed the US embassy shortly after the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.
"I don't back his cause. It brought us misery and confrontation and isolation,” she said. “I just want peace with America and our neighbours.”
Britain warns nationals against travel to Iraq and Iran
Britain has warned its nationals to avoid all travel to Iraq, outside the Kurdistan region, and to avoid all but essential travel to Iran following the death of Qassem Soleimani.
"Given heightened tensions in the region, the Foreign Office now advise people not to travel to Iraq, with the exception of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and to consider carefully whether it's essential to travel to Iran," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
"We will keep this under review."
Thousands in Baghdad mourn Iranian general killed by US
Thousands of mourners marched Saturday in a funeral procession through Baghdad for Iran's top general and Iraqi militant leaders chanting "Death to America."
Iraq's prime minister attended the mourning procession Saturday for Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed in a US strike the previous day.
Adel Abdel Mahdi joined Muhandis associate Hadi al-Ameri, Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim and other pro-Iran figures in a large crowd accompanying the coffins.
The mourners, mostly men in black military fatigues, carried Iraqi flags and the flags of Iran-backed militias that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani.
The procession began at the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad, one of the most revered sites in Shiite Islam. Mourners marched in the streets alongside militia vehicles in a solemn procession.
The mourners, many of them in tears, chanted: "No, No, America," and "Death to America, death to Israel." Mohammed Fadl, a mourner dressed in black, said the funeral is an expression of loyalty to the slain leaders. "It is a painful strike, but it will not shake us," he said.
Two helicopters hovered over the procession, which was attended by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and leaders of Iran-backed militias.
The gates to Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy, were closed.
US denies role in Taji attack
The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State has said that it did not conduct any airstrikes near Taji ,north of Baghdad.
"FACT: the coalition @cjtfoir did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days," a spokesman said on Twitter.
FACT: The Coalition @CJTFOIR did NOT conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days.
— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) January 4, 2020
Earlier on Saturday, Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces said the airstrikes had killed six people and critically wounded three. Iraqi state television blamed the US.
How the world reacted
The world responded to the killing of Qassim Soleimani with a mixture of shock, applause and incredulity.
The Washington Examiner called the killing a "great moment for the United States that should be celebrated by all Americans". The Kremlin said the attack "grossly violates international law and should be condemned". The New York Post lead its front page with the headline "Blown Away".
Reports: Strike was attack on Imam Ali Brigades
Pentagon officials have told Newsweek that Saturday's attack was on the Imam Ali Brigades, an Iraqi Shia militia with ties to Iran. It said there was a “high probability” that the strike resulted in the death of the brigades leader and confirmed that it was a US operation.
Anti-US threats flood social media
Thousands of messages threatening retribution for the killing of Qassim Soleimani have flooded social media in a “coordinated” propaganda campaign.
More than 21,000 Instagram posts used the hashtag #hardrevenge on Friday, along with almost 7,000 unique Twitter accounts.
The accounts shared repetitive images of coffins draped in American flags, heroic depictions of Soleimani and photos of US military officials, such as Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with bullseye targets digitally imposed on their faces and the words “coming soon”. Instagram was flooded with pictures of American flags on caskets with the words "prepare the coffins".
Sanders tables bill to stop war with Iran
Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, has tweeted that he will put a bill before Congress "to stop Donald Trump from illegally taking us to war against Iran."
"It's working-class kids who will have to fight and die in a disastrous new Middle East conflict—not the children of billionaires," Sanders said.
I am introducing a bill with Rep. Khanna to stop Donald Trump from illegally taking us to war against Iran.
It's working-class kids who will have to fight and die in a disastrous new Middle East conflict—not the children of billionaires. https://t.co/H6ZHjijCnj
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 4, 2020
Iran ambassador: war has entered a new stage
The United States' killing of Iran's most prominent military commander, Qassem Soleimani, is virtual to starting a war and "the response for a military action is a military action," Iran's UN ambassador has said.
Majid Takht Ravanchi told CNN that by "assassinating" Soleimani, the US had entered a new stage after starting an "economic war" by imposing tough sanctions on Iran in 2018.
"So that was ... a new chapter which is tantamount to opening a war against Iran," Ravanchi said.
Mr Ravanchi, echoing Iranian leaders, said there would be harsh revenge. "The response for a military action is a military action," he said.
Earlier on Friday, the ambassador told the UN Security Council and that Iran reserves the right to self-defence under international law.
In a letter, Mr Ravanchi said the killing of Soleimani "is an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular ... the Charter of the United Nations."
Trump ate ice cream and meatloaf at Mar-a-Lago as Soleimani died
Donald Trump was enjoying a meal of meatloaf and ice cream at his Mar-a-Lago resort when he learnt that Gen Qassim Soleimani had been killed in Baghdad.
Shortly after the president finished his dessert, he used his phone to tweet a photograph of the American flag.
Mr Trump's risky gamble to launch a decapitation strike against Iran's second most powerful man had gone like clockwork.
Breaking: Iran will respond, says its UN ambassador
Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran's UN ambassador, has told CNN that the US attack on Soleimani was "tantamount to opening a war against Iran".
"The response for a military action is a military action," he said.
"The response for a military action is a military action,” Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, tells @ErinBurnett. “By whom? By... when? Where? That is for the future to witness.” pic.twitter.com/XR6mCrLbys
— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN) January 4, 2020
Watch: The US attack on Soleimani
Airstrikes kill five - Iraqi army source
An Iraqi official says an airstrike has hit two cars carrying Iran-backed militia north of Baghdad, one day after US attack on Qassem Soleimani. The official said five members of the militia were killed. He said the identity of those killed was not immediately known. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters.
— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) January 3, 2020