Iran-backed groups in Iraq promise revenge against US at memorial for slain fighters

Fears are growing about an increasingly violent escalation between Iran-backed groups and US forces

Amid tight security measures, hundreds of Shiite militiamen and supporters converged in Baghdad for the symbolic funeral procession of four fighters killed in Monday’s US strike along Iraq-Syria border, calling for retaliation.

Fighters in military uniforms held pictures of the slain fighters, waiving Iraqi and Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) flags.

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Those who were killed are our brothers and sons and their blood will not be in vain and we will have revenge

Threats to retaliate are not simply posturing. On Monday evening, Iran-backed groups stationed in eastern Syria launched rockets against US and Kurdish forces at the Omar oil field. Media outlets linked to the groups including Sabreen news said the rocket attacks were the first act of retaliation against the US.

There were no reported casualties, but past escalations have seen US soldiers killed, followed by retaliatory air strikes on the militias.

The PMF is an umbrella organisation of militia groups ostensibly under Iraqi government control, although the majority of them are backed by Iran.

Some banners read: “The blood of our sons will terminate America forever,” and “targeting PMF must expedite the evacuation and withdrawal of all foreign troops.”

Some shouted, “Death, death for America” and “No, no for America.”

Iraqi security forces have closed off all roads leading to Baghdad’s Hurria Square in Jadiriyah neighbourhood.

"Those who were killed are our brothers and sons and their blood will not be in vain and we will have revenge," Ali Adnan Al Saiedi, a Saraya Ashoura's fighter, told The National.

“America has violated the Iraqi sovereignty and wants to draw Al Hashid to a confrontation,” Mr Al Saiedi added.

He held the Iraqi flag, wearing a badge on his chest with images of Qassem Suleimani and Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis.

Suleimani was an Iranian general who led Iran's unconventional warfare efforts abroad, working in an advisory role for Iran-backed groups in the region.

He was killed on January 3 in an American drone strike alongside Muhandis, who was the de facto head of the PMF.

Baghdad resident Khlood Abdul-Kadir Jawad furiously pumped her first into air when the four wooden coffins that were wrapped with the Iraqi flags passed by.

"Allahu Akbar, America is the Great Satan," she shouted.
"America wants to create chaos in Iraq," Ms Jawad, 51, who is an English teacher, told The National.
"It {US] wants to return and occupy the country again, but with the presence of the Islamic resistance this will not happen," she said as she wore a black, ankle-length traditional abaya and wrapped the Iraqi flag around her neck.
"We, and our sons in the Hashed, will never stay silent after this attack…for sure, there will be escalation," she said, using the Arabic name for the PMF.


"The Hashed is the backbone of Iraq's security forces and the government can't abandon it," she said.
The anti-American sentiment was shared by her friend Awan Ali Sherwan, who believes Iraq can defend and protect itself without the help of outsiders.
"Iraq is a sovereign state with a constitution and security forces that are able to protect its people, why haven't the American troops have not left yet?" Ms Sherwan, 36, said.
"American presence in Iraq must be terminated," she said.

Top militia commanders, Falih Al Fayyadh, Hadi Al Amiri who head Badr Brigades as well as several high-ranking figures attended the funeral.
They did not make any statements. The funeral procession was short and stayed outside the Green Zone unlike the 2019 funeral for several PMF fighters who were also killed by US airstrikes.

In a rare event, the Iraqi government strongly condemned the air strikes, calling the attack a violation of its sovereignty.

Hadi Jalo Marie, chairman of the Political Decision think tank in Baghdad, said the unprecedented stance from the government could explain internal and external pressures.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi "is trying to restore the relations with Al Hashed after series of failed attempts in which he tried to rein in pro-Iran groups," Mr Marie said.
He added that the results of the Iranian elections and Iran's ongoing negotiations with world power "have also forced Baghdad to re-visit its policy or at least want to unify the internal front."
However, the government's stance will not stop these groups from launching retaliatory attacks, he said.

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