Iran-backed militias in Iraq hold funeral for militants killed in US strikes

Retaliatory US attacks in Iraq and Syria killed at least 16 Iraqis and wounded 25 others

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Raising anti-US slogans, Iran-backed militias and their supporters in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq held funeral processions for the fighters killed in US strikes.

Hundreds of militiamen in uniform gathered on Sunday morning in Baghdad at the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization Forces, also known as Hashd Al Shaabi, a network of mainly pro-Iran paramilitary units formed in the battle against ISIS in 2014.

On Friday night, the US military had launched 85 strikes against Tehran-backed militiamen in Iraq and Syria.

At least 16 people were killed, and 25 others wounded in Iraq including civilians, the Iraqi government said.

The attacks were the first wave of retaliation ordered by President Joe Biden for a drone attack that killed three US troops in Jordan on January 28.

“Allahu akbar, America is the Great Satan,” the mourners shouted, waiving Iraqi and PMF flags and vowing retaliation.

The funeral was attended by Hadi Al Amiri, a powerful Shiite politician who heads Badr Organisation, which has an influential militia.

US-sanctioned Falih Al Fayyadh, the chairman of the PMF also took part.

“The Parliament should adopt a courageous decision to defend the Iraqi people to immediately order the departure of these troops out of Iraq,” Mr Al Amiri said.

He also heads the Fatah Alliance, a leading part of the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework, now the largest block in parliament.

“The presence of these forces is a betrayal of the Iraqi people,” Mr Al Amiri said.

International coalition

The US leads an international coalition formed in 2014 to fight ISIS, which at that time controlled large areas in northern and western Iraq.

After declaring ISIS defeated by the end of 2017, about 5,000 US troops remained, along with others from the international coalition.

In 2020, Shiite politicians voted in parliament for the departure of foreign forces after the assassination of Iranian Gen Qassem Suleimani and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

While the US refused to withdraw, former US president Donald Trump reduced the number of soldiers in Iraq to 2,500 and agreed with Iraq to end the US combat mission and to shift it to an advisory and educational one.

Under pressure from Iran-backed Shiite militias and political factions, the government started late last month talks with the US over ending the mission of the International Coalition and replace it with bilateral security agreements.

Mr Al Amiri said these negotiations “mere procrastination and means more sacrifices and blood we offer only to please America”.

For his part, Mr Al Fayyadh, the chairman of PMF, described the attacks as “heinous crime that targeted Hashd Al Shaabi protecting the borders and is based on flimsy, invalid and untrue excuses”.

“All what they [Americans] say about supporting Iraq to defeat terrorism are lies,” he said to the gathering from a stage decorated with the pictures of the slain fighters.

“They are the ones who contribute to weakening our forces and to preventing them from doing their main deputies to defend this country,” he added.

“The Iraqi land will be cleansed of all foreign presence,” he said. “These blood will not go in vain.”

Following the US strikes, the militias vowed retaliation.

Harakat Al Nujaba said it would redouble its resistance to the presence of US forces in Iraq.

“Let the American occupation and its ill-fated administration know that the Islamic resistance will respond with what it deems appropriate at the time and place it wants, and that this is not the end,’’ it said.

‘’We have surprises that will anger the enemy and you will exit Iraq humiliated and disgraced. We will not make peace, we will not retreat, and we will not be defeated.”

Updated: February 04, 2024, 11:15 AM