Thousands Mourn Soleimani In Baghdad

Jan 4, 2020
Originally published on January 4, 2020 4:40 pm
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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Thousands turned out for a funeral procession in Baghdad today for Iran's slain military commander and others killed in a drone strike ordered by President Trump.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

FADEL: The procession of General Qassem Soleimani's coffin draped in an Iranian flag on the back of a pickup truck was the first stage of a public send-off that will move to Tehran tomorrow. Many of the mourners wave the flag of a powerful Iraqi paramilitary group supported by Iran to honor the group's leader also killed in the airstrike. Iran's leaders have vowed the killing of Soleimani will not go unanswered.

NPR's Deborah Amos is following the story and joins us from Beirut. Hi, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hello there.

FADEL: Deb, this funeral is starting off in Baghdad. Tensions are already high. It's also the place where the U.S. embassy came under attack by some of the very militiamen on the streets for this funeral. Is there stepped-up security for the embassy?

AMOS: Yes, there is. The embassy is now protected by this elite unit, the Iraqi anti-terrorism service. And the detail comes to us from U.S. sources who can't be identified 'cause they're not authorized to officially comment. But they say that this is an upgrade. You know, last week, when these Iranian-backed militia members attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy, the Iraqi security forces really didn't do anything. So for the funerals today, the Green Zone has actually been closed off. The mourners are not allowed to enter.

Now, tomorrow, the Iraqi parliament is expected to meet. The agenda will be reconsidering the relationship with the U.S. and this agreement that allows U.S. troops in the country. The meeting will be a sign of the strength of anti-American sentiment after the deaths of these two important leaders. Iran is expected to push on their Iraqi proxies to push the U.S. out of Iraq.

FADEL: Now, there's been talk about further destabilization in the Middle East as a result of this assassination, Iraq possibly paying the price for this. Can you talk about the signs of tension in the region?

AMOS: There's lots of them. The U.S. is sending extra troops to the region - 3,000 from the 82nd Airborne are going to Kuwait. There's three regional airlines that have suspended flights to Baghdad. There are reports that American oil workers are leaving Iraq at a time when oil prices have jumped by 4%. And the State Department is urging American citizens to leave from a number of countries - not just Iraq, but Pakistan, the UAE and Bahrain.

FADEL: Wow.

AMOS: World capitals are bracing for what comes next. A French minister said we're waking up to a more dangerous world. It's a statement that U.S. officials challenged.

FADEL: Now, Soleimani has many supporters in Iraq in the region, but he also has his detractors. What has the reaction been like?

AMOS: I'm going to talk about two categories, one in Iraq. You know, for the last three months, there have been these protests on the street. And it's against the government. It's against corruption. And it's particularly against Iranian influence, overwhelming in Iraq. And the protesters have been actually protesting against Soleimani because they say he's responsible for this very violent reaction to the protesters. Five hundred have been killed. They were applauding - Syria, the same. Soleimani helped prop up Bashar al-Assad. Many Syrians think he's responsible for thousands of deaths. But both categories think that they will pay the price for the retaliation that's coming.

FADEL: NPR's Deborah Amos joined us from Beirut. Thank you so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that as of Saturday, the State Department was urging Americans to leave Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.