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Mock funeral procession held in Baghdad to mark anniversary of Soleimani killing

Memorial event held for former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, both killed in US drone strike last year

An Iraqi woman carries a poster at Baghdad Airport, in Baghdad on January 2, 2021, at the site of the killing of an Iraqi commander and the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
An Iraqi woman carries a poster at Baghdad Airport, in Baghdad on January 2, 2021, at the site of the killing of an Iraqi commander and the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

BAGHDAD (AP) — A mock funeral procession marked the anniversary of the killing of Iran’s top general and a senior Iraqi militia leader in a US drone strike that heightened fears of a military escalation in the region.

Thousands of mourners joined the march on the highway leading to the Baghdad airport Saturday evening where the strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis took place. Soleimani’s killing dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the region and brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.

Posters of the dead men adorned both sides of the road, which was lined with tents that served food and drinks for those who walked the highway. The scene of the bombing was turned into a shrine-like area sealed off by red ropes, with a photo of Soleimani and al-Muhandis in the middle, as mourners lit candles.

Shrapnel marks were still visible on the asphalt and walls in the area.

Supporters of the Hashed al-Shaabi hold a candlelight vigil at the site of the January 3, 2020 US drone strike on Qasem Solemani at Baghdad Airport, in Baghdad, Iraq on January 2, 2021 (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Soleimani headed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s foreign operations and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

The procession came as Iraq’s military said that explosives experts with its naval forces successfully dismantled a mine that was discovered stuck to an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf two days earlier.

The statement Saturday said Iraqi authorities have opened an investigation into the incident. No group has claimed responsibility for placing the mine.

The announcement came a day after Iraq confirmed reports by private security firms that a mine had been discovered attached to the side of a tanker rented from Iraq’s Oil Marketing Company, known as SOMO, as it was refueling another vessel. It said that Iraqi teams were working to dismantle the mine.

People carry portraits of late Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad Airport, in Baghdad on January 2, 2021, at the site of their killing (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Iraq has not provided further details, but the two private security firms said the discovery was likely a limpet mine on the MT Pola, a Liberian-flagged tanker.

A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that attaches to the side of a ship, usually by a diver-member of special forces. It later explodes, and can significantly damage a vessel.

The discovery came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Already, America has conducted B-52 bomber flyovers and sent a nuclear submarine into the Persian Gulf over what Trump officials describe as the possibility of an Iranian attack on the anniversary of the strike near Baghdad that killed Soleimani and al-Muhandis.

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