BAGHDAD (AFP) – Thousands of members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance gathered in Baghdad yesterday to mourn comrades killed in American air strikes along the Syrian border.
The United States (US) raids on Monday sparked an exchange of fire between pro-Iranian militias and the US-led coalition in eastern Syria.
They massed in Freedom Square near the capital’s high-security Green Zone – site of the US embassy.
Security forces were deployed in large numbers, sealing the Green Zone after a string of recent incursions by armed groups.
Several high-ranking Hashed commanders took part in the symbolic funeral, including its top commander Faleh Al-Fayyadh and Hadi al-Ameri, head of one of its main factions, the Badr Organisation.
The mourners, accompanied by vehicles full of gunmen, wore black and held up signs reading: “Attacks on the Hashed must speed up the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.”
Others carried pictures of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Hashed second-in-command Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport last year.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said seven fighters had been killed and at least six more wounded in the strikes on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The Hashed said four of its fighters were killed in the Qaim region near the border.
The fighters were stationed there to prevent extremist infiltrating Iraq, the group said.
The Pentagon said the strikes targetted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one in Iraq, all near the common border, used by militias engaged in drone attacks against US interests in Iraq.
US forces were subsequently “attacked by multiple rockets” in eastern Syria, but there were no casualties and personnel “conducted counter-battery artillery fire at rocket launching positions”, coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto said on Twitter.