Iraq commemorates top commander killed in US strike

2 min

Baghdad (AFP)

Iraqi officials on Tuesday commemorated Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the senior commander killed in last month's US drone strike that targeted powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Muhandis was the deputy head of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a loose network of paramilitary groups formed in 2014 to fight jihadists that has since been absorbed into the Iraqi state.

He, Soleimani and eight others were killed in the January 3 US strike outside Baghdad's International Airport that Iraq's government slammed as a violation of its sovereignty.

To mark 40 days since their deaths, a tradition in the Middle East, top officials held a memorial service in Baghdad's high-security Green Zone.

Hashed chief Faleh Fayyadh, who also serves as Iraq's national security adviser, attended as did the country's military chief of staff and interior minister.

"The great crime committed near Baghdad airport against the commanders of victory (was) a crime against humanity, against Iraq, against our sovereignty and the defence of our children," Fayyadh told those gathered.

"The blood of these martyrs, in my opinion, will re-establish this Hashed ... May we be a thorn in the eye of anyone wishing to deprive Iraq of its sovereignty."

- Security threat -

Soleimani, as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force, ran Iran's overseas military operations and was Tehran's pointman on Iraqi affairs.

Muhandis was close to Iran and working with his mentor and friend Soleimani to broker deals among Iraq's fractured political elite.

The US considered Soleimani a national security threat, and Trump authorised the drone strike on the two-car convoy in which Soleimani was travelling outside of Baghdad airport.

US officials say Muhandis and the others killed had not been specifically targeted.

The US strike so outraged Iraq's parliament that it swiftly voted to oust all foreign forces, a longstanding demand of the Hashed and its political arm, Fatah.

However, some 5,200 American troops are still based in Iraq, leading the international coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group.

Muhandis's posters were hung up in areas across Baghdad.

But while the country's top military brass praised him as a capable commander on Tuesday, there were no threats of retaliation against the US in their speeches.

A day earlier, the hardline Hashed faction Kataeb Hezbollah hung effigies of Trump and American soldiers across the Iraqi capital.