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Gunmen in Iraq wound two trying to stop Soleimani memorial

By AFP - Jan 08,2022 - Last updated at Jan 08,2022

A crowd gathers during commemorations marking the second anniversary of the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, on Saturday (AFP photo)

KUT, Iraq — Gunmen in Iraq on Saturday shot and wounded two protesters who disrupted an anniversary commemoration of the death of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, a security source said.

Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was killed on January 3, 2020 in a US drone strike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

He was killed along with his Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, deputy leader of the pro-Iran Hashed Al Shaabi, a coalition of former paramilitary groups now integrated into the Iraqi state security apparatus.

Tehran and its Middle East allies have in recent days held a series of emotional commemorations to mark the second anniversary of the assassinations.

According to the security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, some “150 to 200 demonstrators” stormed the ceremony in the Iraqi city of Kut, some 160 kilometres southeast of Baghdad.

The protesters tried to “prevent” the commemoration, moving in just before it was due to begin and tearing down portraits of Soleimani and Muhandis, he said.

“Members of an armed faction opened fire and wounded two demonstrators,” the source said, without giving further details.

Sajjad Salem, an independent member of parliament linked to an anti-government protest movement that began in October 2019, posted a video on Facebook showing armed men in a square, with gunshots ringing out.

Salem said the video showed shots being fired by members of the Asaib Ahl Al Haq force, a key component of the Hashed.

The commemoration was suspended and security forces have deployed heavily though Kut, an AFP reporter said.

Detractors of the Hashed accuse it of acting on behalf of Iran, which wields considerable cross-border influence in Iraq, and accuse it of crushing the protests that began in 2019.

In recent days, the US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Iraq has come under fire, including from rockets, but with no reported casualties.

Washington has blamed those attacks on “Iran-backed groups”.

The US said at the time that Soleimani was planning imminent action against US personnel in Iraq, a country long torn between the competing demands of its principal allies Washington and Tehran.

 

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