Chanting "Revenge" against American “occupiers”, tens of thousands of Iraqis converged on a landmark square in central Baghdad on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Iran's revered Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).
Roads leading to Tahrir Square were closed off and security was tight as the crowds gathered in response to a call by the PMU for a rally marking the occasion and demanding the expulsion of US troops from Iraq.
“No, no to America!” shouted the crowd. “You killed our guest. There is no place here for your embassy,” read some of the banners.
Protesters at one point set fire to a large US flag, drawing cheers from the crowd, AP reported.
Giant posters of Soleimani and Muhandis were hung up above the iconic square.
The anniversary of the assassination in Baghdad – which brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war in early 2020 – was also marked in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and other parts of the world.
The lead-up to the commemorations of the commanders has again heightened regional tensions in the weeks before US President Donald Trump, who ordered the targeted killing, leaves the White House.
“We call upon the government and parliament to expel the occupying foreign forces, especially the brutal American forces, the infidels, the immoral people, who killed the heroes and leaders of victory,” said Muhammad Shubr al-Husseini, a protester said.
"We have come to say no to America and to any other occupiers who wants to come and defile our land," one of the mourners, Oum Mariam, said.
After the assassination, Iraq's parliament voted to expel US forces from the country – but despite some withdrawals, about 3,000 American troops remain in the country.
The PMU led the somber and angry vigils for Muhandis and General Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Thousands of black-clad mourners Saturday night gathered at the spot near Baghdad's International Airport, where the US hit the two vehicles and assassinated Soleimani, Muhandis and eight other men.
By candlelight, they honored the martyrs and condemned the American "great Satan" at the site, where nearby walls are still pockmarked by shrapnel.
The scene of the bombing was turned into a shrine-like area sealed off by red ropes, with a photo of Soleimani and Muhandis in the middle.
The wreckage of two cars was on display on the road outside the airport as a reminder of the attack.
"We tell America and the enemies of Islam that they can inflict the greatest sacrifices on us, but we will continue to resist despite the bloodshed," said Batul Najjar, according to AFP.
Iranians held various ceremonies across the county to pay tribute to General Soleimani.
In Lebanon, the resistance group Hezbollah marked the anniversary with a symbolic event on a hill in the country's south.
Hezbollah fighters dressed in military uniforms swore the oath of Hezbollah while officials raised the group's yellow flag with posters of Soleimani and Muhandis on it.
In the Yemeni capital Sana’a, thousands vowed to avenge General Soleimani’s assassination.
The leader of Yemen's Houthi Ansarullah movement Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said in a televised speech that the US assassinated Soleimani and Muhandis because they were the “freedom-seeking leaders” of the Muslim world.
Amid the tensions, Iraqis, and many in the wider region, are nervously watching for any signs of escalation before Trump leaves the White House on January 20.
In recent days, US B-52 bombers have flown across the region for the second time in less than a month but, in what some read as a sign of de-escalation, Washington has also reportedly ordered its Nimitz aircraft carrier to leave the Persian Gulf.
IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami vowed Saturday to respond to any "action the enemy takes", as he visited a strategic Persian Gulf island.
"We would respond with a reciprocal, decisive and strong blow to whatever action the enemy would take against us," Salami warned.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday said Trump is aiming to fabricate a "pretext for war", after the US president blamed Tehran for a December 20 rocket strike on the American Embassy in Baghdad.
Zarif on Saturday also said that, in Iraq, "Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans (to put) Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli".