Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated dramatically after a US air strike killed Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias.
The Pentagon confirmed the attack at Baghdad’s international airport on Friday, saying it came “at the direction of the president”.
Soleimani and al-Muhandis’s deaths are a potential turning point in the geopolitics of the Middle East and Iran has vowed a “harsh” response. to draw severe retaliation from Iran and the forces it backs in the region against Israel and US interests.
Here are all the latest updates amid the heightened tensions.
Saturday, January 4:
Qatari FM to visit Iran
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani is slated to visit Iran on Saturday, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
During his visit to Tehran, the top Qatari diplomat will hold talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter, without providing more details.
Iraqi PM attends funeral processions
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister attended a mourning procession underway in Baghdad for those killed in a US strike on Friday.
Adel Abdul Mahdi joined al-Muhandis’ associate Hadi al-Ameri, Shia scholar Ammar al-Hakim, and other pro-Iran figures in a large crowd accompanying the coffins.
Britain warns nationals against travel to Iraq, Iran
Britain warned its nationals to avoid all travel to Iraq, outside the Kurdistan region, and to avoid all but essential travel to Iran.
“Given heightened tensions in the region, the Foreign Office now advise people not to travel to Iraq, with the exception of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and to consider carefully whether it’s essential to travel to Iran,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“We will keep this under review.”
Iraqi parliament expected to meet
The Iraqi parliament is due to have an emergency session on Sunday in response to caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s call to take measures to preserve Iraq’s security.
“There are increasing calls for the full withdrawal of foreign troops, including US troops from Iraq,” Al Jazeera’s Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said.
“It is unclear how the procedure for that would unfold.”
Funeral processions underway
Thousands rallied in Baghdad as a convoy carrying the bodies of those killed in the US air strike on Friday passes through the fortified Green Zone.
Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said the convoy is expected to be moving towards the other side of the Tigris River, according to a security guard guarding the Green Zone.
The convoy included eight ambulances which carried the bodies of those killed, and several other vehicles full of PMF, Foltyn said.
“We can see and hear crowds of mourners and supporters of the PMF who are approaching one of the gates of the Green Zone. It remains to be seen if security forces will allow these crowds to march through across to the other side,” she said.
Iraq military denies air strike took place
Iraq’s military denied on Saturday an air strike had taken place on a medical convoy in Taji, north of Baghdad.
Earlier on Saturday, Iraq’s state television reported an attack was carried out by the US.
US-led coalition denies conducting new Baghdad air strike
The US-led coalition fighting the ISIL (ISIS) group said on Saturday said it did not conduct any air strikes near Camp Taji north of Baghdad, shortly after Iraq’s PMF said air strikes near the area killed six people and wounded three others, adding that none of its top leaders was killed.
“FACT: the coalition @cjtfoir did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days,” a spokesman said on Twitter.
Earlier on Saturday, Iraq’s state television reported the attack was carried out by the US, and that it was targeting a convoy of an Iran-backed militia.
Thousands gather for funeral procession
Thousands of people have joined a funeral procession in Baghdad for Soleimani, al-Muhandis, and others who died in the same air strike. The procession started in Kadhimiya and was heading towards the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound, where a state funeral was due to be held.
Read more updates here.
Al Jazeera and news agencies