HUNDREDS of thousands of mourners yesterday took part in funeral processions to honour General Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.

Hours after his remains arrived from Iraq, throngs of mourners carried his flag-draped coffin from a plane in Ahvaz in south-western Iran, as tensions escalated between Iran and the US.

The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, which includes several pro-Iranian militias.

Shiite militias in Iraq were enraged by Friday’s killings and the Baghdad government accused the US of violating its sovereignty. There are more than 5000 US troops in Iraq and the country’s parliament yesterday voted to expel them. A resolution specifically called for the ending of an agreement under which Washington sent troops to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against Daesh.

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“The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason,” read the resolution.

Although such motions are not binding on the government, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had earlier called on parliament to end the presence of foreign troops.

In a letter to the assembly, Muqtada al-Sadr, a populist cleric who leads the largest parliamentary bloc, called on local and foreign militia groups to unite: “I consider this a weak response insufficient against American violation of Iraqi sovereignty and regional escalation.”

He said a security agreement with the US should be cancelled immediately, its embassy closed, American troops expelled in a humiliating manner and communication with Washington criminalised.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, threatened to bomb 52 sites in Iran if it retaliates by attacking Americans. The sites were said to represent 52 US hostages taken by Iran some years ago, but Trump did not identify them, saying only that “some [are] at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.

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According to the 1954 Hague Convention, of which the US is a signatory, any military are barred from “direct hostilities against cultural property”, although such sites can be targeted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate “military objective”, said the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The US Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks”.

Iran, meanwhile, vowed to take an even greater step away from its unravelling nuclear deal with world powers in response to Soleimani’s death.

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said America’s military in the Middle East region – including US bases, warships and soldiers – were fair targets following the killing of Iran’s top general.

Hassan Nasrallah said evicting US military forces from the region was now a priority, warning in a televised speech: “The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased.”

The US drone strike escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that put the whole of the wider Middle East on edge.

Soleimani was the architect of and ran Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Quds Force.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised on Friday that Iran would seek harsh revenge for his death.

An Iranian minister yesterday condemned Trump as a “terrorist in a suit” after his threat to target 52 Iranian sites if Tehran retaliated.

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Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi, Iran’s information and telecommunications minister, tweeted yesterday: “Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a ‘terrorist in a suit’. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture’.”

As the war of words raged between the two countries, the EU, Britain and Oman urged them to seek to de-escalate the crisis.

Thousands of people mourned in Baghdad on Saturday those killed in the attack. Their bodies were flown to Ahvaz early yesterday, where an honour guard stood as the coffins were carried slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and chanting “death to America”.

Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom today for mourning processions, then burial in his hometown Kerman tomorrow.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab described Soleimani as a “regional menace” and said he was sympathetic to the situation the US found itself in. He told Sky News: “We need to contain the nefarious actions of Iran but we also need to de-escalate and stabilise the situation.”