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35 killed in stampede at Iranian general’s funeral procession

Tehran: 35 people were killed and 48 others injured in a stampede that erupted at a funeral procession for Gen Qasem Soleimani slain in a US airstrike.

According to the report, the stampede erupted in Kerman, the hometown of Soleimani where the procession was under way.

A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main thoroughfares and side streets in Tehran.

Soleimani’s body was brought to his hometown for burial on Tuesday as the US defence secretary denied reports that the US military was preparing to withdraw from Iraqi territory.

The death of Qasem Soleimani, who built up Tehran’s network of proxy forces across the region, has prompted mass mourning in Iran and led to renewed Iranian threats to drive US troops from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence.

US and Iranian warnings of new strikes and retaliation have stoked concerns about a broader Middle East conflict and led to calls in the US Congress for legislation to stop US President Donald Trump going to war with Iran.

“We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami told tens of thousands of mourners in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman, many of them chanting “Death to America” and waving the Iranian flag.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and top military commanders have said Iranian retaliation for the US action would match the scale of Soleimani’s killing but that it would be at a time and place of Tehran’s choosing.

“The martyr Qasem Soleimani is more dangerous to the enemy than Qasem Soleimani,” Salami said, after the general’s body ended a tour of Iraqi and Iranian cities following his death on Friday that clogged streets with mourners.

Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the US military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that American troops would be repositioned in preparation to leave, drawing a swift denial from the Pentagon.

“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Defence Secretary Mark Esper told reporters. “I don’t know what that letter is.”

US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was a “poorly worded” draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by US forces.

The letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source, had caused confusion about the future of the roughly 5,000 US troops still in Iraq, where there has been a US military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

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