US to send 3,500 troops to Middle East Fury, tears as thousands in Baghdad mourn Soleimani killing; Two rockets target Iraqi air base housing US troops

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WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD The United States plans to deploy at least 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East after Iran pledged to avenge the killing on Friday of one of its top military commanders in Baghdad. As world leaders urged restraint from all sides, Iran’s allies rallied behind the Islamic republic, and tens of thousands of angry protesters in Tehran torched US flags and chanted “Death to America.” Two rockets Saturday hit Iraq’s Al-Balad air base, where US troops are stationed, while two mortars hit Baghdad’s Green Zone, a high-security enclave housing the US embassy, security sources said. Sirens immediately rang out at the American compound in Baghdad hosting both diplomats and troops, sources there told AFP. The Al-Balad base, north of Baghdad, was hit by Katyusha rockets, security sources said. In Washington, a Pentagon official said 3,000 to 3,500 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division’s Global Response Force, which already had sent hundreds of reinforcements earlier this week, will be deployed in the region. “The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities,” the official said. Meanwhile, the US carried out a new air strike targeting a commander in Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force near camp Taji north of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least six people and wounding several others. A new strike targeted a convoy belonging to the Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary network whose Shiite-majority factions have close ties to Iran, the group said in a statement. It did not say who was responsible but Iraqi state television reported it was a US air strike. Two of the three vehicles making up a convoy were found burned, the source said, as well as six burned corpses. The strikes took place at 1:12 am local time, he said. Thousands of Iraqis chanting “Death to America” on Saturday mourned the Iranian commander and others killed in a US drone attack that sparked fears of a regional proxy war between Washington and Tehran. But the strike — which killed four more Irania Guards and five members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network — infuriated Iran, whose ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, called it an “act of war” by its arch-enemy. On Saturday, the Hashed said a new strike had hit a convoy of their forces north of Baghdad, with Iraqi state media blaming the US. Iraq’s caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi joined Muhandis associate Hadi al-Ameri, Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim, former PM Nuri al-Maliki and other pro-Iran figures in large crowds accompanying the coffins. The coffins were first brought to a revered Shia shrine in northern Baghdad, where thousands of mourners chanted “Death to America!” Dressed in black, they waved white Hashed flags and massive portraits of Iranian and Iraqi leaders, furiously calling for “revenge”. The remains were later to be taken to the Shia holy city of Najaf to the south, and the remains of the Guards will then be flown to Iran, which has declared three days of mourning. On Saturday, a US official told AFP the US-led forces were scaling back operations and refocusing surveillance to watch for new rocket attacks. — AFP/Reuters