The burial ceremony of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most prominent military commander, is taking place in his home town of Kerman.
Major General Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike last Friday near Baghdad airport, will be buried in the town’s “martyrs’ cemetery”.
Thousands of people, many dressed in black, have taken to the streets in mourning.
Although Donald Trump has defended the attack, the fury generated by Maj Gen Soleimani’s death in both Iran and Iraq has led to the US-led coalition scaling back its operations in Baghdad.
American soldiers are set to be “repositioned” after Iraq’s parliament called for all 5,000 US troops to leave the country – and a letter seen by Reuters suggests the US will move its forces over the “coming days and weeks”.
However, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said there had been “no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq”.
Image: The streets of Kerman are filled with mourners ahead of the general’s burial
Image: Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday
Sky News correspondent Mark Stone said: “We understand around 1,100 forces in the green zone in Baghdad will be thinned out by a half or so.
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“Some will be relocated within in Iraq, others in Kuwait.
“The plan we’re told is that at some stage they will come back. The rest of the coalition forces in Iraq will remain.”
Reuters says the letter is from William H Seely III, the American commander of Task Force Iraq, and that it has been independently verified.
Image: The US defence secretary strongly denied the country was pulling out of Iraq
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Top US general Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also sought to play down the letter.
He said it was poorly worded and incorrectly implied withdrawal, when it was only meant to draw attention to increased troop movements.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of the Iranian capital Tehran as Maj Gen Soleimani’s coffin was paraded through the city on Monday.
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The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wept during prayers for the general – and the commander’s daughter warned that the US and Israel faced a “dark day”.
Maj Gen Soleimani was regarded by many as the second-most powerful person in Iran.
Huge crowds accompany General Soleimani’s coffin
He led the Quds unit of Iran’s revolutionary guard and was responsible for expanding the country’s influence in the Middle East – mainly through linked Shia militias.
Mr Trump has hit back at Iran’s vow of “severe revenge” by warning that the US military has identified 52 Iranian sites, including some of cultural significance.
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Britain has reduced staff at its embassies in Iran and Iraq to a minimum level as a precaution, Sky News understands.
The UK’s ambassadors are believed to be staying put.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman has also tried to distance Britain from the US president’s rhetoric.
Iran’s supreme leader cries at Soleimani prayers
The prime minister said Britain believed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran should be preserved, and there were “international conventions in place which prevent the destruction of cultural heritage”.
Iran has said it will no longer abide by restrictions on its uranium enrichment.
Germany’s government has said it is moving some of its military personnel from Iraq to neighbouring countries over the security concerns.
Around 30 of the 120 German soldiers in the country, who mainly train Iraqi security forces, will be redeployed to Jordan and Kuwait.
Source : Sky News