Middle East

Ayatollah Weeps And Iranians Rail Against U.S. During Funeral For Slain Commander


During a funeral procession at Revolution Square in Tehran on Monday, crowds surround the coffins of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike.
Ebrahim Noroozi, AP

During a funeral procession at Revolution Square in Tehran on Monday, crowds surround the coffins of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike.

Updated at 11:45 a.m. ET

Vast crowds thronged the streets of Tehran on Monday to pay respects to Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force who was killed last week in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

In a eulogy, Soleimani's daughter appeared to threaten U.S. forces in the region, and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wept for the fallen general.

Zeinab Soleimani, her voice broadcast to mourners by loudspeakers, warned that "the families of the American soldiers ... will spend their days waiting for the death of their children."

Cheers rose from the crowd, which Iranian media said was the largest such procession since the 1989 funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had overthrown Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and founded Iran's Islamic Republic a decade before.

Many of the black-clad mourners on Monday openly wept and beat their chests in a show of anguish. Some mourners held white flowers; others wore red headbands. The crowds held up portraits, posters and newspaper photos of Soleimani, whose image has appeared on the hundreds of large billboards all across Tehran since his death Friday.

Khamenei, who followed Khomeini as supreme leader, prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others killed in a U.S. airstrike as they were leaving Baghdad International Airport in neighboring Iraq. During the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead, Khamenei wept.

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Soleimani's successor, Esmail Ghaani, stood alongside Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

"God the almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken," Ghaani said in an interview with Iranian state television that aired Monday, according to The Associated Press.

"We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani's path as firmly as before with help of God, and in return for his martyrdom, we aim to get rid of America from the region," Ghaani said.

Reporting from Tehran, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly says a woman attending the funeral on the edge of Revolution Square tugged at her sleeve, repeating the Farsi word for "revenge."

Azam Ayoubian, a travel agent in Tehran, began crying as she called President Trump "a crazy man."

"After the sanctions on Iran, we lost a lot of clients. But that is not any problem for us," she told NPR through tears. "We can live without work. But without [Soleimani], it's very difficult."

Soleimani became a storied national figure as leader of the Quds Force, the elite military organization charged with exerting Iran's influence outside its borders. U.S. officials have blamed him for the deaths of hundreds of American service members, by supplying weapons to Iranian-allied militias.

One woman, who gave only her last name Ameri, drove about 120 miles from Shahroud to the capital to attend the funeral. She said she is not concerned about the possibility of a war with the United States.

"We have seen worse than this," she said. "I myself have seen the war between Iraq and Iran, when I was a child. We have experience in this, and we are not worried about it."

Ali Ahmadi, a 34-year-old insurance agent from Zanjan, brought his 4-year-old daughter to the funeral procession. Like many Iranians, he blamed the United States for the rising tensions between the two countries.

"War is not a good thing, and we don't like it. Iran is looking for peace," Ahmadi said. "But if it goes to a place where we have to go to war and we have to defend ourselves, then we will all stand. I am young, and I can stand, and I can go to war."

"I should remind you: We are all Gen. Soleimanis in Iran," he added. "And we will stand by our leader and by our country till our last drop of blood."

The targeted killing of Soleimani, 62, widely seen as second in Iran only to Khamenei, was ordered by Trump, who says the general was masterminding "imminent" attacks on U.S. diplomats and military targets.

The president has said that killing Soleimani was meant to prevent war, but Tehran has vowed to hit back and experts on the region say more violence is inevitable.

In Lebanon, Iran-backed Hezbollah said U.S. military bases, warships and military personnel could come under attack in revenge for Soleimani's death. The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia has warned Americans in the Kingdom that there is a "heightened risk of missile and drone attacks," AP reports.

Soleimani's death has brought the Washington-Tehran relationship to a new low. Iran seized the moment to abandon most of the remaining limits on its nuclear weapons program that had been capped under a 2015 agreement between Iran and six other countries, led by the U.S.

The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. Beginning last summer, Tehran began to increase the level of uranium enrichment beyond the terms of the agreement. On Sunday, Iran said it would no longer honor a commitment to limit its uranium enrichment. Thus far, Iran says it will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and permit inspectors in its production facilities.

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