Tehran’s streets were packed with black-clad mourners Monday as a sea of people turned out to pay their respects to Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad last week.
The mourners clutched photographs of Soleimani, a revered and powerful figure who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Quds Force and led Iran’s overseas operations. Posters with his image, and a black backdrop, were plastered across the capital.
Many of those on the streets of the Iranian capital were visibly upset and angry; others shouted “down with the USA” and “death to the USA.” Iranian state television said millions of people attended, although this figure has yet to be verified.
Soleimani’s body was later taken to a ceremony in the holy city of Qom, ahead of a burial in his hometown of Kerman.
Just weeks before, thousands of anti-government protesters had filled the streets to voice their frustration with Iran’s leaders, as well as the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the country by the Trump administration.
But widespread reverence for Soleimani, who commands a cult-like status in the country, has seemingly united Iranians of all political stripes in anger at the US.
Iranian mourners take part in a funeral procession in Enghelab square in the capital Tehran on January 6, 2020, for slain military commander Qasem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other victims of a US attack. – Downtown Tehran was brought to a standstill as mourners flooded the Iranian capital to pay an emotional homage to Soleimani, the “heroic” general who spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and was killed in a US drone strike on January 3 near Baghdad airport. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Soleimani has been hailed a martyr and a hero inside Iran, especially due to his work in the fight against ISIS. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s ultimate political and religious authority, was photographed praying over Soleimani’s body during the funeral ceremony alongside President Hassan Rouhani.
General Ismail Qaani — Soleimani’s longtime lieutenant and his successor as Quds leader — was seen crying over his coffin.
The US, however, has long viewed Soleimani as a terrorist and adversary. Washington claims he is responsible for aiding and abetting attacks by Iran’s Shia allies against American troops, many of whom were killed during the bloodiest days of the Iraq War and in sectarian conflicts throughout the Middle East.
President Donald Trump said the decision to kill Soleimani was based on intelligence that he had been involved in planning an “imminent attack” that put American lives at risk.
Washington had already carried out a series of airstrikes in Iraq targeting Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group the US held responsible for a series of rocket attacks on American facilities that killed a US contractor.
Trump said Soleimani was killed “to stop a war,” but the action marks a significant escalation that has seen both sides inching dangerously close to the brink of conflict.