TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened on Tuesday to “set ablaze” the place beloved by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a US airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of “Death to Israel!”
Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a central square in Kerman, the hometown of the slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His vow mirrored the demands of top Iranian officials — from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to others — as well as supporters across the Islamic Republic, demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.
Salami, who took over the command of the Revolutionary Guard last April, has frequently vowed to destroy Israel and “break America.”
Mourners in Kerman dressed in black carried posters bearing the image of Soleimani, a man whose slaying prompted Iran’s supreme leader to weep over his casket on Monday as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran streets. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.
The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The US blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike near Baghdad’s airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
His slaying already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.
Soleimani’s remains and those of the others killed in the airstrike were brought to a central square in Kerman, a desert city surrounded by mountains that dates back to the days of the Silk Road where he will be buried later on Tuesday.
Salami praised Soleimani’s exploits and said as a martyr, he represented an even greater threat to Iran’s enemies.
“We will take revenge. We will set ablaze that place they love… and they well know where it is,” Salami said, drawing the cries of “Death to Israel!”
Iran is a longtime regional foe of Israel, and routinely urges and predicts its destruction.
Salami said in February that Iran was “planning to break America, Israel, and their partners and allies. Our ground forces should cleanse the planet from the filth of their existence.” The previous month, he vowed to wipe Israel off the “global political map,” and to unleash an “inferno” on the Jewish state. He also said “Iran has warned the Zionist regime not to play with fire, because they will be destroyed before the US helps them.” Any new war, he said, “will result in Israel’s defeat within three days, in a way that they will not find enough graves to bury their dead.”
According to a report on Tuesday by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans for revenge for Soleimani’s killing. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even the weakest among them would be a “historic nightmare” for the US. He declined to give any details,
“If the US troops do not leave our region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies horizontally out,” Shamkhani said.
Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, passed an urgent bill declaring the US military’s command at the Pentagon in Washington and those acting on its behalf “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to mirror a decision by President Donald Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.”
The US Defense Department used the Guard’s designation as a terror organization in the US to support the strike that killed Soleimani. The decision by Iran’s parliament, done by a special procedure to speed the bill to law, comes as officials across the country threaten to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing.
Also Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the US had declined to issue him a visa to travel to New York for upocoming meetings at the United Nations. The US as the host of the UN headquarters is supposed to allow foreign officials to attend such meetings.
“They fear that someone comes to the US and reveals realities,” Zarif said and added: “The world is not limited to New York and you can talk to the American people from Tehran and we will do that.”
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ToI staff contributed to this article.