Iranian state TV estimated Sunday that millions of mourners came out in Ahvaz and Mashhad to pay their respects as the remains of top general Qasem Soleimani were paraded through the streets after he was killed in a US strike.
Reports said these were the largest processions in the country since the 1989 funeral for Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The casket moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally symbolize both the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and a call for vengeance.
The processions marked the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Khomeini, received such a processional with his death in 1989.
More than 10 million people took part in that funeral with his body famously being tipped out the coffin by the frantic masses.
Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.
Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions. He will be buried in his hometown of Kerman.
Black-clad mourners packed Iran’s second city Mashhad on Sunday. “Iran’s wearing black, revenge, revenge,” they chanted as darkness fell and they followed a truck carrying Soleimani’s coffin towards the floodlit Imam Reza shrine.
The mourners threw scarves onto the roof of the truck so that they could be blessed by the “blood of the martyr.”
Soleimani, who spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport. He was 62.
The attack was ordered by US President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.
Soleimani’s remains had been returned before dawn to the southwestern city of Ahvaz, where the air resonated with Shiite chants and shouts of “Death to America” during a procession.
People held aloft portraits of Soleimani, one of the country’s most popular public figures who is seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The “million-man” turnout in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, forced the cancellation of a Sunday night ceremony in Tehran, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who urged citizens instead to attend a memorial Monday at Tehran University.
In the face of growing Iraqi anger over the strike, the country’s parliament Sunday urged the government to oust the roughly 5,200 American troops in Iraq.
Soleimani’s assassination ratcheted up tensions between arch-enemies Tehran and Washington and sparked fears of a new Middle East war.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” and declared three days of mourning.
In Tehran, deputies chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a regular session of parliament.
“Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” said speaker Ali Larijani.
Soleimani’s remains and those of five other Iranians — all Guards members — killed in the US drone strike had arrived at Ahvaz airport before dawn, semi-official news agency ISNA said.
With them were the remains of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group, who was also killed in the strike.
Soleimani’s remains are to be flown to the capital, where Khamenei is due to pray over them at Tehran University on Monday before being taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony at Masumeh shrine, ahead of a funeral Tuesday in his hometown Kerman.