Masses of mourners packed the streets of Tehran on Monday and the country’s supreme leader openly wept for Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, after he was killed in a US strike in Baghdad.
Mourners chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” and waved flags of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon among others, as they marched down Enghelab Street, a main artery of the Iranian capital.
In freezing early morning temperatures, women in black walked alongside men holding up flags bearing the names of Shiite imams as they walked down the street toward the university. Some held placards with the slogan “#hard_revenge.”
Clutching portraits of Soleimani, a crowd gathered on the outskirts of Tehran University where Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others slain in the attack.
Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani, wept at one point during the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead. The crowd and others wailed.
Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s replacement as head of the expeditionary Quds force, stood near Khamenei’s side, as did Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders in the Islamic Republic.
Soleimani, the country’s most powerful general, was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport in an attack ordered by US President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.
The funeral procession was broadcast live on state television, with screens bearing a black ribbon across the top left hand corner in a rare tribute.
Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened an attack on the US military in the Mideast and said that America and Israel faced a “dark day” for her father’s killing, Al Jazeera reported.
“The families of US soldiers in the Middle East will spend their days waiting for death of their children,” she said to cheers from a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tehran that stretched as far as the eye could see.
“Hey crazy Trump, you are the symbol of stupidity and a toy in the hand of international Zionists,” she added, according to CNN.
While Iran recently faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly killed over 300 people, Soleimani’s mass processionals has seen politicians and leaders across the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum take part, temporarily silencing that anger.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Sunday offered his condolences to Khamenei, according to the supreme leader’s official website.
“Soleimani’s martyrdom caused great sorrow,” said the statement.
“His unique role over the years in fighting with Daesh elements in Iraq, and the great pains he endured in this path is unforgettable,” it said, referring to the Islamic State group.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan also paid his respects in a telephone call to Rouhani.
A statement from the Afghan presidential palace said Ghani assured Rouhani that “Afghan soil will never be used against any other country.”
The assassination of Soleimani has raised fears of a new conflict in the Middle East.
The massive crowd was the latest to turn out for Soleimani as his body is flown to several cities before being a planned burial in his hometown of Kerman on Tuesday. Analysts say the large crush of mourners has been rivaled only by the 1989 funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.
Soleimani’s remains were returned to Iran on Sunday and paraded through the streets of the southwestern city of Ahvaz before being taken to second city Mashhad, in the country’s far northeast.
The Revolutionary Guards said the overwhelming number of mourners in Mashhad forced the cancellation of a ceremony that had been planned in Tehran on Sunday night.
His body is expected to be taken to the holy city of Qom later Monday.
The strike on Soleimani late Thursday has raised fears of snowballing into a larger conflict as Iran has vowed to take revenge and Trump has threatened a disproportionate response to any Iranian reprisal.
“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 earlier Monday.
Ghaani now serves as the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an expeditionary arm of the paramilitary organization answerable only to Khamenei.
As Soleimani’s longtime deputy, Ghaani has been sanctioned by the US since 2012 for his work funding its operations around the world, including its work with proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
Also raising the stakes, Iran said late Sunday it was further rolling back its commitments to a nuclear deal in tatters since Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May 2018.
The announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.
Iran did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program. Tehran has already broken some of the deal’s limits as part of a step-by-step pressure campaign to get sanctions relief. It already has increased its production, begun enriching uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility.
While it does not possess uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the estimated one-year “breakout time” needed for it to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.
On Sunday, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany appealed for a deescalation.
“We call on all the players involved to show utmost restraint and responsibility,” they said in a joint statement.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.