TEHRAN, Iran — Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against American “crimes” after US strikes killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad on Friday.
Chanting “Death to America” and holding up posters of the slain Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, the demonstrators filled streets for several blocks in central Tehran after Friday prayers.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed the commander of its Quds Force foreign operations arm had been killed by US forces in an airstrike on Baghdad international airport.
Soleimani, who died aged 62, was one of Iran’s most popular public figures.
Women and men, many of them elderly, took part in the processions, some holding aloft portraits of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The axis of any evil is America, the motto of religion and the Quran is death to America,” they said in unison.
“O leader of our revolution, condolences, condolences.”
One group of men tore holes out of a US flag before setting it on fire. Other’s burned an Israeli flag.
“This was a good move, so that the whole world would realize who the terrorist is. The whole world found that out,” said Ali Bakhshi, an elderly cleric.
“The dear leader of the revolution respond to them [the US] very intelligently and precisely. And the nation of Iran will resist,” he told AFP.
Another group of men were seen standing on the sidelines of the proceedings, some sobbing uncontrollably.
‘Loved by the people’
Among the demonstrators was Mohsen Rezai, a former chief commander of the IRGC who currently heads the Expediency Council.
Dozens of somber-looking members of the IRGC dressed in olive-green fatigues also took part in the procession.
“I think America has taken a big risk and will get its response as well,” said an IRGC member who only gave his surname as Qasemi.
“I don’t think a war will break out. They are not brave enough to enter a direct conflict with us. I think we’ll give them a crushing response as it is,” he told AFP.
State news agency IRNA said there were similar demonstrations in the cities of Arak, Bojnourd, Hamedan, Hormozgan, Sanandaj, Semnan, Shiraz and Yazd.
Footage of rallies were also beamed on state television from other cities, including Tabriz, where some black-clad women had tears rolling down their faces.
News of the death of Soleimani also saw people hold impromptu gatherings in his central hometown of Kerman.
After serving in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Soleimani rose through the ranks of the IRGC to become commander of the Quds Force.
In recent years he became an unlikely celebrity in Iran and had a huge following on Instagram.
A student who only identified herself as Khansari said Soleimani was “loved by the people.”
“What America showed was the depth of its weaknesses and defeat in the region for it to murder the general of a country… who is so loved by the people.
“It must know that all the people of Iran are Qassem Soleimani… and this actually made the country unite again so that they can take revenge from the world arrogance,” she said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.