Mourners packed the streets of Tehran on Monday for ceremonies to pay homage to top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, after he was killed during a US strike in Baghdad.
Clutching portraits of their hero, the gang gathered at Tehran University before supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presided over prayers for the slain general, AFP correspondents reported.
Soleimani, who spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed during a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport.
His assassination ratcheted up tensions between arch-enemies Tehran and Washington.
Iran said late Sunday it had been further rolling back its commitments to a nuclear deal already in tatters since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May 2018.
In freezing early morning temperatures, women in black walked alongside men holding up flags bearing the names of Shiite imams as they walked down Tehran’s Enghelab (Revolution) Street towards the university.
“Down with USA,” said a placard delayed by a girl wearing a black chadour.
The procession was broadcast survive state television, with screens bearing a black ribbon across the highest left corner during a rare tribute.
Khamenei seemed to cry as he prayed over the flag-draped coffins containing the remains of Soleimani and five other “martyrs” killed within the strike.
The supreme leader was flanked by Soleimani’s son, the slain general’s replacement as Quds commander Esmail Qaani, President Hassan Rouhani, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and therefore the Guards’ top commander Major General Hossein Salami.
People prayed along side Khamenei whose voice cracked as he spoke.
“We must provides a crushing response,” one among the mourners told AFP.
“We must target whatever military base they need within the region. We must attack all that are within the range of our missiles,” said the 61-year-old businessman who gave his name as Afkhami.
The US drone attack that killed Soleimani was ordered by Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on American diplomats and forces in Iraq.
Mourners in Tehran formed a sea of black along Enghelab Street dotted with red Shiite flags and white signs.
One of the placards held aloft by a person read “#hard_revenge”.
As they marched towards the university, a main artery of the Teheran , the mourners chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” and waved flags of Iraq and Lebanon among others.
The procession comes after Soleimani’s remains were returned to Iran on Sunday.
They were paraded through the streets of the southwestern city of Ahvaz before being taken to second city Mashhad, within 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.
Tributes have poured in from across the center East and beyond for Soleimani, who was seen because the Islamic republic’s second most powerful person after the supreme leader.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Sunday offered his condolences to Khamenei, consistent with 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 therefore the great pains he endured during this path is unforgettable,” it said, pertaining to the Islamic State group.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan also paid his respects during a call to Rouhani.
A statement from the Afghan presidential palace said Ghani assured Rouhani that “Afghan soil will never be used against the other country”.
The assassination of Soleimani has raised fears of a replacement conflict within the Middle East .
On Friday, Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” as he declared three days of mourning.
Trump responded on Saturday by warning that the US was targeting 52 sites in Iran and would hit them “very fast and really hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.
On Sunday, the leaders of england , France and Germany appealed for a de-escalation.
“We turn all the players involved to point out utmost restraint and responsibility,” they said during a joint statement.