TEHRAN : A TIDE of mourners flooded the Iranian city of Ahvaz on Sunday, weeping and beating their chests in homage to top General Qasem Soleimani who was killed in a US strike in Baghdad. “Death to America,” they chanted as they packed the streets and filled a long bridge spanning a river in the southwestern city, where Soleimani’s remains arrived from Iraq before dawn.
As Shiite chants resonated in the air, mourners held portraits of Soleimani, seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and for spearheading Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. In the face of growing Iraqi anger over the US strike, the country’s Parliament was expected to vote on whether 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.
For Iran’s Army chief, the threat was an attempt to distract the world from Soleimani’s “unjustifiable” assassination. “I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict in the future, said Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi. US-Iran tensions escalated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark accord that gave Tehran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. Iran has hit back by reducing its nuclear commitments with a series of steps every 60 days, the most recent deadline passing Saturday. On Sunday, thousands of mourners dressed in black were seen gathered in Ahvaz in a live broadcast on state television.
The channel showed crowds in Mollavi Square with flags in green, white and red -- depicting the blood of “martyrs”. “A glorious crowd is at the ceremony,” said state television. “The presence of children, teenagers, relatives, veterans, families of martyrs of (the Iran-Iraq war) and defenders of Haram (those martyred in Syria) is a glimpse of the glory of this ceremony,” it added. In Tehran, deputies chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a regular session of Parliament, semi-official news agency ISNA reported. “Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” speaker Ali Larijani was quoted as saying. 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, ISNA said.