0103 GMT May 09, 2021
Tides of mourners accompanied the casket carrying the remains of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani through major Iranian cities Sunday as part of a grand funeral ceremony across the Islamic Republic for the commander assassinated by an American airstrike in Iraq on January 3.
After tens of thousands in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala on Saturday mourned Soleimani and nine other victims of his convoy in the pre-dawn attack, the general’s body was flown to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz. An honor guard stood by early Sunday as mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of Soleimani and five other IRGC members off the tarmac.
The caskets then moved slowly through streets choked with mourners in black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portraits. They also carried red Shia flags, which culturally both symbolize the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and also call for their deaths to be avenged.
"Death to America," the mourners chanted as they packed the streets and filled a long bridge spanning a river in Ahvaz, a city that was a focus of fighting during the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran in which the general slowly grew to prominence. After that war, Soleimani became commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, spearheading Iran's regional security strategy.
But the top military leader was martyred in a US drone attack Friday near Baghdad’s International Airport. He was 62. The pre-dawn air raid also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq's powerful Popular Mobilization Forces or the Hashd al-Sha’abi.
The attack was ordered by US President Donald Trump, who claimed the Quds commander had been planning an "imminent" attack on US diplomats and American forces 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 Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed "severe revenge" and declared three days of mourning.
"The presence of children, teenagers, relatives, veterans, families of martyrs (of the Iran-Iraq war) and defenders of holy shrines (those martyred in the Syrian war) is a glimpse of the glory of this ceremony," state television said in a live broadcast of the event.
Later Sunday, authorities then took Soleimani’s body to the northeastern holy city of Mashhad where a sea of mourners paid homage to him and other companions.
His remains then went to Tehran. Ayatollah Khamenei on Monday is expected to pray over Soleimani's body at Tehran University before a procession to Azadi Square. Then it will be taken to the holy city of Qom for public mourning processions, ahead of burial in his hometown of Kerman Tuesday.
AP and AFP contributed to this story.