Iran supreme leader weeps for general killed by US airstrike

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In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fourth from left, leads a prayer over the coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Tehran University campus, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader wept Monday over the casket of a top general killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, his prayers joining the wails of mourners who flooded the streets of Tehran demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.

The funeral for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani drew a crowd said by police to be in the millions in the Iranian capital, filling thoroughfares and side streets as far as the eye could see. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least a million.

In this Nov. 5, 2016 photo, Gen. Esmail Ghaani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran. A new Iranian general has stepped out of the shadows to lead the country’s expeditionary Quds Force, becoming responsible for Tehran’s proxies across the Mideast as the Islamic Republic threatens the U.S. with “harsh revenge” for killing its previous head, Qassem Soleimani. (Mohammad Ali Marizad/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Authorities later brought his remains and others to Iran’s holy city of Qom, turning out another massive crowd.

It was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war.

His death already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.

Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened an attack on the U.S. military in the Mideast while also warning President Donald Trump, whom she called “crazy.”

“The families of the American soldiers … will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” she said to cheers.

Her language mirrored warnings by other Iranian officials who say an attack on U.S. military interests in the Middle East looms.Iranian state television and others online shared a video that showed Trump’s American flag tweet following Soleimani’s killing turn into a coffin, the “likes” of the tweet replaced by over 143,000 “killed.”

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The processions mark the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others at Tehran University after a brief mourning period at the capital’s famed Musalla mosque, The mosque was where prayers were said over the body of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, after his death in 1989.

Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani and referred to him as a “living martyr,” broke down four times in tears while offering traditional Muslim prayers for the dead.

“Oh God, you took their spirits out of their bodies as they were rolling in their blood for you and were martyred in your way,” Khamenei said as the crowd wailed. Soleimani will be buried Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman.

In this image taken from video, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, openly weeps as he leads a prayer over the coffin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Tehran University campus, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Iran Press TV via AP)

Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, stood near Khamenei’s side as did President Hassan Rouhani and other leaders in the Islamic Republic. While Iran recently faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly led to the killing of over 300, Soleimani’s death has brought together people from across the country’s political spectrum, temporarily silencing that anger.

Demonstrators burned Israeli and U.S. flags, carried a flag-draped U.S. coffin or displayed effigies of Trump. Some described Trump himself as a legitimate target.

Mohammad Milad Rashidi, a 26-year-old university graduate, predicted more tension ahead.

“Trump demolished the chance for any sort of possible agreement between Tehran and Washington,” Rashidi said. “There will be more conflict in the future for sure.”

Another mourner, Azita Mardani, warned that Iran “will retaliate for every drop of his blood.”

“We are even thankful to (Trump) because he made us angry and this fury will lead to shedding of their blood in the Persian Gulf and the region’s countries,” Mardani said. “Here will become their graveyard.”

Ghaani made his own threat in an interview shown Monday on Iranian state television. “God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken,” he said.

Markets reacted Monday to the tensions, sending international benchmark Brent crude above $70 a barrel for some of the day and gold to a seven-year high. The Middle East remains a crucial source of oil, and Iran in the past has threatened the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all the world’s oil traded passes.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The processions mark the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Ghaani, a longtime Soleimani deputy, has now taken over as the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Force, answerable only to Khamenei. Ghaani has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2012 for his work funding its operations around the world, including its work with proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Those proxies likely will be involved in any operation targeting U.S. interests in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Already, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks.

“We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim to get rid of America from the region,” Ghaani said.

The head of the Guard’s aerospace program, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, suggested Iran’s response wouldn’t stop with a single attack.

“Firing a couple of missiles, hitting a base or even killing Trump is not valuable enough to compensate for martyr Soleimani’s blood,” Hajizadeh said on state TV. “The only thing that can compensate for his blood is the complete removal of America from the region.”

On the nuclear deal, Iran now says it won’t observe the accord’s restrictions on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities. That’s a much-harsher step than they had planned to take before the attack.

Mourners holding posters of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani attend a funeral ceremony for him and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) Square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have urged Iran to “withdraw all measures” not in line with the deal.

Iran insisted it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions last year. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Aaron Nolan is a morning show co-host in Little Rock, Arkansas with Nexstar Media Group's KARK-TV. He has a passion for social media and makes it an important part of his daily routine. Click here to read Aaron's full bio.

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