This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Hundreds of thousands of mourners in Iran have participated in processions honoring Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who was killed earlier in the week in a U.S. air strike in neighboring Iraq.
State television broadcast live footage of the January 5 ceremonies in Ahvaz and the holy city of Mashhad showing throngs of black-clad marchers accompanying a flag-draped casket containing Soleimani’s remains.
Members of the crowd chanted and beat their chests in homage to Soleimani, considered Iran’s top military commander.
His body was flown to Iran in the early morning from Iraq and is to be taken next to Tehran before his burial in his hometown of Kerman on January 7. Iran has announced state holidays for January 6-7.
As head of the Quds Force, the 62-year-old Soleimani helped orchestrate Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations.
The Quds Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.
He was killed in a U.S. drone strike, most likely by a drone, as he traveled in a convoy of Iran-backed militia members after leaving the Baghdad airport in the early morning hours of January 3 — a strike that substantially raised tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a deputy commander of the Iran-backed Hashd Shaabi militia in Iraq, was also killed in the raid.
Mourners marched earlier in Baghdad for Soleimani and others killed in the raid, while many anti-Iranian protesters celebrated the deaths at other sites in Iraq.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he ordered the strike on Soleimani, saying the Iranian commander had organized attacks on U.S. and Iraqi targets and that he was planning further terror actions.
Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack on Soleimani, one of the most powerful military men in Iran.