Top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was buried in his hometown of Kerman on Wednesday, just hours after Iran attacked two Iraqi military bases that house US troops in retaliation for the US airstrike that killed him.
Soleimani was killed by a drone strike in Baghdad on Friday in a dramatic escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran. His death sparked fury and grief across Iran, where he was revered as a national hero and icon.
Tehran declared three days of national mourning, and the past few days have seen huge crowds of black-clad mourners take to the streets for his funeral procession in both Iraq and Iran.
The final burial had originally been set for Tuesday, but the ceremony was delayed due to the massive crowds. Tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets in Kerman on Tuesday, leading to a stampede that killed at least 56 people and injured 213, according to state news agency IRINN.
The sky was still dark when the ceremony began in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Soleimani’s casket was carried on the shoulders of his supporters to the city’s cemetery, where he will be buried in the “martyrs’ section.”
Large crowds gathered around Soleimani’s coffin, kneeling before it and laying flowers on top. Many clasped their hands together in prayer and bowed before the casket, openly weeping.
Soleimani’s face was everywhere – on framed photos held by mourners, on banners, and plastered across building facades. One such banner read: “Victory is close.”
Iran launches airstrikes in revenge
The burial came just hours after Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases that house US troops.
A US official told CNN that there were no initial reports of any US casualties, but an assessment of the impact of the strikes is underway. An initial report from an Iraqi security source indicated there were Iraqi casualties, but Iraqi security officials later told CNN there were no casualties among Iraqi security forces.
After the US strike last week, Tehran vowed revenge for the killing, calling it an “act of war” and “state terrorism.” People in Iran have also called for revenge – in funeral processions and memorials these past few days, crowds grieved, but also expressed their fury, chanting “Death to the USA” and burning American flags.
In an undated video shared by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen addressing a large crowd, saying that the US may harm Iran — but they will harm themselves many times more.
“I said during a speech at the time (of President Barack Obama’s presidency), that the time for hit-and-run is over,” said Khamenei in the video. “If you hit, you get hit back.”
However, some Iranian officials have suggested they want this strike to end the escalation. On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran had taken “proportionate measures in self-defense,” and that “we do not seek escalation or war.”
In a more explicit warning, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – the elite wing of Iran’s military – threatened to attack inside America if the US responded further to the missile attacks. ” (The) Pentagon reports that the US will respond to Iran’s attacks,” said the IRGC in its Telegram channel. “This time we will respond to you in America.”