Powerful commander’s successor says the removal of the U.S. from the region is the minimum retribution
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Iran’s capital in a funeral procession for Qassem Soleimani, as Iranian officials rallied the nation and threatened retaliation against the U.S. for the targeted killing of the powerful military leader.
Soleimani was the architect of deadly Iranian shadow wars throughout the Middle East and oversaw a campaign that, according to the U.S., killed hundreds of U.S. and coalition soldiers in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003. He was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on Friday.
His successor as the commander of the Quds Force, the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said Monday he would continue the path of Soleimani.
“The minimum retribution for us is to remove America from the region,” Esmail Qaani told state television.
A sobbing Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led the funeral prayers at Tehran University over Soleimani’s coffin, which arrived in Tehran late Sunday after being carried through the cities of Ahvaz and Mashhad as part of a three-day mourning procession. People in the crowd cried as Ayatollah Khamenei prayed.
The mourning ceremonies are set to conclude Tuesday with the cremation of Soleimani’s remains in his hometown, Kerman.
Ayatollah Khamenei has promised “harsh revenge” for Soleimani’s death.
The killing has thrust the Middle East deeper into turmoil and fueled calls in Iraq, where he was killed, to oust American troops.
Baghdad has for years balanced its simultaneous alliances with Tehran and Washington, but the killing has strengthened Iran’s position in Iraq and thrown the U.S. presence there in doubt.
Iraqi Parliament on Sunday passed a draft bill to expel U.S. troops. Crowds of Iraqis also mourned the Iranian general over the weekend.
In response, President Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions and a bill for billions of dollars if the U.S. is forced to withdraw from the country.
Iran has a powerful conventional military and allied paramilitary organizations across the Middle East, giving it the capability to strike U.S. assets directly or attack U.S. partners across the world.
As a result, the U.S. and its regional allies are on high alert. Following the killing of Soleimani, the U.S. is deploying nearly 3,000 soldiers to the Middle East. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, a key Iranian rival, has been working in recent weeks, before the killing of Soleimani, to de-escalate hostilities, sending representatives to meet with Iranians.
The processions in Iran were a remarkable display of national unity in the wake of the assassination of Soleimani, considered a national hero by many Iranians, and fresh threats by Mr. Trump to bomb 52 targets inside Iran, including sites of cultural importance.
Monday’s crowd, overwhelmingly religious and conservative in its appearance, chanted anti-American slogans and by size rivaled any other march in the Islamic Republic since the death of its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
A day earlier, Iran said it would no longer honor limits set in the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, which has been at risk of collapsing since Mr. Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018.
Iran didn’t specify how it would potentially breach the limits of the deal, leaving several paths open. One move could be to install a larger number of its centrifuges—machines that produce enriched uranium—which could by the summer allow Iran to reduce to less than six months the time needed to amass enough nuclear fuel for one bomb, according to nuclear experts. Reinstalling all the roughly 13,000 centrifuges taken out under the nuclear deal could take a few years, however.
European diplomats said an emergency meeting between European Union foreign ministers could be called toward the end of the week to discuss the situation.
Still, France, Germany and the U.K. are unlikely to immediately trigger a dispute mechanism inscribed in the nuclear deal, which is the first step to a reimposition of sanctions, unless the International Atomic Energy Agency documents a significant expansion in Iranian uranium production or centrifuge installation, diplomats said.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he deeply regretted Iran’s announcement and that the EU would rely on IAEA verification of any future Iranian steps.
“Full implementation of #NuclearDeal by all is now more important than ever, for regional stability & global security,” Mr. Borrell said on Twitter.
Soleimani’s daughter, Zeynab Soleimani, speaking Monday at her father’s coffin and broadcast on state television, said the commander’s death would bring a “dark day” for the U.S. and called Mr. Trump a “toy in the hands of the Zionists.”
“Families of American soldiers in West Asia who have witnessed America’s humiliation in wars in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen and Palestine will spend their days waiting for their children to die,” Ms. Soleimani said.
Compiled by Olalekan Adeleye