TEHRAN — A tide of mourners welcomed the body of Gen. Qassem Soleimani home to Iran Sunday ahead of a grand funeral for the man whose death stoked shock, anger and fears of escalation in the Middle East.Thousands packed the streets of the Iranian city of Ahvaz to pay their respects to Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq early Friday.It was the first stop on a grand, multi-city funeral procession for one of Iran's most powerful military and political figures.
As the Islamic Republic laid Soleimani to rest and its leaders vowed revenge, President Donald Trump appeared to show no desire to ease the tensions that his strike sent soaring throughout the region.Trump issued new threats late Saturday, saying the U.S. would attack 52 sites important to the country and its culture if Tehran retaliates against Americans or U.S. assets.Iran accused Trump of threatening a "war crime," while its communications minister called Trump "a terrorist in a suit."Soleimani's death has dominated life in Iran since Friday.Images depicting the general have been plastered across the country while state TV has been covering his death non-stop, with all channels displaying a black stripe in the corner of the screen as a sign of mourning.On Saturday, state TV showed his casket wrapped in an Iranian flag being unloaded from a plane as a military band played.The caskets then moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani's portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally both symbolize the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and call for their deaths to avenged.
The main funeral ceremony will be held in Tehran on Monday, where Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will lead prayers for the general.On Tuesday, Soleimani will be buried in his hometown of Kerman in southeast Iran.Thousands also gathered in Baghdad on Saturday to mourn Soleimani and others killed in the airstrike.Mourners chanted "Death to America, death to Israel" as they marched in a funeral procession and a crowd of mostly men dressed in black fatigues carried their country's flag and the flags of Iran-backed militias that are loyal to Soleimani.The country's parliament is set to convene for an extraordinary session on Sunday where lawmakers told Reuters they would push for a vote on a resolution requiring the government to request the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.News
As a leader of an elite Iranian military and intelligence unit, Soleimani was the architect of Tehran's overseas clandestine and military operations, accused of controlling proxy militias across the Middle East, including ones in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.He was considered the most powerful intelligence operative in the Middle East for more than two decades.But the general is also credited withfighting the Islamic State militant group in Iraq.Three days of national mourning were declared in the wake of his death, while the world held its breath for Iran's response.Ali Arouzi reported from Tehran, and Yuliya Talmazan from London.