The remains of anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani and his companions have arrived in the southern Iranian city of Ahvaz from Iraq where they were assassinated by the US early Friday.
A massive funeral procession is currently underway in Ahvaz, the main city in Iran’s eight-year battle against the forces of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein which shaped Soleimani’s future as an austere military tactician.
From Ahvaz, the cortege will be heading to the holy city of Mashhad in Iran’s northeast later in the day and from there to Tehran on Monday and finally to his hometown Kerman in the southeast for burial on Tuesday.
Tagging along are the remains of Gen. Soleimani’s trenchmate Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s anti-terror Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), being carried for DNA testing in Tehran because some pieces have possibly been mixed up. After testing, Muhandis’ remains will be returned to Najaf for burial.
Both Soleimani and Muhandis were popular figureheads in helping squelch an ominous rise of Daesh which once came as close as 30 km to Baghdad, while the US withdrew troops from Iraq and looked on.
Images of the Iranian commander along with Iraqi fighters at frontlines as the ferocious battle against Daesh terrorists went on are endearingly etched in the minds of many Iraqis.
Their massive turnout in Saturday’s funeral is both a testimony to Soleimani’s popularity among many Iraqis and a message to the US which made its stay in the Arab country more unwelcome with the extrajudicial killing, observers said.
In all, 10 people — five Iraqis and five Iranians — were assassinated in the US strike on their motorcade just outside Baghdad airport as Gen. Soleimani’s flight arrived from Syria, leading to speculations that the Israeli intelligence might have played a role.
The assassination has triggered a wave of outrage among Iranians and Iraqis, and further aligned the two neighbors with vociferous calls for revenge for what they view as “state terrorism.”
Hundreds of thousands of people, chanting “Death to America and “Death to Israel,” held funeral processions for the two commanders and their companions in Baghdad and the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf on Saturday.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Iraqi commander Hadi al-Amiri, the top candidate to succeed Muhandis, senior cleric Ammar al-Hakim and other important figures accompanied the the large crowd of mourners.
Ameri and many other Iraqi leaders have called on all factions in Iraq to unite and expel foreign troops.
Many Iraqis condemned the US assassination, praising General Soleimani for his role in defeating Daesh terrorists who seized large swathes of north and central Iraq in 2014.
“It is necessary to take revenge on the murderers. The martyrs got the prize they wanted – the prize of martyrdom,” said one of the Iraqi marchers, Ali al-Khatib.
Gen. Soleimani, 62, was Tehran’s pre-eminent military commander and – as head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)’s overseas Quds Force – the architect of Iran’s anti-terror campaign and fight against American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.
On Friday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei vowed to retaliate and said Gen. Soleimani’s assassination would intensify Iran’s resistance to the United States and Israel.