TEHRAN, IRAN – The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened on Tuesday to “set ablaze” places supported by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of “Death to Israel!’’
Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a central square in Kerman, the hometown of the slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His vow mirrored the demands of top Iranian officials – from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to others – as well as supporters across the Islamic Republic, demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.
Mourners in Kerman dressed in black carried posters bearing the image of Soleimani, a man whose slaying prompted Iran’s supreme leader to weep over his casket on Monday as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran streets. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.
Authorities later brought Soleimani’s remains and those of the others killed in the airstrike to Iran’s holy city of Qom, where another massive crowd turned out.
The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike near Baghdad’s airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
His slaying already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.
Soleimani’s remains and those of the others killed in the airstrike were brought to a central square in Kerman, a desert city surrounded by mountains that dates back to the days of the Silk Road where he will be buried later on Tuesday.
Salami praised Soleimani’s exploits and said as a martyr, he represented an even greater threat to Iran’s enemies.
“We will take revenge. We will set ablaze where they like,” Salami said, drawing the cries of “Death to Israel!’’
Israel is a longtime regional foe of Iran.
Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, passed an urgent bill declaring the U.S. military’s command at the Pentagon in Washington and those acting on its behalf “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to mirror a decision by President Donald Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.’’
The U.S. Defense Department used the Guard’s designation as a terror organization in the U.S. to support the strike that killed Soleimani. The decision by Iran’s parliament, done by a special procedure to speed the bill to law, comes as officials across the country threaten to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing.