Above Photo: Iranian mourners flood the streets of Kerman during a funeral procession for Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on January 7, 2020. (Photo by Tasnim)
Millions of mourners have thronged the streets in Iran’s southeastern city of Kerman, the hometown of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, to attend a final funeral for the top defense strategist, who was assassinated by the US military during a visit to neighboring Iraq.
The procession was initially scheduled to culminate in the burial service for the general and one of his comrades, but officials announced that the rituals were postponed due to the overcrowding at the site which made it impossible to carry their remains to the cemetery where they would be laid to rest.
The burial ceremony has been canceled and is to be rescheduled at another date, which will be announced.
The remains of General Soleimani and Major General Hossein Pourjafari arrived at the Kerman airport early Tuesday, following massive funeral processions in the cities of Ahvaz, Mashhad, Tehran and Qom, as well as the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf.
After million-man funerals, Lt. Gen. Soleimani’s body arrives in hometown of Kerman for burial https://t.co/Io676CcqWe
— Press TV (@PressTV) January 7, 2020
An estimated seven million mourners packed the 11-kilometer thoroughfare connecting the two Azadi (Freedom) and Imam Hossein squares as well as the intersecting side streets in the capital Tehran during Monday’s funeral, according to the Coordination Council for Islamic Propagation.
From the early hours of Tuesday, large crowds of black-clad mourners began filling the streets of Kerman to pay their respects to the Middle East’s most prominent anti-terror commander.
Chants of ‘Death to America’ have been ringing out across the city, with mourners carrying the portraits of the national hero.
US President Donald Trump ordered a US drone strike early Friday on General Soleimani’s motorcade upon his arrival in the Iraqi capital at the invitation of the Baghdad government.
The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), as well as eight other Iranian and Iraqi people.
General Soleimani is viewed by the world’s freedom-seeking people as the key figure in the Middle East battles that led to the collapse of Daesh, the world’s most notorious terror group.
Iran has sworn “harsh revenge” against the US for its terrorist operation.
A separate mass funeral was also held for Muhandis in the southwestern city of Abadan, from where his body will be transferred to Khorramshahr and Shalamcheh in Iran’s Khuzestan Province for similar mourning ceremonies.
Later in the day, the remains of the senior Iraqi commander will be taken back to his home country.
‘Architect of America’s defeat’
Addressing the mourners, Major General Hossein Salami, the IRGC chief commander, condemned the US military’s “cowardly” assassination.
“I start with the last word. We will take revenge. Our revenge will be harsh, decisive and finishing. Stay assured and calm,” the IRGC chief said. “The general’s martyrdom is a starting point for an early end to America’s presence in the Muslim world. I declare that you will see this happen very soon.”
Salami also described Soleimani as the “architect of America’s defeat” and a figure praised “beyond the Muslim world,” saying he is the role model of resistance and support for the oppressed.
A deadly stampede has erupted during the funeral procession for Iranian commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman, leaving an unspecified number of casualties.
Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services, confirmed that 56 mourners have lost their lives and as many as 213 others have been transferred to medical centers in Kerman due to injuries caused by overcrowding.
He explained that Health Minister Saeid Namaki was present at the scene and personally monitoring the emergency aid services.
Ambulances and first aid responders, he said, had already been stationed across the city and were attending to the casualties of the stampede.
Millions of mourners carried Soleimani’s body from Kerman’s Azadi Square to his final resting place in the martyrs’ cemetery.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani offered condolences to the families of the mourner who lost their lives in the stampede.
He tasked the health minister and First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri to address the conditions of the injured and investigate the incident, respectively.
US President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike early Friday on General Soleimani’s motorcade upon his arrival in the Iraqi capital at the invitation of the Baghdad government.
The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, as well as eight other Iranian and Iraqi people.
Amid confusion over a reported US letter to Iraq announcing the steps its military would take to move out of Iraq, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi confirms that Baghdad has actually received “signed and translated” copies from the US Army concerning the withdrawal.
In a televised cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Abdul Mahdi clearly refuted all US claims that the letter had been sent by mistake or it had been inauthentic.
On Sunday, the Iraqi Parliament voted unanimously in favor of a bill demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country.
The vote came only two days after US airstrikes assassinated senior Iranian commander Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) anti-terror group, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the Iraqi capital.
Earlier, various news agencies reported that Brigadier General William Seely, who oversees US Task Force Iraq, had sent a letter to the head of Iraq’s Joint Operations Command on Monday, suggesting potential withdrawal of the forces belonging to a US-led coalition, which has been operating in Iraq since 2014 under the pretext of fighting Daesh.
‘Signed and translated’
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper later denied that the US military had announced preparation for “movement out of Iraq,” and the Pentagon claimed that an unsigned draft version of the letter had been sent by mistake.
Abdel Mahdi, however, said he had received signed and translated copies at 8:00 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) on Monday.
The letter discussed “redeploying with an aim to withdraw from the country. The expressions were very clear,” he said. “It was an official letter written in such a manner,” the premier told ministers.
“It’s not a piece of paper that fell off the printer or reached us by coincidence,” he added. The letters only contained a translation mistake that the US military corrected and provided Baghdad with new versions, Abdul Mahdi noted.
The AFP said it had received a copy of the letter late Monday and verified its authenticity with both US and Iraqi officials, the agency added.
In it, Seely informed his Iraqi counterparts that American troops were preparing to leave Iraq. Seely wrote the US-led coalition would “be re-positioning forces in the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”
“In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” said the letter.
It said helicopters would be travelling in and around Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, where the US Embassy is located as part of the preparations.
The AFP, meanwhile, said its reporters could hear helicopters flying low over Baghdad throughout the night on Monday as well as Tuesday.