The killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in air raids by the United States has triggered a wave of emotions and garnered a response of solidarity and retribution across the otherwise divided Iranian political spectrum.
Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and mastermind of its regional influence, was killed early on Friday near Baghdad’s international airport in an air strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei paid tribute to him as a “martyr” and promised to exact “harsh revenge”.
He announced a three-day national mourning period in honour of Soleimani, who was widely believed to be the second most powerful figure in Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani echoed the threat of revenge and vowed that there will be consequences. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the killing as an “act of state terrorism” in a statement.
“The pure blood of Qassem Soleimani will surely strengthen the tree of resistance, unite the Iranian people, and make US policies in the region less effective by the day,” he said.
Iran’s National Security Council has convened in an emergency meeting to decide Iran’s reaction to the killing. Reports say Khamenei has participated in the meeting for the first time ever, denoting the gravity of the situation.
Iran’s supreme leader appointed Esmail Qaani as the new head of the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations on Friday.
“Following the martyrdom of the glorious general haj Qasem Soleimani, I name Brigadier General Esmail Qaani as the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement posted on his official website.
Several local news sources have reported that a number of Iranian fighter jets are patrolling the western parts of the country, which border Iraq.
The US air strike was a dramatic escalation of tensions with Iran that have been continuously growing since Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May last year and imposed crippling sanctions.
IRGC officials, clerics, ministers, members of parliament, and the business community reacted in unison and hailed the commander as a fallen hero.
Gatherings are being organised in Tehran and across the country after Friday prayers to commemorate Soleimani and denounce the US and Israel.
State broadcaster IRIB and radio channels were allotting almost their entire broadcast time to news of Soleimani’s killing and programmes commemorating him. All television presenters wore black and a black stripe adorns the top corner of the screens.