Funeral processions to honour Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US air strike in Baghdad, have begun in the Iranian city of Ahvaz early on Sunday, hours after his remains arrived from Iraq.
Soleimani was killed along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias. Several other people were also killed in Friday’s attack.
The move by the US has drawn worldwide condemnation from leaders and officials who fear that tensions in the region could escalate drastically. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “a harsh retaliation is waiting”.
On Saturday, US President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacked US citizens or assets.
Sunday, January 5:
Iran’s minister Jahromi says Trump ‘a terrorist in a suit’
US President Donald Trump is “a terrorist in a suit”, Iranian Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi, said in a Twitter post.
“Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture’,” Jahromi said.
Like ISIS, like Hitler, Like Genghis!
They all hate cultures. Trump is a “terrorist in a suit”. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat “the Great Iranian Nation & Culture”.#HardRevenge#QasemSoleimani https://t.co/N2iQ5AMX7M
— MJ Azari Jahromi (@azarijahromi) January 5, 2020
British FM speaks to Iraqi leaders, urges de-escalation
British foreign minister Dominic Raab said he had spoken to Iraq’s prime minister and president to urge a deescalation of tensions in the region.
Raab, who described Soleimani as a “regional menace”, and said he was sympathetic to the situation the US found itself in, said he also planned to speak to Iran’s foreign minister.
“There is a route through which allows Iran to come in from out of the international cold,” he told Sky News.
“We need to contain the nefarious actions of Iran but we also need to deescalate and stabilise the situation.”
Tens of thousands mourn as Soleimani’s funeral commences
Tens of thousands of black-clad mourners have filled the streets of the Iranian city of Ahvaz to pay their respects to Soleimani.
Authorities plan to take Soleimani’s body to the holy city of Mashhad later on Sunday, as well as Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, then onto his hometown of Kerman for burial on Tuesday.
Read more here.
Iran’s Zarif says targeting cultural sites a ‘war crime’
Iran’s Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said any decision to target the country’s cultural sites would be a “war crime”, hours after US President Donald Trump threatened such action.
“Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME,” Zarif said in a Twitter post.
“Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun,” Zarif said.
-Having committed grave breaches of int’l law in Friday’s cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches of JUS COGENS;
-Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME;
-Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 5, 2020
Iran army says US lacks ‘courage’ for conflict
Iran’s army chief said Washington lacked the “courage” to initiate a conflict, after Trump threatened to hit dozens of targets inside the Islamic republic.
“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
Saudi ‘not consulted’ over Soleimani killing: source
Saudi Arabia was not consulted over the US air strike that killed Soleimani, as the kingdom sought to defuse soaring regional tensions, a Saudi official told AFP news agency, requesting anonymity.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not consulted regarding the US strike,” the official said.
“In light of the rapid developments, the kingdom stresses the importance of exercising restraint to guard against all acts that may lead to escalation, with severe consequences,” the official added.
Oman urges dialogue
Oman has urged the US and Iran to utilise diplomatic channels to resolve issues and called on the international community to increase their efforts to achieve security and stability in the region, according to a statement carried by state media.
“Oman is following the unfortunate developments and the state of tension and escalation between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and calls on both sides to turn to dialogue and diplomatic channels to resolve issues,” Oman news agency said.
Iraqi security forces on ‘high alert’
Iraqi security forces have been on high alert as they brace themselves for a potential reaction, Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Baghdad, said.
“We’ve also heard from one leader of the militia Kataib Hezbollah, which has been deemed as a terrorist organisation by the US, that all Iraqi forces should distance themselves from US bases from Sunday onwards,” Bin Javaid said.
US troops are invariably based in Iraqi military posts alongside local forces.
Bin Javaid said there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity to try to de-escalate the situation in the region, spearheaded by Qatar’s foreign minister.
Soleimani’s body to arrive in Mashhad
Soleimani’s body is due to arrive in the Iranian city of Mashhad in the next few hours, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said, where a ceremony will be held for him at the Imam Reza shrine – believed to be the holiest place in Iran.
“The whole country is in mourning … there is a lot of anger and frustration,” Jabbari said from Mashhad.
“Iranians want their government and their military to respond. They want revenge.”
Trump warns harsher response if Tehran retaliates
President Donald Trump warned that the US would hit Iran harder than ever before if Tehran retaliates for the assassination of Soleimani.
Trump wrote on Twitter: “If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!”
He followed up with another tweet, saying the US would use its “brand new beautiful” military equipment “without hesitation” if the Iranians retaliate.
Ceremonies to honour Soleimani begin in Ahvaz
Thousands of mourners gathered in Iran’s southwestern city of Ahvaz, where funeral processions to honour Soleimani began on Sunday morning.
Footage on state television showed people dressed in black in Mollavi Square, holding flags in green, white and red – depicting the blood of “martyrs”, while others held portraits of the slain general.
Soleimani’s body arrives in Iran
Soleimani’s remains returned to Iran on Sunday and were flown to the city of Ahvaz in the country’s southwest, the official IRIB news agency reported.
Read earlier updates here.