Thousands of black-clad mourners gathered early on Sunday morning in the streets in Ahvaz in the southwest of Iran, where Soleimani’s body had arrived before dawn. Mourners beat their chests and chanted “death to America”.
Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top general was assassinated in US drone strikes at Baghdad Airport last week. He was the architect of Iran’s sphere of influence across the Middle East and he was considered to be the country’s second most powerful man.
His assassination marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US.
Soleimani’s casket, wrapped in an Iranian flag, being unloaded from a plane as a military band played, before it was flown on to Ahvaz. Crowds gathered in the city’s Mollavi Square, waving flags and holding aloft portraits of Soleimani, who is seen by many in Iran as a hero because of his role as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and his closeness to the supreme leader.
Similar scenes were later repeated in the city of Mashhad.
In the capital Tehran, members of parliament chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a session of the house.
Soleimani’s body was flown back to Iran from Iraq alongside the bodies of five other Iranians killed in the drone strike, and the body of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group and who was also killed.
On Monday, the supreme leader is expected to pray over Soleimani’s remains at Tehran University, followed by a procession through the city. The general’s remains will then be taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony ahead of a funeral in his hometown of Kerman on Tuesday.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had a close personal relationship with Soleimani, warned of “severe revenge” for the attack.
President Trump, who authorised the attack on Soleimani on Friday said on Saturday the US was ready to strike 52 sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying that the killing of Soleimani was a breach of international law and that any targeting of cultural sites would constitute a war crime.
Meanwhile, US deployed 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East in the wake of its strike and advised its citizens to leave Iraq immediately.