TEHRAN—“I come here not because of my duty, but out of my heart,” Iman Abniki, a young member of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said when attending an event to mark the second anniversary of an American drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
Abniki, who didn’t wear his uniform, entered the venue at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Mosalla more than an hour earlier than 2:00 p.m., when the Jan. 3 ceremony was scheduled to start. He silently sat down against a pillar and waited, with hands folded on his knees, and his head bowed.
“Soleimani was truly kind to those working with him, who returned him with love and respect,” he said.
The U.S. assassination of him promoted the commander to become “a bigger hero,” leading to greater solidarity among the soldiers, Abniki added.
Like the young soldier, a large crowd as well as top Iranian officials and military figures, such as President Ebrahim Raisi, gathered to honor the martyred general and mourn his absence in Tehran.
Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, was assassinated along with his companions by the United States near Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3, 2020, because he “helped mobilize grassroots movements against U.S. military presence in the West Asia region,” as said by Iran’s Tehran Times.
On online maps, the streets leading to the Imam Khomeini Mosalla all featured a red color, indicative of the number of people who had gathered to honor Soleimani’s memory.
In the venue, many held the portraits of Soleimani and waved the Iranian flag. Children, dressed in mini military uniforms with red bandages on heads, were particularly eye-catching, especially when they waved taller-than-themselves flagpoles around.
With the crowd chanting slogans such as “Soleimani is a hero,” Raisi boarded the podium. In an address to mourners, the Iranian president said U.S. officials have to beware of Iran’s revenge for Soleimani’s assassination if those involved in and behind the “criminal act” are not prosecuted through a just mechanism.
Raisi said former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must be “prosecuted for their criminal activity” through a fair mechanism and be punished.
The Iranian president added Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has correctly said that “Martyr Soleimani” is more dangerous to the enemy than “General Soleimani,” because the likes of Soleimani will rise in the future.
Two days earlier, on the first day of this new year, Khamenei met with the family of Soleimani. He told them the reality of large crowds in Soleimani’s burial ceremony shows that he “was and still is the most popular person in the nation.” Two years ago, Khamenei wept while leading mourners in prayer for the funeral of the slain military commander.
Now in 2022, the sorrow persists. When Khamenei recalled his experience in the hospital waiting for Soleimani’s grandchildren to undergo surgery, he once had to pause for a while to calm his emotions. Even though he was wearing a mask, the sadness can be found in his eyes and through the tone of voice.
“Today, thanks to the blessings from that invaluable, innocent blood, the United States has fled from Afghanistan,” the top leader of Iran said, adding that the “resistance and anti-imperialist movement in the region is moving forward in a stronger, more dynamic, more hopeful way than two years ago.”
Also on Jan. 3, in Soleimani’s home city Kerman, southeastern Iran, which has also come to host the general’s burial place, thousands of people marked the second anniversary of Soleimani’s martyrdom by holding a march and chanting anti-America slogans.
Over the past few days, various events featuring speeches, conferences and rallies have been held across Iran and even outside the country to commemorate the second martyrdom anniversary of Soleimani.
During the huge ceremony in Tehran, the culmination of the commendations, the most emotional came when the crowd cried loudly with threnody. Grief echoed throughout the hall and surrounded the audience, including the Iranian general’s daughter, Zeinab Soleimani.
During a vigil at the Baghdad airport on the eve of the martyrdom anniversary, she renewed her pledge to avenge her father’s assassination.
“We vow to move closer, hand in hand and step by step, to the horizon of exacting ‘harsh revenge’ on enemies whose hands are stained with their blood,” she stressed, adding that “the tears of sorrow would soon turn into joyous tears of victory when dear Iraq and all the countries in the region are purged of the filth of the presence of American invaders.” (Xinhua)