Iranian state media reported “mourners” filling the streets of Tehran after Friday prayers and chanting “Death to America!” in response to the death of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Qasem Soleimani’s death in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq.
The authenticity of street theater is always dubious in brutal authoritarian regimes, but Iran is pushing hard to get its population on the same page by declaring three days of mourning for Soleimani, while tossing money and food to the people who were protesting against the regime last month.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement on Friday morning celebrating Soleimani as “the international face of resistance” and promising that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the United States.
“Martyrdom was the reward for his ceaseless efforts all these years,” Khamenei said. “With him gone, God willing, his work and his path will not be stopped, but severe revenge awaits the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood and other martyrs in last night’s incident.”
Khamenei’s Twitter page provided a longer eulogy, announcing that “years of sincere, brave efforts fighting against the devils and villains in the world, and years of wishing for martyrdom on the path of God, finally took the dear Commander of Islam, Soleimani, to this lofty status.”
“His blood was shed by the most barbaric of men,” Khamenei said, hailing Soleimani as “an eminent example of a person trained in Islam” and describing “martyrdom” as his “reward for his tireless efforts over the years.”
Khamenei also described Iraqi Shiite militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who died alongside Soleimani, as a “martyr.”
The heavy appeals to religious authority were vital to getting “tens of thousands” of Iranians on the streets in France24’s estimation. Signals were also sent to Iran’s Shiite proxies and allies, such as Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who announced he was putting the anti-American “Mahdi Army” back together a year after dissolving it.
Iranian state television pitched in by running nonstop eulogies and hagiographies of Soleimani, mixed with threats to Americans across the region. “The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay,” said one Iranian TV program noted by the Times of Israel (TOI).
“A black ribbon was displayed on the screen and a photo montage was shown with images of Soleimani smiling and praying,” TOI added.
The true feelings of the Iranian public are a matter of some dispute. People with friends, relatives, and contacts inside Iran report many are celebrating Soleimani’s death and bitterly recalling the IRGC’s role in brutally suppressing protests against the government.
Khamenei just visited the home of the Iranian regime's terror chief Qasem Soleimani. That THING that looks like a black curtain near the middle is apparently Soleimani's widow.
Elsewhere in Iran, people are distributing pastries to celebrate this mass murderer's death. pic.twitter.com/GKl3NjO1jA
— M. Hanif Jazayeri (@HanifJazayeri) January 3, 2020
Unfortunately Western media misses the point by glorifying Soleimani— He was the common enemy for people in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. His Involvement in crackdown against university students in late 1990s was another black mark against him. 2/
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) January 3, 2020
The Iranian regime has been distributing food and money in the districts where it murdered large numbers of protesters in November. IRGC officers featured prominently in these efforts, including IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami, who promised more aid to underprivileged families and said his forces would build houses, schools, and medical centers in a district where up to a hundred protesters were cut down by machine gun fire.
“Despite the attempt to pacify angry Iranians who were hit in one way or another during the November crackdown, the government has still not revealed the number of those killed and imprisoned during the suppression and government bodies such as the Judiciary and the Supreme Council of National Security have been blaming each other for the delay,” Radio Farda noted on Thursday.