DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s president on Tuesday vowed to avenge the killing of the country’s top general on the third anniversary of his death, as the government rallied its supporters in mourning amid months of anti-government protests.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional military activities, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in neighboring Iraq. He is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy, while the protesters have torn down billboards and defaced other images of him.
Addressing a ceremony marking the general’s death, President Ebrahim Raisi said those behind it “should know that retaliation is obvious,” adding that “there will be no relief for murderers and accomplices.”
He said Soleimani had defeated “U.S. hegemony” and praised him for his role in leading Iran-backed forces against the Islamic State extremist group. Soleimani was also mourned in neighboring Iraq alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia leader killed in the same strike. Iranian-backed militias make up the bulk of Iraq’s state-supported Popular Mobilization Forces.
Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani by launching a barrage of missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq, causing dozens of brain concussion injuries but no deaths among U.S. soldiers stationed there. Iranian officials have repeatedly vowed to take further steps and imposed sanctions on individuals accused of taking part in the operation.
On Monday, Iran’s state-linked Jam Jam newspaper published the names and photos of 51 Americans it said were involved in the strike and were “under the shadow of retaliation.” The list included several current and former senior U.S. civilian and military officials as well as individuals who appeared to be soldiers involved in aircraft maintenance at regional bases.
Raisi accused the U.S. of waging a “hybrid war” against Iran, referring to the protests. Iranian officials have accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the latest unrest in the country, without providing evidence.
Iran’s judiciary said Tuesday that it had indicted two French nationals and a Belgian, without providing further details. Iran is holding a number of foreigners and dual nationals on charges of endangering national security or taking part in protests. Rights groups accuse Iran of denying them due process and using them as bargaining chips with the West, something Iranian officials deny.
The protests, which were ignited by the death of a young woman in mid-September who was being held by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code, quickly spread across the country and show no sign of letting up.
The demonstrators say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression and are calling for the overthrow of the ruling clerics. The protests mark one of the the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power.
At least 516 protesters have been killed and over 19,000 people have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the unrest. Iranian authorities have not provided an official count of those killed or detained.
Soleimani, who led the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was credited with helping to arm, train and lead armed groups across the region, including the Shiite militias in Iraq, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and fighters in Syria, the Palestinian territories and Yemen. The U.S. held him responsible for the deaths of many of its soldiers in Iraq. Within Iran, Soleimani is closely associated with an Islamic theocracy that the protesters view as violent and corrupt.
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