In a rare display of emotion from the typically reserved and measured supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cried openly Monday at the funeral of slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani, his most important military commander with whom he shared a deep bond.
“Oh Allah, they are in need of your mercy, and you are exalted above punishing your servants,” Khamenei said during a mass prayer as he stood over a flag-draped casket with the remains of Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq on Friday.
Khamenei’s voice cracked under the weight of the moment during a funeral procession unlike any in Iran’s recent history. Police said attendees numbered into the millions.
The funeral showcased the depth of the bond Khamenei had with the slain general and gave insight into how Soleimani’s death is being felt personally by the supreme leader. It could also impact how Khamenei responds to the United States.
The US killed Soleimani, other Revolutionary Guard members and a senior Iraqi militia leader in a stunning attack on their convoy, shortly after Soleimani had arrived at Baghdad’s international airport. The killing, ordered by US President Donald Trump, has dramatically heightened the risk of war as senior Iranian figures vow to strike US military targets in response.
To Iran’s supreme leader, Soleimani was a loyal aide who conferred with him often and cemented Tehran’s footprint far beyond the country’s borders, helping to preserve and advance the principles of the 1979 revolution that brought Iran’s Shiite leadership to power.
Unlike other military commanders in the Revolutionary Guard Corps., the 62-year-old general answered only to the 80-year-old Khamenei.
So revered was he by Khamenei, that the supreme leader awarded the general Iran’s highest military order in March. Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that Soleimani is the only Iranian military official to receive the Order of Zulfaqar since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
When pinning the medal on Soleimani, the Iranian leader said he hoped God would reward the general and help him live a blissful life that ends with martyrdom.
“Of course not any time soon,” Khamenei said, adding the “Islamic Republic needs him for years to come.”
To Soleimani, Khamenei was a venerated spiritual figure whom he referred to as his “dear and honorable leader.”
And in death, Soleimani has received what no man before him has in modern Iran. His funeral processions have been spread over several days and cities, marking the first time Iran has ever honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989.
In a deeply personal and symbolically weighty gesture, Iran’s supreme leader made a rare visit to Soleimani’s home the day he was killed to offer condolences to his grieving widow and grown children.
Rather than calling him by his last name as is customary, Khamenei referred to him as Hajj Qassem — another indication of how close the two were.
That same day, Khamenei declared three days of mourning across the country and vowed “harsh retaliation.”
Header: Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets family of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in the US airstrike in Iraq, during a visit at his home in Tehran, Iran, January 3, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)