The body of Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s elite Quds Force, who was assassinated in Iraq on Friday, has been returned to Iran, the Islamic Republic's state-run IRIB news agency reports.
According to IRIB, Soleimani's body was transported to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz earlier on Sunday, a few days after a US drone strike killed Soleimani, Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and 10 other people.
This comes after thousands of mourners chanting “America is the Great Satan” marched in a funeral procession for Soleimani and al-Muhandis in Baghdad on Saturday. The ceremony was attended by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and several leaders of state-sponsored militias.
Earlier, IRGC Major General Hossein Salami reportedly stated that "the assassination of martyred General Qassem Soleimani will be followed by a strategic revenge which will definitely put an end to the US presence in the region”.
Salami also underscored that Iran's response would come "in a vast geography throughout time and with determining impacts".
In a separate development, Iran’s Tasnim news agency cited IRGC Commander Gholamali Abuhamzeh as saying on Saturday that thirty five vital American targets in the Middle East, as well as Tel Aviv, are “within Iran's reach”.
“The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there […] vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since a long time ago […] some 35 US targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach,” he pointed out.
Trump Warns Iran not to Threaten US
Shortly after the raid which led to Soleimani's assassination, Iran pledged to retaliate, with separate militias issuing similar warnings to the US.
On Saturday, Kataib Hezbollah, Iraqi Shia militias within the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces, threatened to launch attacks on military bases used by US forces in Iraq as of Sunday evening.
Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
....targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
The statement was followed by US President Donald Trump claiming that any possible attack against US citizens or assets would be reciprocated with a counterattack against "52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago)".
The killing of Soleimani exacerbated further what is already tense situation in the Middle East, which has been in a state of turmoil since the Trump administration's unilateral withdrawal in May 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).