At the cries of “Death to America”, a grieving human tide on Monday paid a vibrant tribute to General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most popular commander, calling for revenge after his assassination with his comrades in arms in an American drone attack.
On another front of exacerbated tensions with Washington, Iran has announced a further reduction of its commitments contained in the international agreement concluded in 2015 to guarantee the purely civil nature of Iranian nuclear activities, a pact now almost emptied of its substance.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called for following “the weighting path”.
As in Ahvaz (southwest) and Machhad (northeast) the day before, the Iranians moved en masse to Tehran, swarming with people, to honor Qassem Soleimani, a charismatic and very popular figure in Iran, killed on Friday with his lieutenant Iraqi and eight others near Baghdad airport.
Holding back his tears with difficulty, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei presided over a short prayer for the dead at the University of Tehran, in front of the coffins containing the remains of Soleimani, of Abu Mehdi al-Mouhandis, number two of Hachd al-Chaabi (paramilitaries pro-Iranians) and four Iranians.
“The last time I remember such a crowd was at the funeral 30 years ago of Imam Khomeini,” founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, told AFP Maziar Khosravi, l ex-head of the political service of the reformist daily Charq.
Estimated at “several millions” by state television, the crowd alternates between moments of meditation and sadness, and outbursts of anger at the cries of “Death to America”, “Death to Israel”.
American and Israeli flags were burned, while the crowd called for revenge for the chief of the Quds Force, in charge of the external operations of the Revolutionary Guards and architect of Iran’s strategy in the Middle East.
“Stupid Trump (…) does not think that with the martyrdom of my father, all is finished”, launched Zeinab, the daughter of Qassem Soleimani.
“Our response must be devastating,” said a 61-year-old Iranian in the crowd.
Soleimani’s coffin was then transferred to the Shiite holy city of Qom for a ceremony, and will be buried Tuesday in Kerman (southeast), his hometown.
Official Iran has promised a “military response,” “hard revenge” that will strike “in the right place at the right time.”
Donald Trump does nothing to allay international concerns. If Iran does “anything, there will be major reprisals”, including against Iranian “cultural sites”, he threatened again on Sunday.
On Monday, UNESCO recalled that Washington has ratified two conventions protecting cultural property in the event of conflict.
Trump also spoke of the possibility of imposing “very strong” sanctions on his Iraqi ally after Parliament voted on Sunday for a resolution calling for the departure of some 5,200 US military personnel from Iraq.
The assassination of Soleimani came after an unprecedented attack on the American embassy in Baghdad by pro-Hashd to protest against an American raid targeting these paramilitaries. The strike was in response to rocket attacks on American facilities in Iraq, one of which perished in late December.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials and Hashd officials paraded Monday in a mosque in tribute to Soleimani and Mouhandis. A small crowd trampled on a portrait of Mr. Trump at the entrance.
“Priority” to nuclear
In this explosive context, Iran announced on Sunday the “fifth and last phase” of its plan to reduce its commitments made in the international Iranian nuclear agreement, saying that it no longer felt bound by any limits ” on the number of its centrifuges ”.
But Tehran continues to voluntarily submit to the particularly draconian inspection program of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), implemented after the agreement with Beijing, Washington, Paris, London, Moscow and Berlin.
In Vienna, the IAEA said it was “aware of the Iranian announcement” and stressed that its “inspectors continue to carry out surveillance activities” in Iran.
Since May, Iran has gradually freed itself from nuclear commitments in retaliation for the withdrawal of the United States which reinstated sanctions against Tehran.
Paris, London and Berlin called on “Iran to withdraw all (its) measures that are not in conformity” with the pact. Moscow urged all the countries involved in the agreement to make it a “priority” and to ensure their implementation.
By this agreement, Iran agreed to drastically reduce its nuclear activities, in order to prove that they have no military aim, in exchange for the lifting of part of the international sanctions which have asphyxiated its economy. But the return of sanctions plunged the oil country into a violent recession.
For observers, Iran remains “very careful” by avoiding denouncing the text head-on, which leaves a final margin of maneuver in an attempt to save it.
Meanwhile, oil prices continue to rise, and global stock markets are shaking. Gold, a traditional refuge value, has risen to levels never seen since 2013.