Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei celebrated the new year by praising slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike nearly three years ago and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. service members and allies.
Khamenei also lauded Esmail Qaani, Soleimani’s replacement as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, which was designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019.
“Martyr Soleimani brought new life to the Resistance Front. His material, spiritual, & moral support protected, fortified, & revived this eternal, growing phenomenon of ‘Resistance’ against the Zionist regime, the influence of the US & against other Arrogant states,” Khamenei tweeted on Sunday.
As head of the Quds Force, Soleimani oversaw Iran’s proxy forces abroad, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and armed militias in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
A U.S. airstrike killed Soleimani as he left Baghdad’s international airport on Jan. 3, 2020. Former Vice President Mike Pence said at the time that Soleimani was “directly responsible for the death of 603 U.S. service members,” noting that he provided advanced weaponry and training to Iraqi insurgents who attacked U.S. forces and allies.
Iran is in the midst of the largest protests in years over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in September after being taken into custody by the regime’s so-called morality police for allegedly not wearing a hijab.
Khameini has praised members of the Basij, the paramilitary wing of the IRGC that has quashed protests, and blamed the uprising on the U.S.
“This rioting was planned,” Khameini claimed in October. “These riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.