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Crowds Turn Out In Iran For Gen. Sulemani's Funeral Procession


In more than 40 years of confrontation between the United States and Iran, few moments have felt as perilous as this one.


Iran is vowing hard revenge for a U.S. airstrike. President Trump is threatening revenge if Iran should take revenge.

MARTIN: It is the aftermath of last week's killing of General Qassem Soleimani, whose funeral procession has been moving from city to city in Iran. Today it reached the capital, which is where we find our colleague Mary Louise Kelly of All Things Considered. She is there in Tehran, and she's been on the streets for the procession.

Mary Louise, thanks for being with us. Just describe what you have seen on this historic day.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. Good morning, Steve. We saw just a sea of people - men, women, children - many of them engaged in what appeared to be raw, genuine grief. There were people all around us weeping openly, some of them dropping to crouch on the street around us, cradling their heads in their hands, just wailing.

You also mentioned in the intro that phrase, hard revenge. That was everywhere around us on signs, on big red flags that people were carrying, waving - lots of signs saying, down with U.S.A. Another one saying, hey, U.S., you started this; we will end it. And the face of Soleimani everywhere - on posters, in people's hands and then on huge billboards that have sprung up. You see it driving in just from the airport, as we did early this morning, already all over the city, describing him as a martyr.

INSKEEP: Who spoke to these crowds, Mary Louise?

KELLY: Well, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, was there. This was at Tehran University this morning, the actual funeral service. Khamenei prayed over the body. And then, interestingly, Soleimani's daughter, Zeinab, also spoke. It was fascinating to me, as a woman in this city, hearing a woman's voice come out of the speakers all across Tehran. She spoke directly to President Trump. She said, Mr. Trump, you murdered my father. This will link Iran and Iraq together in friendship.

And she referred to the moves in Iraq over the weekend that call for the exit of U.S. military from Iraq and said, this is just the beginning; there will be more. She called for attacks on U.S. military targets in the Middle East, which was something, by the way, we heard from many of just the ordinary Iranians we were speaking to out on the streets today. The word revenge was on a lot of people's lips.

MARTIN: So I have to ask, then, Mary Louise, as an American journalist there in that crowd - you're absorbing this message; you're hearing the word revenge - how did people treat you?

KELLY: It was interesting. We were trying to keep a low profile because there were very few Westerners. I spotted none, actually (laughter) - and - of the many thousands of people we were wandering around with on the streets today. People were coming up. I have blond hair. People were spotting it, even under a headscarf - were plucking at my sleeve, wanting to talk, asking, where are you from? - wanting to say, please carry our message to the world.

And the - we were treated - you know, we were told Iran wants revenge. We were told this has to do with the honor of our country. We met one woman who told us Soleimani died for the honor of Iran. I would go fight. I would die. My whole family should die. Why just him? We will all go. I'm not afraid of war.

That said, people were very courteous. There was a lot of shoving and pushing, as you would expect in a crowd of that size, and we had people looking out for us, holding us up, holding back the crowds, making sure we could get through and I think making sure that we understood the anger they felt is not towards Americans; it is toward the American government right now.

INSKEEP: Messaging by the government but also some real emotion, it sounds like, on the streets.

KELLY: That's just right.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly is in Tehran. Mary Louise, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And we'll be listening for her coverage throughout the next several days. She's co-host of All Things Considered. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.