By now we’ve all seen images from the mourning ceremonies in Iran for Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force who was killed by a U.S. drone in Baghdad on Friday.
Yet Iranians aren’t the only ones to have marked Soleimani’s loss. Over the years, Iran has skillfully bid for the sympathies of believers across the Islamic world — especially, but not exclusively, among Shiites. Politicians and mourners have protested Soleimani’s killing in places ranging from Germany to Afghanistan.
Above, Indian Shiites declare their sympathies for the Iranian general in New Delhi. The Indian-controlled, Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir also saw pro-Soleimani demonstrations.
Shiites also took to the streets in Pakistan. Soleimani’s death gave Pakistani Shiites, who have often experienced violence at the hands of the country’s Sunni majority, a chance to assert their embattled identity even as they expressed solidarity with Iran and hostility to U.S. influence.
The American attack on Soleimani prompted demonstrators in Kuala Lumpur to denounce the United States.
There are almost no Shiites among the population of the Gaza Strip. Yet Iran — always keen to undermine Israel however it can — has supported the Sunni militant group Hamas for decades. The leader of Hamas made a point of visiting Soleimani’s successor in Tehran on Monday, underlining the group’s cooperation with the Islamic republic.
Turkey, too, is another predominantly Sunni country that witnessed large tributes to Soleimani over the past few days. Even though Turkey is a NATO member and a long-standing U.S. ally, the country’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has quietly wooed Tehran over the years. In the wake of Soleimani’s death, Erdogan described the Iranian general as “an individual who proved himself and one who was accorded extraordinary value by [Iran’s Supreme Leader] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his government began reaching out to follow Shiites in Lebanon even as the 1979 revolution got underway. Realizing that a foothold in Lebanon could boost their sway in a strategically vital part of the Middle East, the Iranians supported a variety of groups over the years since then. But their most consistent ally has, of course, been Hezbollah, whose followers are shown above expressing their loyalty to Soleimani.
Soleimani probably did more than any other single individual to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime during Syria’s civil war. Soleimani reorganized and retrained the Syrian military, brought in troops and equipment, and gave Assad crucial intelligence support. Small wonder that Syrians — not always voluntarily — have also taken to the streets to express solidarity with the slain Iranian commander.
Mourners also took to the streets in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite group, have functioned as an Iranian proxy in that country ever since civil war broke out in 2015. Soleimani made sure that the Houthis received weaponry, including drones and missiles that have enabled them to stage attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia, Iran’s mortal enemy.
Fewer places attest to Iran’s expanded influence better than Iraq itself, where the strike that killed Soleimani took place. A truck carrying Soleimani’s body — and that of the Iraqi Shiite militia commander who was killed with him — toured Baghdad before the coffins were transported to Iran.
And, of course, there is Iran itself. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to mark Soleimani’s death, creating a crowd estimated at more than 1 million in Tehran. Emotions ran high; a stampede in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman on Tuesday left at least 56 people dead.
The huge numbers of those taking part present an image of overwhelming popular support for the regime. Yet the fact that, just a few weeks ago, thousands of Iranians were protesting against the government in a wide range of Iranian cities suggests a more complicated picture.