Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “severe revenge” on those responsible for the death of top military commander Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani was killed by an air strike at Baghdad airport early on Friday ordered by US President Donald Trump.
The 62-year-old spearheaded Iranian operations in the Middle East as head of the elite Quds Force. Trump said he caused millions of deaths.
The killing marks a major escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran.
US officials have said 3000 additional troops will be sent to the Middle East as a precaution.
Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported directly to the ayatollah and Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure.
Under his 21-year leadership of the Quds Force, Iran bolstered Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militant groups in Lebanon; expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria; and orchestrated Syria’s offensive against rebel groups in that country’s long civil war.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US wanted to de-escalate the situation, but that the strike was “lawful” and “saved lives”. He told Fox News: “We do not seek war with Iran but we will not stand by and see American lives put at risk.”
Later Pompeo thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast support” and “for recognising aggressive threats posed by Iran’s Quds force”, the state department said.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iranians have been holding rallies in Tehran and other cities, denouncing what they call US crimes.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. His death would double “resistance” against the US and Israel, he added.
He also announced three days of national mourning. The ayatollah would lead prayers at a funeral ceremony for the general in Tehran on Sunday, Iranian media quoted Soleimani’s family as saying.
Later, the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top security body, said the US would be held responsible for its “criminal adventurism”.
“This was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences,” it said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attack an “act of international terrorism”.