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Supreme Leader Rallies Iranians Against The West, Praises Attacks On U.S.

Iran’s highest religious and political authority led Friday prayers in Tehran for the first time in eight years amid growing domestic unrest and foreign pressure. Supreme Leader Rallies Iranians Against The West, Praises Attacks On U.S.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the country’s attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq a blow to Washington’s honor, as he attempted to rally popular support amid pressure over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet last week.

Leading Friday prayers in Tehran for the first time in eight years, Iran’s highest religious and political authority praised Iran’s missile strikes in response to the targeted killing by the U.S. of the country’s most prominent military commander.

“They said sanctions will be increased. But that can’t bring back the lost face of the U.S.,” Mr. Khamenei said, referring to the Trump administration’s move to widen sanctions on Iran following the attacks.

Iran has faced nearly two weeks of turbulence since the U.S. killing of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.

In response to his death, Iran launched attacks on U.S. forces stationed on Iraqi bases. That same night, as the Iranian military was on high alert for a U.S. response to those attacks, a junior officer in its Revolutionary Guard shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board, said Iran’s military.

The acknowledgment that the plane had been shot down, which came after days of denials by Iranian officials, sparked protests in Tehran and other cities.

On Friday, Mr. Khamenei dismissed those protests, accusing the country’s enemies of trying to use the downing of the jet to overshadow the public grief in Iran over Gen. Soleimani’s killing.

“As much as we grieved over the plane crash and sadness fell on our heart, the enemy became happy about it,” Mr. Khamenei said at Tehran’s Mosalla Mosque, in a sermon broadcast live on state television.

The turmoil adds to already intense economic pressure on Iran from U.S. sanctions that have damaged its economy and helped spur widespread protests. Meanwhile, the killing of Gen. Soleimani—who headed the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—has dealt a blow to Iran’s military.

Mr. Khamenei, 80, rarely makes appearances at the Friday prayer sermon, but has done so during past crises. The last time Mr. Khamenei led a Friday sermon was in February 2012 as Iran faced international challenges over its nuclear program. He also led the prayer in 2009 during the mass uprising known as the Green Movement, following claims that the presidential election had been rigged.

The supreme leader’s choice to lead the prayer on Friday indicates how seriously he views the current challenge to the establishment.

The Islamic Republic has survived the past 40 years by uniting its leadership when faced with domestic opposition and foreign threats, and Mr. Khamenei sought to show that the clerical establishment still has widespread public support.

Following the Friday prayer, state television showed rallies in dozens of cities across the country in support of Mr. Khamenei against the U.S.

Mr. Khamenei dismissed the recent protests, during which pictures of Gen. Soleimani were defaced, as actions of a small minority.

“Are those few hundreds who insulted our martyr general the image of the Iranian people? Or is it the millions who take to the streets to show themselves” in support of Gen. Soleimani, Mr. Khamenei asked.

Following Gen. Soleimani’s death, hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets to mourn the general. Mr. Khamenei openly wept at Gen. Soleimani’s funeral ceremony in Tehran.

Those public displays of national unity dissipated in the days following the downing of the plane.

Friday’s prayer was an attempt to reignite support behind the clerical leadership. State television Friday morning showed queues of buses with people waiting to attend the prayers.

“The blood in our veins is a present to our leader,” worshipers chanted at the Mosalla Mosque, where Mr. Khamenei spoke. “Free spirited leader, we are ready, ready.”

American flags had been painted on streets in Tehran so people would step on them.

Iran’s leadership is grappling with economic hardship, exacerbated by U.S. sanctions imposed after the Trump administration in 2018 pulled out of the 2015 international nuclear deal. Washington’s sanctions are meant to coerce Iran to negotiate for a more comprehensive nuclear deal and to roll back its military footprint in the Middle East.

Earlier in the week, Iran said it would pursue prosecution of those responsible for killing Gen. Soleimani in domestic and Iraqi courts and the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Mr. Khamenei also said European countries who are part of the 2015 nuclear deal couldn’t be trusted, after they decided earlier this week to trigger a dispute-resolution mechanism in the deal, which could eventually lead to the reimposition of international sanctions on Tehran.

“Their negotiation comes with deceit and trickery,” Mr. Khamenei said of the U.K., France and Germany. “It’s clear that they are literally U.S. lackeys.” Supreme Leader Rallies Iranians, Supreme Leader Rallies Iranians,Supreme Leader Rallies Iranians,Supreme Leader Rallies Iranians


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