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Iranians unite to mourn military icon Qassem Soleimani

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets Monday to mourn Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike Friday. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, led funeral prayers and wept over Soleimani's body. But the fallout is more than emotional; as Iran and President Trump trade threats, the U.S. military is bracing for potential retaliation. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Iran today, an outpouring of grief and cries for vengeance.

    The U.S. killing of Iran's best-known military commander brought out vast crowds in Tehran, as leaders on both sides fired off threats.

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a massive show of mourning and unity, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets today to grieve a man they called a martyr.

    Crowds rallied around trucks carrying the remains of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. airstrike last Friday.

  • Ehsan Sharif:

    Soleimani wasn't just an Iranian champion or a hero. He was a hero of all humanity.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led funeral prayers weeping over Soleimani's body.

  • Zeinab Ghasemi:

    Soleimani's assassination has united the country very strongly, in a sense, because he was — he didn't belong to any specific political party.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Zeinab Ghasemi is a professor at the University of Tehran. She told us Soleimani's death had created unity, even among the regime's critics.

  • Zeinab Ghasemi:

    He was a national hero who fought ISIS so effectively.

    And even, like, among my students and colleagues, those who might be very critical of Iran's foreign policy, they are very much united over the issue of Soleimani's assassination.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Sunday, Iran announced it would no longer abide by the 2015 nuclear deal's limits, but it said it would continue cooperating with international inspectors.

    Europe is still in the deal, and, today, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pushed for a return to diplomacy.

  • Ursula von der Leyen (through translator):

    We are extremely concerned that Iran has announced it no longer feels bound by the deal. We see escalating violence, and that is why it is so important to break this developing cycle of violence and find room for diplomacy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As that violence escalated, U.S. officials tell "PBS NewsHour" that, last Monday, President Trump hosted a National Security Council meeting in Florida, and his top military and diplomatic advisers cited intelligence of what they called an imminent threat and pushed a more aggressive option.

    By Thursday, the Pentagon had a plan. On Friday, a U.S. drone killed Soleimani outside the Baghdad Airport.

    Over the weekend, President Trump delivered a specific threat, tweeting: "Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites, some at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture, and those targets and Iran itself will be hit very fast and very hard."

    International lawyers say targeting cultural sites would be illegal under international law, but President Trump repeated the threat on Sunday — quote — "They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."

    The president also threatened Iraq — quote — "If they do ask us to leave, if we don't do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they have never seen before. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

    The president was responding to a nonbinding Iraqi Parliament resolution passed Sunday calling on the Iraqi government to evict U.S. troops.

  • Mohamed al-Halbousi (through translator):

    The Iraqi government has an obligation to end the presence of all foreign forces on Iraqi soil and prevent it from using Iraqi land, water, and airspace for any other reason.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The vote leaves the long-term fate of 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in limbo. Those troops have been fighting ISIS and training Iraqi forces.

    Today, the military said the troops would be repositioned, but their mission is on hold.

    In a statement on Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it would pause the fight against ISIS to focus on protecting American troops.

    Defense officials tell "PBS NewsHour" that military commands around the world are increasing U.S. forces' protection as they brace for a possible Iranian response.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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