In a stark rebuke to the mullahs in Tehran, anti-regime protesters in Iran this week torched a billboard depicting slain IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani was killed Jan. 3, 2020 in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport, and has been lionized by the regime as a martyr and icon. Local protesters on Oct. 11 set ablaze a billboard in his honor. The incident was documented on video that activists sent to Soldier of Fortune.
Protests and violence have spread through several cities in Iran as demonstrators angry over the Sept. 16 death of a young woman continue to defy officials’ warnings of reprisal.
Iran Human Rights (IHR) says that at least 201 people, including 23 children, have been killed in protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.
Activists have become increasingly defiant, as young women refuse to wear the mandatory headscarves, and other citizens clash with security units who have ruled through intimidation.
Earlier this week, anti-regime activists hacked into a live state television broadcast, airing an image of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the crosshairs and in flames. The images were accompanied by the words “join us and rise up.” The group Edalat-e Ali took credit for the hack.
The billboard torching is a signal that Iranians no longer can be told who to revere, one activist told Soldier of Fortune.
“Soleimani is a hero to the regime,” the activist said. “But the regime must understand, he is not a hero to us.”
Soleimani took command of the elite Quds Force around 1997, according to reports. He was in charge of the Islamic Republic’s overseas campaigns. Among his projects was to send proxy forces into Syria to support President Bashar Assad. He was responsible for killing American troops in Iraq, according to U.S. defense officials.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once described Soleimani as a “living martyr of the revolution.” The U.S. killed Soleimani in a drone strike, after finding evidence that he was planning an attack against Americans.
“General Soleimani was engaged in a plot to kill another 500 Americans,” according to former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We had the opportunity to take down that plot, and we did,” Pompeo told the Al Arabiya news outlet this year.
Leaders in Tehran have elevated Soleimani as an icon for the country.
Soleimani’s cache is diminished along with support for the regime, the activist said.
“We don’t support the mullahs,” the activist said. “When it comes to them, we are iconoclasts.”
The current protests follow a summer of unrest throughout Iran over poor living conditions, water shortages, and economic hardship.