The chief commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has expressed his profound sorrow over recent downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane over Tehran, saying he had never felt more shame in his life.
Major General Hossein Salami made the remarks while addressing a Sunday session of Iran's parliament, where he said he wished he was among the passengers of the crashed plane and died with them.
“I wish I were inside that plane and fell down and burned along with those loved ones instead of witnessing this tragic incident,” the IRGC’s chief commander said, noting, “I swear on the life of my children that we [in the IRGC] have no other wish but to be torn into pieces for the sake of the security, welfare and peace of our people.”
The Boeing 737-800, on its way to Kiev and ultimately bound for Toronto, was shot down unintentionally on January 8, hours after Iran fired missiles at two US military bases in neighboring Iraq.
All the 176 people on board were killed and among them 147 were Iranians.
“After the assassination and martyrdom of our beloved commander [Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani] and his comrades [by US forces in Iraq], we found ourselves in the psychological atmosphere of an unknown war with the United States,” Major General Salami said.
The IRGC’s chief commander stressed, “There was very heavy pressure from the public for retaliation and we, like you and even more than you, were influenced by that incident.”
Salami added that Iran’s retaliatory response to the targeted killing of Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had to be “proportionate" with the US crime, adding, “This time, we did not set our goals based on human fatalities, [because] our goal was not to kill the enemy’s soldiers and it was of no significance to us."
Last Friday, US airstrikes assassinated Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), among others, after targeting their vehicles in Baghdad. The assassinations took place under the direction of US President Donald Trump, with the US Department of Defense taking responsibility for the strike.
Both commanders were admired by Muslim nations for eliminating the US-sponsored Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
Soon after the assassination, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said Washington was to face a “harsh revenge” for the atrocity.
Early on Wednesday, the IRGC fired volleys of ballistic missiles at the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq’s Anbar Province, and another outpost in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, both of which housed US forces.
Trump has denied that the Iranian strikes led to any casualties. Tehran said the US military conducted at least nine sorties after the operation, taking the wounded to Jordan and the occupied territories, while Chinook helicopters transferred the injured Americans to the US hospital in Baghdad.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Salami said after Iran's missile attack on the US base in Iraq and when the country was expecting American forces’ response, the air defense forces were told that a number of Cruise missiles had been fired and were ready to intercept them.
“Our operator was told about the Cruise missiles and his contact with the SOC was cut for a while…. Therefore, when he saw the airplane on his radar screen he was sure that it was a serious threat.”
“When planes are aligned with the air defense system, their cross section becomes small in size. Under war conditions [that prevailed that night], the operator believed that it was a Cruise missile and that he had downed a Cruise missile.”
“We made a mistake and a number of our fellow countrymen were killed as a result of our mistake, but it was unintentional and we feel ashamed and will make up for it,” Salami said, adding, “When we made sure [about what had happened] we released information. However, we are ready to accept any decision that is made and we submit ourselves to the will of the dear and great nation of Iran.”