The aerospace commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on state television Saturday that he took "full responsibility" for the mistaken shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner this week and that he wished he "were dead" when he learned about the fate of the aircraft.
"That night we had the readiness for all-out war," Amir Ali Hajizadeh said.
The admission Saturday sparked anti-government protests in Tehran, with some demonstrators calling for the resignation of their country's leaders, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, which is affiliated with IRGC.
VOA’s Persian news service reported protests also spread to other areas of Iran, including the country’s third-largest city of Isfahan. Protests were also reported by Reuters and the BBC.
After news of the protests began to surface, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted (using Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's Twitter handle in the tweet):
The voice of the Iranian people is clear. They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC under @khamenei_ir's kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future. pic.twitter.com/tBOjv9XsIG— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 11, 2020
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told VOA News on Saturday, “There are once again massive protests in Iran against the regime and we stand with the brave Iranian people 100%. Protesters are chanting about the shameful actions of the IRGC and are ripping down posters of [Quds Force commander Qassem] Soleimani put up by the regime. They are saying Soleimani was a murderer and so is Khameini. The protesters are right!”
Earlier Saturday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had called for a full admission of guilt for the downing of the plane on the outskirts of Tehran that killed all 176 people on board.
Zelenskiy said he also wanted "a full and open investigation, bringing those responsible to justice, the return of the bodies of the dead, the payment of compensation, official apologies through diplomatic channels."
Zelenskiy said later that Iran has provided enough "photos, videos and other materials" from the crash "to see that the investigation will be carried out objectively and promptly."
Ukrainian experts in Iran have received "full cooperation" from Iran and have been given access to the crash site and the plane's data recorders, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said. He said Ukraine's team has "access to the recordings of conversations between the dispatchers of the flight control center at the airport in Tehran and our pilots."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that Iran must be held accountable. Sixty-three Canadians died in the crash.
"What Iran has admitted to is very serious. Shooting down a civilian aircraft is horrific. Iran must take full responsibility," Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa. "Canada will not rest until we get the accountability, justice and closure that the families deserve.”
Three days after Iran mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian jetliner, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter that Iran "deeply regrets this disastrous mistake."
Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 11, 2020
Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake. #PS752
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted on Twitter Saturday: "A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations."
Thumbs up for telling the truth. That matters in a world where lies have become the norm.— hope bardugoni (@setiris) January 11, 2020
The Ukrainian International Airlines flight was mistaken for a "hostile target" as it made a turn toward a "sensitive military center" of the Revolutionary Guard, according to a military statement carried on state media. "In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit."
The downing of the UIA jetliner, a Boeing 737, happened just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers in response to last week's U.S. drone attack that killed Soleimani.
Iran had initially denied that it was responsible for the downing of the jet. However, U.S. and Canadian intelligence said they believed Iran had shot down the aircraft.
U.S. President Donald Trump attacked Democratic lawmakers on Twitter Saturday, questioning their response to the U.S. killing of the Iranian commander. "Where have the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats gone when they have spent the last 3 days defending the life of Qassem Soleimani, one of the worst terrorists in history” … who "was also looking to do big future damage!"
Trump's knock on Democrats came as he and senior members of his administration faced persistent questions from Democrats about his decision to order the killing of Soleimani.
Like the Democrats, lawmakers from Trump’s own Republican Party also are applying increasing pressure on Trump and his senior advisers to disclose more information about the intelligence they had indicating Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on American personnel in the region.
Trump administration officials continued to offer a series of explanations Friday to justify the killing, including a claim that Iranian militants had planned attacks on four U.S. embassies. The claim conflicts with intelligence assessments from other top Trump administration officials.
Payman Parseyan, a prominent Iranian Canadian, told the Associated Press: "Iran is responsible for its own military defense equipment. While it has the right to defend itself, as it should to protect its own people, it should also have the responsibility with that right to make sure their defensive systems aren't targeting civilian aircraft."
The flight was en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, a connection stop for many Iranian Canadians and Iranian students studying in Canada.