On a bus for a “pilgrimage” to the grave of the famous Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, Hoda overheard others discussing what they would pray for when they arrived at the “holy place”.
Their words made it clear to the 33-year-old photographer that more than two years after Iran’s most powerful military commander was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad, Soleimani had legendary status, almost holy, in Iran.
“No one thinks Soleimani is infallible but it feels like being in a temple. It’s very peaceful and spiritual and you can see all kinds of people there – modern or religious,” said Hoda, who traveled to the site in the southeastern city of Kerman this month.
“I cried there. I only realized after his death what a sincere, strong man he was and how he gave his life to protect us.”
Decades after the 1979 Islamic revolution, Tehran is struggling to claim its revolutionary cause for younger generations who are critical of corruption and poverty in the country. Iran’s leaders hope to reinvigorate pro-regime forces by honoring Soleimani, a man of humble background raised by the revolution to an important military figure.
Soleimani – who served as commander of the Revolutionary Guards for overseas operations, especially training militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan – was not involved in any of the corruption scandals. . He also has a history of advocating for women, calling them “my daughters” – even the likes of Hoda, who wore a purple hoodie to his grave and didn’t adhere to strict dress codes. of Islam.
In early January, the Islamic republic held a “week of resistance” to mark his “martyrdom day”. It hung large banners of Soleimani and said it provided free accommodation and food for the 250,000 “pilgrims” to his grave. The cinema screened a free Soleimani documentary. Thousands of supporters gathered in the capital Tehran to mark the 3rd anniversary of his assassination, and were attended by hardline president Ebrahim Raisi, who has vowed revenge against US politicians.
“The anniversary of Soleimani is being used as a drop of fresh blood to help keep the revolutionary spirit alive and attract new young loyalists,” said one reformist political analyst.
“The Islamic republic cannot promote its ideals and celebrate its founders through the anniversary of the revolution. [in February] in 10 more days. But Soleimani was an updated story and the only high-profile figure directly killed by the US, which adds to his prominence.”
The display of revolutionary fervor at home has been compared with muscle-flexing shows in the region. In the first week of January, coinciding with the anniversary of Soleimani, suspected Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria launched a series of attacks against military bases housing troops. America. No Americans were killed. Iran also announced sanctions against 51 US citizens for their role in Soleimani’s death, as well as “terrorism” and human rights violations.
The desire to make Soleimani a national hero comes as Iranian diplomats and world powers meet in Vienna to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. There has been little progress so far. Iran has said it will restore its nuclear progress, made since former US president Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and re-impose sanctions, only if the US lifts all sanctions and ensure no prospective government withdraws from the deal.
With strong US sanctions, there have been regular street protests by farmers, teachers, workers and even veterans, civil servants and retired people to protest. poor economic conditions.
Marking an anniversary is not without controversy.
Five days after Soleimani was killed, Iran retaliated by targeting an Iraqi military base. Hours later, a Ukrainian passenger jet was shot down by Soleimani’s Revolutionary Guards shortly after taking off from Tehran airport. All 176 people on board were killed. The Guardians blamed human error.
Families of the victims have staged public protests, urging high-ranking military and security figures to be brought to trial. They believe that the plane was shot down intentionally to prevent the US from attacking Iran.
“I am not a judge but we have concluded that they shot down the plane to use it as a human shield. . . and then blame the US for that,” said Mohsen Asadi Lari, a former senior health official, whose two children were killed in the plane crash.
He and his wife – Zahra Majd, a university professor of medical sciences – said the guard’s top commander, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, had a lot of suggestions for them. “They said that if this plane had not crashed, there would have been a fierce battle the next day. America will attack [Iran] and the lives of about 10 million people could be at risk,” she said. The guards said that the scholar’s claims about General Salami were “untrue” and “distorted”.
Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, poses for a photo at the site of her father’s murder in Baghdad on the anniversary of the assassination. The fact that she is holding the latest iPhone 13 has confused many Iranians because the import of this phone is restricted in Iran because it is seen as a symbol of Western consumerism.
For Hoda, Iran would be a better place to live today if Soleimani had not been killed. “He didn’t deserve to die a natural death but it’s too early for him to be a martyr,” she said. “We need him. I feel we have become lonely. Much hardship is happening to us because of his absence.”