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Soleimani's Funeral Is Iran's Opportunity To Project Image Of Unity

Fellow townsmen in Kerman mourn Qassem Soleimani.

Iran's authoritarian regime is using the extensive funeral ceremonies it has planned for General Soleimani as an opportunity to overshadow the deep wounds its harsh crackdown on protests in November inflicted on the Iranian people and to cast an image of a unified people against "enemies".

The funeral ceremonies planned for Soleimani who was killed in a U.S. drone attack near Baghdad on December 3, along with several Iraqi paramilitary commanders, will take place in several locations in Iraq and Iran.

Soleimani was largely responsible for the meddling in Iraqi politics that resulted in extensive ongoing protests since October against Iranian influence. In Iran, just less than two months ago, the uprising of the people was harshly suppressed by the regime Soleimani served as a top military commander.

The planned ceremonies provide a propaganda opportunity for the regime in both countries if it manages to bring the crowds to the streets to mourn the general. In Iran the agenda is broader and aims at bringing a wounded and divided nation facing tough economic problems together by casting Soleimani as a national hero and a saint to be mourned by all.

General Soleimani, a figure deeply hated by the anti-regime opposition, was probably the only Iranian senior military commander who the elite of the Islamic Republic from across its political spectrum respected. Now that he is dead, many of them are calling him a martyr, praising him profusely and condoling Iranians on his death.

After his death Soleimani has become a very divisive figure among the anti-regime opposition. Some individuals are now saying Soleimani should be seen as a national hero rather than an agent of the suppressive regime while others who are rejoicing his death are calling him a criminal whose hands were stained with the blood of the people of Iran and the region.

The series of mourning ceremonies the regime has planned started in Baghdad on Saturday morning where thousands of mourners dressed in black, including the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, joined the funeral procession from the city's Green Zone toward holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Al-Najaf.

Karbala received the bodies of Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi a-Muhandis and six others killed in the U.S. strike later on Saturday. Iranian news agencies say thousands of people have already gathered there. More mourning processions are planned in Al-Najaf later on Saturday.

On Friday the Iranian state-run television said according to Soleimani's family his body was going to be taken to his hometown Kerman to be buried there according to his wish after a funeral ceremony in Tehran. The family also said the ceremony in Tehran would be officiated by the Supreme Leader himself who would pray on the body. Plans have now changed, probably to make an even bigger show of the funeral.

The Revolutionary Guards on Saturday said in a statement that the General's body will be first taken to the holy city of Mashhad, the second-largest Iranian city and a bastion of conservatism and pro-government political groups, on arrival from Iraq on Sunday.

According to the statement the ceremony in Mashhad will be held at the shrine of Imam Reza, the most important and magnificent Shiite shrine in Iran which is visited by tens of thousands of pilgrims on any ordinary day. The ceremonies will then continue in Tehran, on Monday, where Khamenei is likely to officiate.

The body will once again be moved, to its final destination Kerman, for another day of processions and burial where Soleimani's fellow townsmen have been mourning in big crowds since his death was announced.

A week later and then on the 40th day of his burial there will be even more ceremonies. Until then the Iranian state-run television and all the other propaganda organizations of the regime will work very hard to portray Soleimani as an innocent martyr, a saint, with even greater exaggeration than before.

The regime's propaganda machine knows that Iranian society has historically been very sympathetic to martyrdom and innocence of the kind Imam Hossein, the third Imam of Shiites represents and they will try to use the opportunity to offer another martyr to it to mourn for.

Turning Soleimani into a national hero and a saint is useful for Khamenei, who usually would not tolerate a living public figure to overshadow him. Soleiman's death is helpful to him by overshadowing the killing of hundreds of Iranians less than two months ago for which he is personally responsible.