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Emotional Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows Iran general’s death is personal

Ayatollah Khamenei’s voice cracked under the weight of the moment during a funeral procession unlike any in Iran’s recent history.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei openly weeps as he leads a prayer over the coffin of General Qassem Soleimani (Iran Press TV via AP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei openly weeps as he leads a prayer over the coffin of General Qassem Soleimani (Iran Press TV via AP)

By Aya Batrawy, Associated Press

In a rare display of emotion from the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cried openly at the funeral of General Qassem Soleimani, his most important military commander with whom he shared a deep bond.

“Oh Allah, they are in need of your mercy, and you are exalted above punishing your servants,” Ayatollah Khamenei said during a mass prayer as he stood over a flag-draped coffin with the remains of Gen Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq on Friday.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s voice cracked under the weight of the moment during a funeral procession unlike any in Iran’s recent history.

Police said attendees numbered into the millions.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and his comrades in Tehran (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

The funeral showcased the depth of the bond Ayatollah Khamenei had with the general and gave insight into how Gen Soleimani’s death is being felt personally by the supreme leader.

It could also impact how Ayatollah Khamenei responds to the United States.

The US killed Gen Soleimani, other Revolutionary Guard members and a senior Iraqi militia leader in a stunning attack on their convoy, shortly after Gen Soleimani had arrived at Baghdad’s international airport.

The killing, ordered by President Donald Trump, has dramatically heightened the risk of war as senior Iranian figures vow to strike US military targets in response.

To many across the Middle East, Gen Soleimani was a dangerous figure whose armed militias killed thousands of Sunni Muslims in Syria and threatened regional security.

To the US, he was the man responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq and countless attacks on Iraqis fighting alongside American forces.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leads a prayer over the coffins of General Qassem Soleimani and his comrades (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In Iran, Gen Soleimani was a lionised figure who embodied Iran’s lethal reach in the face of crushing US pressure.

He was a powerful commander in charge of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, overseeing Iran’s proxy militias abroad, ranging from Hezbollah in Lebanon to armed factions in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

In Iraq, that meant directing the country’s mostly Shiite paramilitaries, including in the fight alongside the US against Sunni extremists such as so-called Islamic State.

To Iran’s supreme leader, Gen Soleimani was a loyal aide who conferred with him often and cemented Tehran’s footprint far beyond the country’s borders, helping to preserve and advance the principles of the 1979 revolution that brought Iran’s Shiite leadership to power.

Their relationship was so close that Ayatollah Khamenei was photographed more than once embracing Gen Soleimani in ways that are customary in Iran for fathers and their beloved sons.

In one such photograph from 2018, Ayatollah Khamenei, seated on an elevated platform, leans down and kisses Gen Soleimani’s forehead.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei kisses the head of Gen Soleimani during a religious ceremony in Tehran in 2018 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In another image from 2017, Ayatollah Khamenei is seen kissing Gen Soleimani’s cheek during Ashoura, a religious day of mourning among Shiites.

Unlike other military commanders in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the 62-year-old general answered only to 80-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei.

So revered was he by Ayatollah Khamenei, that the supreme leader awarded the general Iran’s highest military order in March.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that Gen Soleimani is the only Iranian military official to receive the Order of Zulfaqar since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

When pinning the medal on Gen Soleimani, the Iranian leader said he hoped God would reward the general and help him live a blissful life that ends with martyrdom.

“Of course not any time soon,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, adding the “Islamic Republic needs him for years to come”.

To Gen Soleimani, Ayatollah Khamenei was a venerated spiritual figure whom he referred to as his “dear and honourable leader”.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Qassem Soleimani and his comrades in Tehran (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In 2015, Gen Soleimani was quoted saying: “I ask God to sacrifice my life for you.”

So close were they that Iranian media is describing the killed general as Ayatollah Khamenei’s own Malik al-Ashtar, a reference to the most loyal companions of the first Shiite leader, Imam Ali.

And in death, Gen Soleimani has received what no man before him has in modern Iran.

His funeral processions have been spread over several days and cities, marking the first time Iran has ever honoured a single man with a multi-city ceremony.

Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989.

Ayatollah Khamenei vowed that the Quds Force’s strategy would be unchanged and he quickly named a successor to Gen Soleimani, but the general’s standing and relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei is not as easy to replace.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had a deep bond with Gen Qassem Soleimani (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

That is in part because their relationship extended beyond the war room.

Gen Soleimani was also close with Ayatollah Khamenei’s children and had been photographed kissing one of the sons on the forehead.

In a deeply personal and symbolically weighty gesture, Iran’s supreme leader made a rare visit to Gen Soleimani’s home the day he was killed to offer condolences to his grieving widow and grown children.

Rather than calling him by his last name as is customary, Ayatollah Khamenei referred to him as Hajj Qassem – another indication of how close the two were.

That same day, Ayatollah Khamenei declared three days of mourning across the country and vowed “harsh retaliation”.

The loss of Gen Soleimani “is bitter”, Ayatollah Khamenei said in statements carried on Twitter and in Iranian media on Monday.



From Belfast Telegraph