As political barometers go, nothing tops a regime funeral in Iran. Who attended from which faction, who received a triple-kiss, who sent gladiolas and a note; often these events are more illuminating in matters of state than an election. In that light, the event of the year was surely the funeral of the mother of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Qods Force, held in Tehran this past weekend.
The Islamic Republic's political and military elite turned out in full force to pay their respects to Soleimani, whose as the Qods commander oversees the Iran's activities beyond its borders, including its extensive military influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Afghanistan. But President Hassan Rouhani's was conspicuously absent, sending his whole cabinet instead to presumably make up for the slight.
The message of condolence sent by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei topped the proceedings, read aloud and describing Soleimani's service to Islam and Muslims as a “valuable treasure.” In response, Soleimani, in rather uncustomary manner, relayed his own message to the Supreme Leader, in which he called himself “ashamed and lowly” before Khamenei's favour, and declared his wish to martyr himself in recompense. Soleimani went on to call Khamenei a peerless leader and the true head of the Muslim world, underscoring both his ideological affiliation with and total obedience to the Supreme Leader.
As unexpected messages go, the missive of former president Mohammad Khatami has also caught the Iranians media's attention. Despite some friction between the Revolutionary Guards and Khatami during his tenure (the Guards threatened to intervene in 1999 if Khatami didn't clean up the Tehran University student protests himself), in recents years it has been said that the relationship between Soleimani and Khatami is actually decent. Khatami's condolence note seemed to confirm that, praising the commander's record in resistance and martyrdom.
President Rouhani's absence meant the executive was the only branch of the Iranian government not represented by its head. But the Rouhani government instead turned out in full force: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian, Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi, and a number of cabinet ministers.
Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a close Soleimani family friend numbered among the special guests, having attended a separate gathering beforehand at another Revolutionary Guards facility. Other prominent guests included Saeed Jalili, the former nuclear negotiatior, Ali Shamkhani, deputy head of the Supreme National SEcurity Council, and Rahim Safavi and Mohsen Rezai, former Guards commanders.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put in an appearance, along with several of his former ministers, and made an extra effort to show warmth to Soleimani, who in press photos is clearly trying to reciprocate with coolness. Soleimani's cozy reception of the Ahmadinejad foes present also did not go unnoticed.
Of the reformists, the most prominent guests were Mohammad Reza Aref, the former presidential candidate and Expediency Council member, and Kamal Kharrazi, a former foreign minister. Because the funeral was held at a Revolutionary Guards site, it is likely that some reformist figures, despite being inclined to attend, would simply have not been permitted to show up.
The foreign guests present, as to be expected, included the ambassadors of Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, Lebanese clerics, and Ramadan Abdallah, the head of Islamic Jihad. Soleimani greeted Abdallah with particular effusion, kissing his forehead and even leaving the funeral for a few moments to speak with him.
The most interesting and apparently appealing of all the foreign guests, however, was a mysterious young man with wide, dark eyes. According to Fars News, “Amongst the guests there stood an attractive young man whose ties to Haj Qasem ran deep. He stood behind the commander throughout, and occasionally kissed his shoulder, and the two sometimes paused to whisper together. Haj Qasem at times paused to introduce [the young man] to various commanders. Upon learning of his identity, a smile alighted on the lips of those who hadn't recognized him, and they embraced him.”
The young man is none other than Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the notorious Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh. Assassinated in Syria in 2008, Mughniyeh is best known for masterminding the wave of Western hostage-takings in Lebanon in the 1980s. As Fars News puts it: “The relationship between Jihad and Haj Qasem is deeper than that of a young man with his father's friend, and those who didn't know, imagined that he was indeed his son.”