Iranians Close Ranks Behind Leaders After U.S. Kills Popular General

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In cities across Iran, tens of thousands packed the streets to mourn Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani. Black-clad women and men beat their chests and clutched photos of him. A black flag went up on the golden dome of Imam Reza shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of the holiest sites of Shiite Islam.

Just a few weeks earlier, the streets were filled with protesters angry with their leaders over the flailing economy and the country’s international isolation.

But at least for now, Iran is united — in anger at the United States.

For years, it has been a divided nation led by aged revolutionaries determined to impose their will on a predominantly young population with no memory of the Shah, who was deposed in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and with a thirst to live in a more normal nation integrated into the world.

Suddenly, with one targeted assassination, the nation rallied behind its leaders.

Young and old. Rich and poor. Hard-liner and reformer, General Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful military leader, was almost universally admired and had near cult figure status. After being killed in Baghdad on Friday in a drone strike ordered by President Trump, his image is now plastered across Tehran, shrouded in black drapes.

“Without doubt, the people of Iran will take revenge for this horrific criminal act,” tweeted the president, Hassan Rouhani, a leader who once advocated diplomacy and integration with the West.

In Iraq on Saturday, tens of thousands of pro-Iranian fighters marched through the capital, Baghdad, vowing to exact revenge on the United States at a funeral procession for two revered Iraqi military figures who were also killed in the attack on General Suleimani.

And back in Iran, politicians and ordinary people of all stripes voiced support for the vow by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that “severe revenge awaits those criminals” who killed the general.

The assassination appears to have solidified the hard-liners’ grip on power, neutralizing at least for the moment those who had called for talks with the West, experts inside and outside of Iran said.

The deep grievances that ignited protests against the government in November still remain in place: economic hardship, international isolation and social oppression. Some Iranian opposition supporters have praised the assassination and are in favor of Washington increasing its maximum pressure policy on Iran’s rulers.

“He’s someone who had a depth and breadth of relationships within the Iranian system that allowed him to work with all key players,” Ms. Tabatabai said. She cited his close working relationship with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is seen as a moderate.

“Every major political actor within Iran, from reformist to hard-liner, is saying this is a great loss,” she said.

Iran announced a three-day funeral procession for General Suleimani which began on Saturday in Baghdad and then moves to other cities in Iraq. The procession will continue in Mashhad, Iran on Sunday and Tehran on Monday, where Ayatollah Khamenei will pray over the general’s body at Tehran University.

Then on Tuesday it will go to his hometown, Kerman, for burial. Iranian media reported that he left a will asking for a simple burial there.

An enormous turnout is expected, and leaders of militant groups from across the region are expected to attend the services, several people with knowledge of the planning said.

“Many Iranians, whether they like the regime or not, did consider Suleimani as a sort of national symbol,” said Raz Zimmt, an Iran specialist at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, and they see his assassination “as something that hurts national pride. ”Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, a prominent Iranian author who has spoken out for artistic freedom, wrote that “Iran once again lost one of its most honorable children.”

Since Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has revived its nuclear program in stages, amid escalating conflicts with the United States. The European signers of the agreement promised to find a way to offset the effects of the sanctions, but so far have failed. Hints at renewed negotiations with Washington have gone nowhere.

“The moderates were already on life support” before the killing of General Suleimani, Mr. Nasr said, and Iran will hold legislative elections next month. “I would guess the hard-liners are going to do very well. This kind of pressure on Iran, just like in any country, plays into the hands of the security forces.”

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