Iran begins burying late president, foreign minister and others killed in helicopter crash – Chicago Tribune

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran prepared Thursday to bury its late president at the holiest site for Shiite Muslims in the Islamic Republic, a final mark of respect for a protégé of Iran’s supreme leader who died in a crash. helicopter earlier this week.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s burial at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad caps days of processions across much of Iran, seeking to bolster the country’s theocracy after the accident that killed him, the country’s foreign minister and six others.

However, the services have not drawn the same crowds as those who gathered for services for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020, killed by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

It is a potential sign of public sentiment about Raisi’s presidency, during which the government harshly cracked down on all dissidents during protests over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, detained for allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf as authorities pleased. .

That repression, as well as Iran’s difficult economy, have not been mentioned in the hours of coverage provided by state television and newspapers. Raisi’s involvement in the mass execution of some 5,000 dissidents at the end of the Iran-Iraq war was also never discussed.

Prosecutors have warned people not to show any public signs of celebrating Raisi’s death and a heavy presence of security forces has been seen in Tehran since the crash.

On Thursday morning, thousands of people dressed in black gathered along a main boulevard in the city of Birjand, Raisi’s hometown in Iran’s South Khorasan province, along the border with Afghanistan. A truck carried his coffin down the street, and mourners came forward to touch it and throw scarves and other items to place against it for a blessing. A sign on the truck read: “This is the sanctuary.”

Hours later, Raisi’s coffin arrived in Mashhad. He will be buried at the Imam Reza Shrine, where the eighth imam of Shia Islam is buried. The region has long been associated with Shia pilgrimage. A hadith attributed to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad says that anyone who is in pain or sin will feel relieved by visiting that place.

In 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Raisi to head the Imam Reza charitable foundation, which runs a vast conglomerate of businesses and donations in Iran, as well as overseeing the shrine. It is one of many bonyads, or charitable foundations, fueled by donations or assets confiscated after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

These foundations offer no public accounting of their expenditures and are answerable only to Iran’s supreme leader. The Imam Reza charity, known as “Astan-e Quds-e Razavi” in Farsi, is believed to be one of the largest in the country. Analysts estimate its value at tens of billions of dollars, as it owns nearly half the land in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.

Raisi will be the country’s first high-level politician to be buried at the shrine, which represents a great honor for the cleric.

The deaths of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others in Sunday’s crash come at a politically sensitive time for Iran, both at home and abroad.

Raisi, who was 63, had been discussed as a possible successor to Iran’s 85-year-old Supreme Leader Khamenei. None of Iran’s living former presidents, other than Khamenei, who was president from 1981 to 1989, could be seen in footage of Wednesday prayers on state television. Authorities gave no explanation for his apparent absence.

Iran has set June 28 as the next presidential election. For now, there is no clear favorite for the job among Iran’s political elite, especially no one who is a Shiite cleric, like Raisi.

Acting President Mohammad Mokhber, a relatively unknown first vice president until Sunday’s accident, assumed his role and even attended a meeting between Khamenei and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday. State media circulated photographs Thursday showing a meeting between the paramilitary chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the head of its Quds Expeditionary Force and representatives of Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. That is another sign of the Iranian government’s commitment to the militias it arms against its rivals, Israel and the United States.

Meanwhile, former Foreign Ministers Mohammed Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi and other dignitaries paid their respects to Amirabdollahian at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, where his coffin was displayed. His body was later buried in Shahr-e Rey, on the outskirts of Tehran, in the Abdol Azim shrine, another final resting place for those famous in Persian history.

“Give our regards to Soleimani,” said a religious singer as Amirabdollahian’s body was placed within its final resting place, referring to the slain general.