Iran holds mass burial for 1980s war dead amid nuclear talks

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Thousands of mourners flock to the streets of Iranian cities for the mass burial of 250 victims of the Iran-Iraq war – the recently recovered remains testify to the extent and enduring legacy of the brutal conflict after 35 years

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Thousands of mourners flocked to the streets of Iranian cities on Thursday for the mass burial of 250 victims of the Iran-Iraq war, testament to the widespread scale and enduring legacy of the brutal conflict 35 years later.

The patriotic extravaganza not only served as a reminder of a country regularly consumed with grief over the cruel war that killed a million people on both sides, while also demonstrating the power of the Iranian hardliners who organized it when the diplomats of the Landes met in Vienna for talks because of the broken nuclear agreement with Tehran.

With Conservatives in control of all branches of government under President Ebrahim Raisi, Iran has made maximalist demands at the negotiating table and angered Western delegates as the country pushes its nuclear advances. Meanwhile, tensions have risen across the region – hostilities rooted in US support for Iraq during the Eight Years’ War.

The funeral also takes place just days before the two-year anniversary of the two surface-to-air missile downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by the Iranian military, killing all 176 people on board – a tragedy that sparked unrest across Iran further triggered and damaged its relations with the West.

Outside Tehran University, trucks with flag-draped coffins drove through the streets. Men and women in black huddled in the coffins, many wept for those lost in the bloody, ultimately stalled war that Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party began in 1980.

It was the first time in recent years that Iran honored the burial of so many war dead of the 1980s at the same time. Hassan Hassanzadeh, a general in the Revolutionary Guards, told state television that Iran planned the mass funeral two years ago but postponed it because of the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the country. Infections have decreased in the past few weeks as vaccination speeds up.

Thursday’s ceremony, which also commemorated the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, came as social media in Iran was flooded with hashtags and images commemorating the crash of the Ukrainian plane that hit the world shocked on January 8, 2020. For days when Iran and the US were on the brink of war, the paramilitary guard denied the downing of the plane, ultimately deepening public suspicions and unleashing the anger of the Iranian people.

This week hardliners posted photos and slogans on Twitter to show their solidarity with the recovered Iranian war dead.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the soldiers and offered his support to the families of the victims, Iranian media reported. His conservative protégé, President Raisi, paid his respects at the funeral.

Most of the remains of the victims were recovered from the southwestern border area of ​​Shalamcheh, about 600 kilometers from Tehran, reported the state television, one of the main war-torn sites of Hussein’s surprise invasion. Many were killed in Iran’s “Karbala 5” offensive in January 1987 – the bloodiest battle of the war that killed up to 19,000 Iranians who fought to recapture around 60 square miles of territory.

None of the victims’ remains returned on Thursday have been identified. “Anonymous martyr” is written on the tombstones. The fate of many soldiers on both sides remains unclear. For many Iranian families, the painful legacy of the conflict is the constant waiting for news from loved ones who are still “missing”.

The war that shaped the young theocracy after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 continues to haunt Iran. Most of Iran’s leading officials today either fought or contributed to the massive war effort. The military sent legions of young conscripts onto the battlefields, including those who dropped out of high school to join the volunteer unit and never returned.

American support for Saddam’s armed forces during the war, when Iraq fired thousands of chemical bombs against Iranians, also helped fuel the caution that continues to this day between Iran and the US.

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Associate press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.


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