Thousands of Iranians converge several times each week in the capital to pay homage to the "martyrs fallen in the heroic struggle against the Iraqi mercenaries."

The mass burials are an amazing mixture of joy -- for those "martyred" are assumed to have already reached heaven -- and of sorrowful weeping of relatives and stirred-up popular sentiment. The burials serve the dual purpose of unifying the population in the war effort and diverting attention from the harsh realities of life in Tehran.

Initially, the Persian Gulf war did indeed unify the Iranians, who previously had been engrossed in factional infighting and survival in a tense environment. Feeling against the Iraqis ran high, with even the most virulent opponents of the Islamic government raging about Baghdad's "aggression."

Since then, however, things have changed. It has slowly become clear to the general public that the Iranian Armed forces are in no position to launch a major counteroffensive. With that realization, the publis's mood has been shifting.

The various political factions have begun, albeit in couched terms, to blame each other for the impotence of the Army. Power struggles have resurfaced, tension has returned to the city, and the population has become increasingly disgruntled.

The tripling of the price of gasoline and the introduction of rationing for certain basic foodstuffs, such as sugar, have only aggravated the discontent.

Although it served to unify the country at first, the war in the longer term has made clear to ordinary Iranians the implications of holding the U.S. hostages and 20 months of uncertain government leadership.

The discontent has been intensified lately by stories filtering back from the embattled oil-producing province of Khuzestan. While waiting in the outer office of parilamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani recently, a group of women wearing traditional black, full-length veils raged about the policy of the fundamentalist Khuzestan governor general not to allow civilians to leave such besieged cities as Ahwaz and Dezful.

"Are they mad or what?" the oldest of the women asked. "Do they not care what happens to the people, or prefer us all to be so-called martyrs and have every last item stolen by the Iraqis?"

Earlier, in October when the war was about four weeks old, Tehran was like a breath of fresh air compared to the increasingly strained Iraqi capital during the first weeks of the hostilities.

With Iran's power struggle than dormant and with the local revolutionary committes and Revolutionary Guard relaxing their zealous activities, people were able to go about their daily business in a way not possible only weeks before.

When the war started, the Iraqis and the rest of the world were not the only ones surprised by the strength of the Iranian defenses. Many inhabitants of Tehran themselves expressed surprise.

Internally divided by the revolution, the armed forces suffered more at the hands of the Islamic revolutionary extremists than any other professional group in Iran.

Distrusted for its close links to the late shah and its American training, the military was seen as the main threat to the Islamic revolution. Nearly all the higher officers disappeared -- imprisoned, retired or simply executed. But even more serious, according to one military attache in Tehran, the purges also affected many of the younger officers and senior noncommissioned officers.

The whole military command structure -- particularly the Army -- was in complete disarray. Staff officers were few, barracks were taken over by Revolutionary Guards, and the most modern weaponry was left unattended. When the Iraqis attacked, 80 percent of Iran's British-made Chieftain tanks were nonoperational, many because the Revolutionary Guards -- fearing a coup -- had stolen the batteries. In addition, most of the American-made Cobra helicopter gunships were grounded.

Despite all that, it became clear during the first days of the war that the Iranians had been able to halt the Iraqi advance around the major cities of Khuzestan Province.

It has became apparent since then, however, that defense may be all the Iranian armed forces are capable of.

Almost two months ago, for example, Iran's radio news said that the Iranian armed forces were mounting a counteroffensive in the northern sector of the front. It was claimed that "the heroic defenders of the revolution" were making amazing advances toward the Iraqi-held border town of Qasr-e-Shirin.

Newspaper and radio reports in the days following that announcement continued to concentrate on fighting there, climaxing with the report that Army units had actually broken through in the city, located less than 100 miles from Baghdad. However, denials quickly followed, and within a couple of days all news of Qasr-e-Shirin had faded.

One officer returning from the front confirmed that a counteroffensive had been launched. "But," he said, "although in the beginning we did make some headway, we were either driven back or brought to a halt the moment we hit any real concentrations of Iraqi forces."

Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr and various commanders have achieved much since the start of the war. Some forms of command structure, basic logistics and communications have been imposed. However, without the ability to mobilize their heavy armor and helicopters -- something that requires significant supplies of spare parts -- Iran will not be able to break the stalemate in the two-month-old war.