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Iran Report: September 12, 2005

12 September 2005, Volume 8, Number 36

SUPREME LEADER MEETS WITH TERRORIST CHIEF. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met on 3 September with Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, visiting head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fars News Agency reported. The U.S. State Department lists the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization that gets assistance from Iran. Khamenei referred to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and added, "The strengthening of the ongoing resistance and Jihad is the only way to withstand the Zionist enemy." Khamenei said resistance must continue. Shallah thanked Iran for its support. He added, "The Islamic Jihad always stressed the need to cooperate with other jihadi groups and that jihadi groups would decisively deal with dangerous plots hatched by America and the Zionist regime." In a speech to government officials and ambassadors from Islamic states on 2 September, Khamenei accused the United States of pressuring Muslim governments, state radio reported. He added, "the world of Islam can stand against this greedy power." (Bill Samii)

GERMAN FIRMS WARNED ABOUT IRANIAN PROCUREMENT ENTITIES. The German government has issued a warning to the country's businesses against delivering potential dual-use components to Iran, ddp news agency reported on 2 September. The warning focuses on goods that can be used to make nuclear, biological, or chemical arms. Some of the companies that are fronts for military procurement, according to Berlin, are Bazargani-i Hava va Faza, Joza Industrial Company, Sanam Projects Management, all three of which are based in Tehran. Others are Associated Fajr Industries Factories in Shiraz, Shahid Darvishi Marine Industries in Bandar Abbas, and Yazd Metallurgy Industries in Yazd. Iran allegedly uses the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone in Dubai as a transit point for military goods, and the German report said MJP International Company and Al Sanabel General Trading LLC are involved in procurement activities. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN LEGISLATOR CANCELS U.S. TRIP. Speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel has cancelled a trip to New York for an Interparliamentary Union meeting, Iranian state radio reported on 6 September. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi described Haddad-Adel's move as a protest against undiplomatic and insulting U.S. behavior. Haddad-Adel reportedly could not obtain a U.S. visa in time. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit New York for a United Nations meeting later in September. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN DIPLOMAT REFUSES TO GO HOME. A senior Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Cyrus Nasseri, is refusing to return home from Vienna because of his alleged involvement in a corruption case, Fars News Agency reported on 6 September, citing an anonymous "informed source." Nasseri is a member of the board of directors of Oriental Oil Kish, and the National Iranian Oil Company announced in August that it is suspending contracts with Oriental Oil and Halliburton in connection with allegations of bribery and corruption (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 August 2005). On 5 September, state television reported, Pars Oil and Gas Company managing director Akbar Torkan announced that Oriental Oil bribed three of his staff members. (Bill Samii)

WHO WATCHES THE WATCHERS? Iran has had a formal intelligence and security organization since 1957, but during the monarchy little was heard about it in the national media other than the names of its directors -- Teimur Bakhtiar, Hassan Pakravan, Nematollah Nassiri, and Nasser Moghaddam. The National Organization for Intelligence and Security (Sazeman-i Ettelaat va Amniyat-i Keshvar, SAVAK) was dreaded, particularly because of the activities of its domestic security branch, Department 3, which had a reputation for torture and other human rights abuses.

SAVAK's successor, the Intelligence and Security Ministry, operated in the shadows until the late 1990s. The ministry seemed to become fair game for the media after courageous journalists like Akbar Ganji revealed the involvement of ministry personnel in the serial murders of dissidents. And in the last month, newspapers have been full of reports that hard-line legislators are promoting a bill that would reduce parliamentary oversight of the Intelligence and Security Ministry.

Looking Back

Oversight of SAVAK was limited. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi created the Special Intelligence Bureau (Daftar-i Vizhe-yi Ettelaat) in 1958-59 and tapped his close friend Hussein Fardust to run it. The bureau's duties included the collection of information from SAVAK and other branches of the government, as well as oversight. The Imperial Inspectorate Organization (Bazrasi-i Shahanshahi) was created in 1958 and resurrected in 1968 to investigate public complaints against military personnel, civilian government officials, and judges, but it never accomplished much. The shah created a short-lived National Security Council in 1959-60, and Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar recreated this council in January 1979. Several intelligence-coordination councils (Shora-yi Hamahangi) were created as well.

The oversight and coordinating bodies failed to function properly mainly because of the shah's leadership style, in which he never trusted his officials and encouraged their competition. Officials who did not care for the functioning of these bodies would bypass them and report directly to the shah, or they would use personal networks to get the shah's ear. Parliamentary oversight of SAVAK was not an issue.

Oversight Becomes Politicized

A reformist daily, "Etemad," reported on 21 July that there has been talk of changes in the Intelligence and Security Ministry "for some time now." The daily did not describe what the changes would be, but it hinted at them when it said that under President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) the ministry had become accountable and enjoyed public trust. "The idea of changing a ministry with such characteristics is both disconcerting and questionable," the daily warned.

By mid-August, just days before President Mahmud Ahmadinejad submitted his list of prospective cabinet ministers to the legislature, there were rumors that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini would take over supervision of the Intelligence and Security Ministry from the parliament. Hard-line legislator Elias Naderan allegedly was gathering signatures for a bill that would make this law. The proposal met with criticism from several parts of the political spectrum, including reformers like former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi and the traditional conservatives like Asadollah Badamchian from the Islamic Coalition Party, "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 13 August.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Razavi Yazdi, a member of the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), criticized any sort of changes in the ministry's modus operandi. He referred to the Khatami administration's elimination of the ministry's involvement in economic activities. Mohammad Atrianfar of the centrist Executives of Construction Party expressed concern that the elimination of parliamentary oversight, as well as legal supervision and guidance, could lead to violations of citizens' rights, "Iran" reported on 14 August.

Naderan, the parliamentarian backing the bill, said two weeks later that its object is to separate the counterintelligence unit from the rest of the ministry, Fars News Agency reported on 30 August. In that way, he continued, ministry personnel would be subject to independent supervision. Another supporter of the bill, Imad Afruq of the hard-line Islamic Iran Developers Coalition, portrayed it as an effort to create a watchdog that would protect the public, "Etemad," reported on 31 August.

Amir Mohebbian, the editor of the hard-line "Resalat" daily, defended the legislation by saying that its proponents believe the mechanism for supervising the ministry is weak and must be strengthened, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 1 September.

Reformist commentators were particularly outraged by the proposal. Said Hajjarian, a founder of the ministry, warned that separating the counterintelligence unit from the rest of the ministry is the prelude to eliminating parliamentary supervision and creating "parallel" intelligence bodies, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 1 September. If a qualified cleric who has won a parliamentary vote of confidence is the intelligence minister but he still cannot control his personnel, Hajjarian asked, then who can run the ministry? Other reformists voiced alarm and called for a debate on the bill, "Iran" reported on 1 September.

Hard-liners in the legislature are not of one mind on this issue. Hard-line parliamentarian Mohammad Hussein Farhangi said he favors separating the counterintelligence unit from the rest of the ministry, but he opposes making the ministry an organization because it would no longer be accountable to the legislature, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 September. Another hard-liner, Hamid Reza Haji-Babai, warned that the bill could weaken the ministry, "Hemayat" reported on 3 September.

The opinions of President Ahmadinejad and Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei on this issue are not known, but this may have an impact on the final outcome. The rejection of four prospective cabinet members two weeks ago shows that the legislators will not always go along with the executive branch, even if they have similar hard-line tendencies. (Bill Samii)

SUBVERSION IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN. Iranian state television reported on 3 September that three oil wells in Ahvaz caught fire two days earlier as a result of explosions. An unspecified number of arrests followed the incidents.

Dasht-i Azadegan parliamentary representative Seyyed Nezam Mollahoveyzeh connected these incidents with bombings that took place in June, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 September. Mollahoveyzeh said the Intelligence and Security Ministry will catch the culprits soon, adding, "They [the saboteurs] are provided for and guided by London. There are signs in this subversive act indicating that the opponents of the revolution and the separatists have played a role in it."

Bahar and Kabutar-Ahang parliamentary representative Reza Talai-Nik linked the Ahvaz incidents with developments in Iraq, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported. He said efforts are under way to improve security in the southwest, and added that there was a brief hiatus due to the change in government.

"Hemayat" quoted an anonymous source on 3 September who said Tehran will complain to London about the explosions, while "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 5 September that Shell oil company's top officials are British intelligence officers and are involved with the unrest in the southwest. (Bill Samii)

TWO KURDISH ACTIVISTS REPORTEDLY EXECUTED IN IRAN. Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, director of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan, told Radio Farda on 6 September that Ismail Mohammadi was executed in Urumiyeh on 3 September. Mohammadi was arrested three years ago in Bukan for collaboration with the Kurdish independence organization Komala, and he was sentenced to death one year ago. Executed at the same time was Mohammad Panjbini, who was sentenced to death for membership in a Kurdish separatist organization. Another Kurd, Jahangir Baduzadeh, also is on death row at Urumiyeh prison, as is Mustafa Rasulpur, who was sentenced for killing an Iranian security officer. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH ISLAMIST VISITS IRAN. Kurdistan Islamic Group leader Ali Bapir, his children, and other relatives have visited Iran, "Jamawar" reported on 6 September, citing an anonymous "well-informed source" who did not provide an exact date. Bapir reportedly met with an official from Iran's Intelligence and Security Ministry and with representatives of his own organization. (Bill Samii)

ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS HOLDS SEMI-ANNUAL MEETING. The Assembly of Experts -- an elected body of 86 clerics tasked with selecting the supreme leader and supervising his performance -- began its semiannual meeting on 6 September, IRNA reported.

Chairman Ayatollah Ali Meshkini extended condolences to families of victims of Hurricane Katrina, and criticized the U.S. government's treatment of the hurricane's victims. Meshkini said Iran will not forgo its legal and religious right to use nuclear technology peacefully, said Iran does not seek to develop weapons of mass destruction, and accused the United States of trying to transform the world into a village in which it is the chief. Meshkini barred the media immediately after his opening statement, Fars News Agency reported.

Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, secretary of the assembly, told state radio on 6 September that the possibility of postponing the assembly's next election, which is scheduled to take place in about one year, is not on the agenda. (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD SELECTS FEMALE VICE PRESIDENT. President Ahmadinejad has appointed a woman, Fatemeh Javadi, as vice president for environmental protection, ISNA reported on 4 September.

Ahmadinejad will nominate Gholam-Abbas Zaeri as his education minister, Mehr News Agency reported on 4 September, citing an anonymous member of parliament. Zaeri has worked in the Education Ministry as a teacher and as a manager; he was also governor of Hormozgan Province and was elected as a parliamentary representative from Bandar Abbas twice.

A 5 September report from ILNA stated that Ahmadinejad will name Parviz Davudi as his first vice president "within the next few days." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN GETS NEW MAYOR. Iran's capital has not had a mayor since Mahmud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election in June. The municipal council has selected former Revolutionary Guards general, national police chief, and unsuccessful presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf as the new mayor, Mehr news agency reported on 4 September.

Qalibaf attended a council meeting on 3 September and presented his program for running Tehran. On the same day, Qalibaf resigned from his position as head of the anti-smuggling headquarters, Fars News Agency reported.

Qalibaf reportedly was selected only after an intense debate in the council, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 5 September, and this choice may reflect splits among the former mayor's supporters. Council spokesman Mehdi Chamran said in the 5 September "Kayhan" that Qalibaf won the majority of votes and he has expertise in urban development. (Bill Samii)

DISSIDENT JOURNALIST RETURNED TO JAIL. Dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, who recently ended a 70-day hunger strike, has been sent from the hospital back to prison, ILNA reported on 4 September, citing Tehran deputy prosecutor for prison affairs Mahmud Salarkia.

Ganji's wife, Masumeh Shafii, told Radio Farda on 5 September that she has not been allowed to see her husband since he was sent back to Evin prison. She complained that prison officials promised to release Ganji if he ended his hunger strike. (Bill Samii)

JAILED LAWYER SEES FAMILY. Masumeh Dehqan, wife of imprisoned attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, has been allowed to see him, Radio Farda reported on 5 September. Dehqan told Radio Farda that after not seeing Soltani for 37 days, she and her mother-in-law met privately with him at Evin prison for half an hour. She said Soltani knows that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, but that nobody has informed him of what is going on or how long the situation will last. Dehqan said she received permission to see her husband after meeting with Judge Said Mortazavi the previous week. She said her husband looks physically weakened. (Bill Samii)

IRAN BANS WHEAT IMPORTS. Iran has banned wheat imports from countries where avian flu (bird flu) has occurred, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. Agricultural Jihad Minister Mohammad Reza Eskandari said in the 21 August issue of "Kayhan" newspaper (before he won a confidence motion) that all the ministry's plans are based on a "20-year horizon document" that predicts self-sufficiency in wheat, as well as feed grain, hay, rice, and sugar. On 16 August, the legislature allowed the import of wheat to take advantage of unused capacity at flour mills and to create jobs, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. (Bill Samii)

STILL NO RESOLUTION FOR IRAN-AFGHANISTAN WATER DISPUTE. Iran and Afghanistan have been involved in a long-running dispute over access to the Hirmand River (aka Helmand River), which originates in mountains northwest of Kabul and flows some 1,000 kilometers before reaching Iran. Its waters are essential for farmers in Afghanistan, but it feeds into Lake Hamun and is also important to farmers in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province.

The dispute between Iran and Afghanistan can be traced to the 1870s, writes Piruz Mojtahed-Zadeh, chairman of the Urosevic Research Foundation of London and professor of geopolitics at Tehran University, in a study for the United Nations Environment Program ( At that time, Afghan rulers believed they could use the waters of the Hirmand River as they saw fit. Afghanistan was a British protectorate, furthermore, and British boundary-arbitration officers drew borders without making accommodations for the division of water resources. More disputes arose when the river changed its course in 1896.

A treaty on the river's water was signed in 1939 by the governments of Iran's Reza Shah Pahlavi and Mohammad Zahir Shah, his Afghan counterpart. Yet the disputes continued because the Afghans refused to ratify the treaty. Afghan and Iranian delegations traveled to Washington in 1959 to discuss the issue but had no success.

Iranian Minister of Court Asadollah Alam wrote in his diaries in March 1969 that Kabul would agree to ensure water flow to Iran only in exchange for credit facilities, improved access to Iranian ports, and development assistance ("The Shah and I," Alinaghi Alikhani, ed., London, 1991). And, when the Afghan legislature discussed a new agreement on the Hirmand River in October 1972, Tehran feared that it would be costly: Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi said, "authorize [the Iranian ambassador to Kabul] to make the payoffs if you really think they're necessary."

Iranian Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveida and Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Musa Shafiq signed an accord in 1973 that determined the specific amount of water that should flow into Iran: 26 cubic meters of water per second. Yet this agreement was not ratified, either. Resolution of the issue continued to be delayed by other events: the 1973 Afghan coup, the 1978-79 revolution in Iran, the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the rise and fall of the Taliban.

Improved Afghan-Iranian Relations

Relations between the Iranian government and the Taliban regime were troubled, and the two sides did not reach an accord on use of the Hirmand River's water. The Taliban's ouster and friendly relations between the governments of Presidents Hamid Karzai and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami suggested that the situation would change for the better. This would be a welcome development, as a multiyear drought had seriously affected the entire region.

Good Kabul-Tehran relations did not translate into improved water flows for Iran, however. "The least we expect is implementation of the accord signed between Iran and Afghanistan before the Islamic revolution in Iran," parliamentarian Alaedin Borujerdi said on 1 September 2002, IRNA reported. And parliamentarian Gholam Hussein Aqai, who represented the Sistan va Baluchistan Province city of Zabol, also decried the Afghans' failure to provide water despite a new agreement reached during President Khatami's 13 August 2002 visit to Afghanistan, "Entekhab" reported on 1 September 2002.

A small amount of water from the Helmand River reached Iran on 25 October 2002, but Iranian officials complained that it was not enough for farming. Then it stopped completely. Kabul had agreed to release 1,000 hours of water flow, "Iran" reported on 6 November 2002, but it turned the tap off after just 240 hours. Parliamentarian Abolqasem Mokhtari, who represented Sistan va Baluchistan Province at the time, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that he did not know whether the Afghan government was responsible for blocking the water or if Afghans were diverting the water for farming.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a November 2002 telephone conversation with Karzai that Afghanistan must honor the existing agreements regarding the river. When the two met in Bonn the following month, Karzai blamed the drought for the lack of water, adding that they are waiting for seasonal rainfall so the water will resume flowing. When the water flow resumed in mid-December, Iranian officials said the volume fell short of agreed levels.

In September 2004, Iranian and Afghan officials met in Tehran for a joint meeting within the framework of the 1973 Hirmand River treaty. Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian told IRNA on 8 September 2004 that the two sides were preparing for the implementation of the treaty. He said that under normal circumstances, Iran's annual share is 820 million cubic meters. Ardakanian added that decisions made at the meeting will go into effect on 22 September, when the "water year" begins.

No Relief In Sight

As of early 2005, the dispute over the waters of the Helmand River seemed no closer to resolution, according to statements by local Iranian officials. The Friday prayer leader in Zabol, Hojatoleslam Gholam-Reza Dehqan, said in his 7 January sermon that Afghan officials should respect Iranian river rights, IRNA reported. Sistan va Baluchistan Province Governor-General Hussein Amini made the same point on 1 February, IRNA reported. He said Afghanistan should live up to the commitments in the 1973 treaty.

National officials also are aware of the issue. Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said on 8 January that people in Sistan va Baluchistan should consume water more carefully, IRNA reported. At the end of the month, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during a visit to the Milak border crossing that Afghanistan should fulfill its commitments on use of the waters, ILNA reported on 27 May. (Bill Samii)