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Iran Report: November 14, 2005

14 November 2005, Volume 8, Number 45

DUTCH AUTHOR CALLS IRANIAN OPPOSITION 'DANGEROUS.' Judit Neurink discussed her book "Misleide Martelaren" (Misled Martyrs), which covers the 40-year history of the Iranian opposition group known as the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MEK), Radio Farda reported on 7 November. Neurink told Radio Farda she got interested in the subject about two years earlier, when MEK members immolated themselves after their leader, Maryam Rajavi, was arrested in France.

Neurink asked herself why people would do such a thing, and said "My book tells a story that many don't know -- about brainwashing, about the imprisonment of friends and comrades, about torture, and about persuading people to go to Iran and kill civilians." Neurink said she interviewed MEK members, but experience showed her that this is like listening to a recorded message when the needle is stuck. Neurink described MEK as "dangerous." Radio Farda said Neurink's book will be translated into English and Persian.

Also on 7 November in Brussels, MEK supporters staged a demonstration as EU foreign ministers met in the Belgian capital. The next day, Iranian Ambassador Ali Ahani said that the EU stance on terrorism is not serious because it allows MEK rallies to take place on its territory, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

MEK is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, Canada, and the EU, but members still in Iraq were granted "protected status" under the Geneva Convention in July 2004. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, who ended a three-day visit to Tehran on 6 November, said that Iran has a "legitimate concern" regarding the MEK, the "Financial Times" reported on 7 November. "We should enforce the article in our constitution that Iraq should not be a transit point or base for destabilizing neighbors," Chalabi said. "We should deal with these issues humanely and fairly, but firmly." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REJECTS U.S. INTEREST IN JOURNALIST'S CASE. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed on 6 November Washington's expression of concern three days earlier for the welfare of imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, IRNA reported. Assefi said the Ganji case is an internal Iranian affair and the U.S. should attend to its own business. Assefi's statement came shortly after he had issued a call advising the French police to have an "appropriate attitude" towards rioting Muslims. He expressed hope that the French government will resolve the issue peacefully. (Bill Samii)

WASHINGTON DESCRIBES RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION IN IRAN. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor released its "International Religious Freedom Report 2005" on 8 November ( The report highlights the difficulties in Iran for these minorities: Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha'is, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. It describes their problems as: "reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs...a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities, especially Baha'is, Jews, and evangelical Christians." (Bill Samii)

IAEA ALMOST FINISHED IN IRAN. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 7 November in Washington, after inspectors from the agency visited a military site in Iran, that there is only a little more to be done, RFE/RL reported. He said, "Today, we only have one remaining site we would like to visit in Iran. We've visited all the [other] sites that we wanted to visit in Iran, so we are making progress. I would hope, as you mentioned, Lavizan, we should be able to go there." UN inspectors visited the Parchin military site last week, but analysis of samples from the site will not be complete in time for the 24-25 November IAEA governing board meeting, AFP reported on 4 November. (Bill Samii)

IAEA CHIEF URGES GREATER IRANIAN TRANSPARENCY. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 7 November that the nuclear watchdog agency is gradually resolving questions about Iran's atomic energy program. El-Baradei told a conference sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that he is encouraged Iran allowed inspectors to visit the Parchin military site, suspected of housing a nuclear-weapons research program.

But he called for further confidence-building measures from Iran, such as permitting inspectors to visit the Lavizan nuclear site.

"There are still some important issues about the extent of the enrichment program, but we are moving in the right direction; and the earlier Iran would allow us through transparency measures to do all that we need the better, of course, for everybody, including Iran," el-Baradei said.

Iran has said it is pursuing only peaceful uses of nuclear energy, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But for nearly 20 years, Iran conducted the program covertly, leading to suspicions it is seeking to develop nuclear arms.

European Union foreign ministers issued a statement on 7 November calling on Iran to comply with demands by the IAEA board to suspend uranium enrichment. They said Iran should give agency monitors access to research, experts, facilities, and documents.

Three EU states -- Britain, France, and Germany -- seeking to negotiate a solution with Iran have not yet responded to a new offer from Tehran to resume talks. Iran in August rejected an EU package of security and economic incentives to stop its nuclear work.

The U.S. State Department's top U.S. nonproliferation official, Robert Joseph, told the 7 November conference that Iran has provided a "dizzying array of cover stories and false statements" about its nuclear program. He said the best way to assure its compliance with the IAEA is through UN Security Council pressure.

"In the U.S. view, the Security Council should not supplant the IAEA effort but should reinforce it," Joseph said. "For example, by calling on Iran to cooperate with the agency and to take steps the IAEA board has identified to restore confidence and by giving the IAEA new needed authority to investigate all Iranian 'weaponization' efforts. We continue to work with other IAEA board members on the timing and content of the report of Iranian noncompliance to the Security Council."

The IAEA board's next meeting is later this month.

Meanwhile, el-Baradei and the IAEA, awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize, are moving ahead with a separate initiative to establish a nuclear fuel bank. The idea is to provide reliable access to nuclear fuel at market prices, which would remove incentives for countries to develop their own fuel-cycle capabilities.

The United States said in October that it would make more than 17 metric tons of highly enriched uranium available that could be blended down to lightly enriched fuel. El-Baradei said Russia has also indicated it would make nuclear material available for the fuel-bank program.

El-Baradei said the IAEA is close to being able to establish next year this "assurance" supply.

"Once you have an assurance supply you are taking away the justification from countries to say 'I would like to make my own fuel,'" el-Baradei said. "And that's 80 percent resolving the problem. I would like once we get assurance of supply to couple that with a 10 years moratorium for any new enrichment facility or reprocessing facility."

But el-Baradei stressed that in addition to improved verification and nuclear fuel, the best way to assure countries like Iran do not carry through a nuclear weapons program is providing a better sense of security.

"We need to understand always that countries are tempted to develop nuclear weapons because -- rightly or wrongly -- because they are driven by a sense of insecurity or projection of power, what have you," el-Baradei said. "So while we address the symptoms through verification, we need not to forget the causes as why countries are trying to move into certain direction."

In a report released on 7 November, the General Accounting Office (GAO), a U.S. Congressional investigative body, praised the IAEA as a key part of U.S. efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. But the GAO said that despite success in uncovering some secret nuclear activities, "a determined country can still conceal a nuclear weapons program." (Robert McMahon)

EU IDENTIFIES 'RED LINE' FOR TALKS WITH IRAN. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani has written a letter to Berlin, London, and Paris requesting a resumption of nuclear negotiations, the "Tehran Times," IRNA, and Mehr News Agency reported on 6 November. Talks between Tehran and the so-called EU-3 fell apart in August, after Iran resumed uranium-enrichment activities. Larijani's letter was submitted to the ambassadors of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in Tehran.

"No, absolutely not," an anonymous European diplomat said in response to the Iranian request, AFP reported on 6 August. The diplomat said the talks cannot resume because Iran has not suspended its nuclear activities.

Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, described the outcome of a 7 November EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in an 8 November interview with Radio Farda. "The discussion had a very clear message: We warned Iran to play its full role in the international community of nations," Gallach said. "But the Iran we want to play a role in the international community of nations is one that respects the state of Israel, is one that negotiates on the question pertaining to [the uranium conversion facility at] Isfahan, and gives up all projects to have nuclear weapons, and we want an Iran which moves [toward] the path of democracy."

Turning to Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani's request that the EU resume nuclear talks, Gallach said the EU's "red line" is that Iran suspend uranium enrichment activities, per the November 2004 Paris agreement.

Asked about that in Tehran on 8 November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi accused the Europeans of ignorance about world affairs, state television reported. He explained, "I thought that the first subject that the declaration would refer to would be the crimes committed in the Palestinian and occupied lands." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN RECOMMENDS POSTPONEMENT OF ANNAN VISIT. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has canceled a planned trip to Tehran because of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's call at a 26 October conference for Israel's destruction, RFE/RL reported. Stephane Dujarric, Annan's spokesperson, told RFE/RL on 4 November that the two sides would have discussed stabilization activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as UN reform. Dujarric said this was a mutual agreement by the two sides. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 6 November that Tehran recommended postponement of the trip, state radio reported. "The visit by Kofi Annan is not cancelled but the postponement of his visit was based on a mutual agreement. In order to reduce pressure on him and to carry out the negotiations in a more convenient atmosphere and to be able to gain more favorable results from the negotiations, we decided to postpone the trip to a better time," Assefi said. "Otherwise, Mr. Annan had not changed his mind and was eager to pay this visit to Iran." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQI AFFAIRS TAKES VARIOUS GUISES. The third conference and trade exhibition on reconstruction in Iraq began in Tehran on 8 November, Mehr News Agency reported. More than 280 companies are participating in the four-day event. A passenger aircraft from Baghdad landed in Tehran on 6 November, the first such flight in 25 years, ITAR-TASS reported. Passengers included an Iraqi Transport Ministry delegation and roughly 40 journalists. An unnamed Iranian Civil Aviation Organization official said regular flights -- on Wednesdays and Fridays -- will begin soon, but Iranian aircraft will not make the trip due to insufficient security in Iraq. Reconstruction and transport are not Iran's sole interests in Iraq. Iraq's National Security Council learned on 30 October that Iran is backing a campaign to assassinate Iraqi pilots who flew in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Baghdad's "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on 31 October. Citing anonymous representatives in the Iraqi National Assembly, the daily noted accusations of an Iran role in attacks on multinational forces in Iraq. (Bill Samii)

STILL SEEKING A STABLE GOVERNMENT. The Iranian legislature was supposed to vote on four cabinet nominees on 9 November, having rejected four of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's choices in August. Parliamentary leaders expressed confidence that the four new candidates would secure votes of confidence, but comments from other members of parliament indicated that the process would not be trouble-free, particularly for the petroleum minister nominee.

The legislature gave votes of confidence to just three new cabinet members on 9 November, Radio Farda and Iranian news agencies reported. Cooperatives Minister Mohammad Nazemi-Ardakani won 174 votes out of 236, with 51 against. Education and Training Minister Mahmud Farshidi earned 136 votes out of 246, with 91 against. Welfare and Social Security Minister Parviz Kazemi secured 178 votes out of 254, with 61 against. The nominee for petroleum minister withdrew his nomination.

It was clear in August that Ahmadinejad's initial nominees would encounter problems, and concerns only increased after he submitted a list of 21 people who had little experience in such high-level positions. There were 284 members of parliament present at the 24 August session when the voting took place, and each nominee had to secure a minimum of 143 votes to win approval.

The four positions that remained unfilled at the end of the day were cooperatives minister, education and training minister, petroleum minister, and welfare and social security minister.

Ahmadinejad subsequently appointed the unsuccessful nominee for petroleum minister, Ali Saidlu, as his vice president for executive affairs. Ahmadinejad said that Saidlu was rejected because of a campaign by a so-called Petroleum Ministry mafia, "Iran Daily" reported on 1 October.

The New Names

Ahmadinejad submitted the names of four new prospective cabinet members to parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel on 2 November, IRNA reported. The nominees were Sadeq Mahsuli for petroleum minister, Mahmud Farshidi for education minister, Parviz Kazemi for welfare and social-security minister, and Mohammad Nazemi-Ardakani for cooperatives minister.

The nominees are relative unknowns in national affairs. On the one hand, this could represent the fulfillment of the president's promise to bring new faces into government, as well as the rise of the second post-revolutionary generation that Ahmadinejad personifies. On the other hand, this may be an attempt by Ahmadinejad to have cabinet members who are beholden to him, who have no personal power base, and who are therefore unable or unlikely to pursue personal agendas.

A 6 November commentary in the "Etemad" daily noted that the president has chosen people he can trust, and they all have connections with the Tehran municipality, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, or the university where Ahmadinejad taught, or they are close to deputy parliamentary speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar. The commentary said many legislators question this selection process, and it is far from certain if they will give the nominees votes of confidence. The reformist stance on the nominees is unclear, the commentary continued, but the more traditional hard-liners, such as the Islamic Coalition Party, are unhappy that the president did not consult with them.

The Islamic Coalition Party's Hamid Reza Taraqi noted that the executive branch has not sought the conservatives' cooperation, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 6 November. If the president wants their support in making appointments or dismissals, Taraqi continued, he should alter his attitude toward the conservatives, he said.

Bahonar said on 6 November that the legislature's conservative majority has decided to vote in favor of Ahmadinejad's ministerial nominees, Mehr and Fars news agencies reported. Other legislators echoed this sentiment the next day, Mehr News Agency reported. Hussein Sobhani-Nia dismissed allegations of a conflict between the executive and legislative branches; and lawmakers Gholam-Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam of Tehran and Seyyed Nezam Molla Hoveizeh of Dasht-i Azadegan predicted that all four would win approval. Tehran representative Ahmad Tavakoli also predicted that the four nominees would secure votes of confidence, "Hemayat" reported on 7 November. He said national interests require a complete cabinet so the administration can do its work.

Controversial Nominees

However, there was controversy surrounding Mahsuli, the nominee for petroleum minister. He has served as a provincial governor, an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander, and a deputy defense minister, according to biographies from the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and Mehr News Agency on 2 November. Legislator Iraj Nadimi said on 5 November that Mahsuli is the least likely to win approval, ISNA reported. Mashhad parliamentary representative Ali Asgari described Mahsuli as a "billionaire general" on 8 November, Mehr News Agency reported. How he gained his fortune is not the point, Asgari continued, it just compares unfavorably with the president's humble lifestyle. IRNA reported on 8 October that legislators from southwestern Iran sent a letter to the president in which they expressed their opposition to Mahsuli.

It is customary for the president to defend his nominees before the voting takes place, but Ahmadinejad was more than two hours late. When he got there, Ahmadinejad turned over to Haddad-Adel a letter from Mahsuli, according to state television. Mahsuli said in his letter that he is withdrawing from consideration.

There was some controversy over Mahmud Farshidi, the proposed education and training minister, as well. Some legislators see little difference between him and the previous nominee, "Etemad" reported on 5 November. He may succeed in winning a confidence vote, however, because the legislators want the executive branch to begin working in earnest.

He was criticized during the 9 November session. Legislator Kazem Jalali said the nominee's only relevant experience is being the principle of a school, state television reported, and he did not do a very good job. Jalali added that Farshidi has unrealistic plans and mixed religion and education excessively. Another legislator, Semnan's Dust-Mohammadi, said Farshidi's attitudes are 20 years out of date. His proposal of clerical involvement in the composition of school books is inappropriate, Dust-Mohammadi added.

Getting Down To Work

Ahmadinejad continues to have an incomplete cabinet. Even if all 21 ministers were in place, stability in national affairs is far from certain due to ongoing personnel changes. From a domestic perspective, the appointment of provincial governors is a continuing process that will have an impact throughout the country. From an international perspective, the replacement of some 40 ambassadors will affect Iran's relations with the rest of the world. Finally, the government's recent replacement of the managing-directors of the state-owned Keshavarzi, Mellat, Melli, Saderat, Sepah, and Tejarat banks will affect the economy and the investment climate. (Bill Samii)

BANK DIRECTORS REPLACED. The managing directors of Iran's state-owned Keshavarzi, Mellat, Melli, Saderat, Sepah, and Tejarat banks were replaced in early November, "Iran" reported on 5 November. "Iran" provided only the surnames of the new directors -- Ansari at Melli Bank, Eskandari at Tejarat Bank, Borhani at Saderat Bank, and Divandarei at Mellat Bank. Nurbakhsh replaced Jalal Rasulof as the head of Keshavarzi Bank. (Bill Samii)

MORE PROVINCIAL GOVERNORS APPOINTED. Iran's executive branch appointed Ali Mohammad Shaeri to be governor-general of Gulistan Province on 7 November, Fars News Agency reported. Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi introduced Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj, former commander of the Iranian navy, as governor-general of Qom Province on 5 November, Fars News Agency reported. The appointment of individuals with backgrounds in the security services and the military for such positions has caused controversy, but Gorgan legislator Mohammad Abbasi described Shaeri as a local, Fars reported. Meanwhile, Abbas Kadkhodai, a lawyer who is a member of the Guardians Council, was appointed as that body's spokesman, Fars News Agency reported on 5 November. (Bill Samii)

A RISING STAR IN PARTY POLITICS. Of the more than 100 registered political organizations in Iran, one that is rarely discussed is the Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami, roughly translated as the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society and known simply as the "Isargaran." Yet President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is a founding member, another founder is in the cabinet, and other members serve in the legislature. The party, which is comprised mainly of Iran-Iraq War veterans and therefore represents a second generation in postrevolutionary politics, is wielding increasing influence and deserves greater attention.

"Isar" is the Arabic word for altruism and, in the Iranian context, "isargaran" (plural of "isargar") has fairly specific connotations. "Isargari technically means giving selflessly and isargar refers to someone who gives selflessly to a sacred cause, but now it has been adopted for a specific meaning, namely somebody who has sacrificed in the name of the Islamic revolution," Iranian scholar Farideh Farhi writes in "The Antinomies of Iran's War Generation," published in the 2004 book "Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of the War." Farhi adds that the term is used officially as a reference to those who have given their own or a loved one's life defending the regime.

Given this provenance, the word isargaran is used frequently in Iran. There is the Party for Defending Devotees and the Constitution (Hezb-i Defa az Isargaran va Qanun-i Asasi), as well as a Devotees of Pure Mohammedan Islam (Sazeman-i Isargaran-i Islam-i Nab-i Mohammadi). In August 2004, the latter group distributed registration forms for volunteers to defend the sacred shrines in Iraq. An Assembly of Devotees (Majma-yi Isargaran) existed in the sixth legislature. There also is a state foundation that provides services to the families of those who gave their lives in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and to the former prisoners-of-war; it is called Bonyad-i Shahid va Omur-i Isargaran.

Working As A Party

Parliamentarian Hussein Fadai, who is from Shahr-i Rey in Tehran, is secretary-general of the Isargaran. Ali Darabi was his deputy until his replacement by Lutfollah Foruzandeh in October. President Ahmadinejad is a founding member of the Isargaran, as is Economy and Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari (who served in the fifth and seventh parliaments). Other prominent members are legislators Fatemeh Alia, Nafiseh Fayazbakhsh, and Mehdi Kuchakzadeh. Members in the media include the director of the hard-line daily "Siyasat-i Ruz," Ali Yusefpur, as well as Bijan Moghaddam, who was appointed the director of "Iran," the Islamic Republic News Agency's daily, in early October.

Mujtaba Shakeri, Hadi Imani, and Ahmad Moqimi are some of the other founding members of the Isargaran. Central council members elected in the 28 February 2002 congress of the Isargaran, who are not identified above, are: Ali Ahmadi, Ali Mazaheri, Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri, Ahmad Nejabat, Abol-Hassan Faqih, Seyyed Jalal Fayazi, Ahmad Moqimi, Abdul Hussein Ruholamini-Najafabadi, Alireza Sarbakhsh, Sediqeh Shakeri, Masud Sultanpur, and Mohammad Ali Taqavi-Rad.

Most members of the Isargaran are veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, and the organization also includes disabled veterans, freed prisoners of war, the family members of martyrs (people who died in the war), and those who were involved in the revolution against the monarchy. For example, Secretary-General Fadai's younger brother, Mohammad, served in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in northwestern Iran, and he lost his life during the campaign against Kurdish insurgents. Fadai himself was imprisoned for his revolutionary activities, and he served as a combat engineer during the war -- possibly with the IRGC. After the war, he continued as a military engineer -- apparently for the now-defunct Construction Jihad Ministry -- and then worked for the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan).

Election Competitions

According to some sources, the Isargaran began organized political activities in the year beginning March 1995, but the extent of its activities in the 1996 parliamentary elections is unknown. At least one of its founders was elected that year. According to "Farhang-i Ashti" on 9 June 2005, the Isargaran was founded on 3 February 1997.

In the May 1997 presidential election, the Isargaran backed the conservative front-runner, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri. Two years into Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's tenure, in August 1999, the Isargaran issued a highly critical analysis of his presidency. The analysis noted a "lack of consideration for economic reform" and referred to unemployment, falling incomes, and a reduction in purchasing power. It accused the administration of replacing skilled managers with individuals not selected on the basis of merit. The analysis warned: "Social instability, growing acts of robbery and murder, social decadence, administrative corruption, and constant humiliation of the people in their day-to-day business dealings and a widening of the gap between the people's expectations and government policies have together created a deep crack which could culminate in a national crisis."

Isargaran unhappiness with Khatami continued, and the society issued another critique that dismissed presidential complaints about a lack of real power, according to "Sobh" of 5 December 2000. It said individuals who raise these complaints are doing so to settle political rivalries instead of concentrating on solving people's problems: "In circumstances in which society is being eroded by economic problems, and hardships, unemployment, drug addiction, discrimination, and corruption on various levels, which economic or social dilemma can possibly be resolved by focusing on the issue of whether or not the president should be given more authority?" The Isargaran worried that the constitution's checks and balances are in danger.

Reformists won control of the sixth parliament (2000-04), but approximately one-sixth of the victors were candidates backed by the Isargaran. Fadai said the Isargaran "did not take part in any coalition and was the only formation or political party whose lists consisted of principled persons loyal to the ideals of the Imam and the followers of the leader," according to "Resalat" of 21 February 2000. He continued, "Apart from Tehran, we presented 187 candidates, some of whom were also on other parties' lists; according to results announced up to noon yesterday, more than 50 of the Association's candidates have gained seats." The conservative newspaper "Kayhan" reported on 25 February 2000 that 42 Isargaran affiliates were elected.

Regardless of these apparent gains, Isargaran warnings continued. In early 2001, the group announced that Iran was in danger of being subverted from within, as the efforts of foreign governments, counterrevolutionary groups, and elements within the ruling system converged, according to "Resalat" of 7 February. The repetition of American and "Yeltsinesque" reformist slogans are meant to deceive people, it said, and the legislators are being distracted from serving the public -- it referred to "popular issues," including "people's livelihood,...unemployment and other youth predicaments such as marriage and housing,...development,, being accountable,... respect for the law,... [and] the fight against poverty, corruption, and discrimination." An Isargaran statement quoted by "Resalat" on 28 November 2001 said that "extremists and the revisionist current" are preventing the legislature from doing its work.

Fadai claimed that the United States is supporting the reformists, "Resalat" reported on 31 July 2002. He urged "revolutionary forces and the genuine reformists" to adopt a resolute stance against these elements. Fadai continued: "America must be made to realize that among the revolutionaries who are firmly committed and loyal to the ideals of the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] and the Islamic revolution martyrs, there are no disputes and disagreements about the principles of preservation of independence, and the rejection of foreign domination and interference. Furthermore, it must be made absolutely clear that those who link their fates with the demands and aspirations of America can expect nothing but loss and harm in the future."

A Hard-Line Resurgence

Reformist domination of elected institutions seemed fairly complete after the 2000 parliamentary race, with control of the executive and legislative branches, as well as the municipal councils. The hard-liners did not give up, however, and turned their attention to the 2003 council elections. Indeed, it was at this time that the heretofore unknown Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) emerged, and 14 of 15 candidates whom it backed won seats in Tehran. The council then selected a mayor -- Isargaran founding member Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- on 29 April 2003.

The hard-liners then focused on the next election -- for the legislature in 2004. As part of the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, the Isargaran backed 17 exclusive candidates, and it backed another 13 who had the support of other parties, according to "Iran" on 16 February 2004. Isargaran leader Hussein Fadai, furthermore, headed the Abadgaran election committee, "Hamshahri" reported on 27 May 2004. Aided by the Guardians Council's rejection of most viable reformist candidates -- including more than 80 incumbents -- the Abadgaran fared well in that race, winning all the seats in Tehran and many more in other constituencies.

The Isargaran were not content with this situation, however, and set about trying to create an Isargaran faction in the legislature, "Iran Daily" reported on 9 June 2004. Abadgaran leaders discouraged this in an effort to impose uniformity and the appearance of cohesion. When Hojatoleslam Nateq-Nuri addressed an Isargaran central committee meeting, he emphasized the need for unity among the hard-line forces, according to "Shoma" of 30 September 2004.

Eyeing The Prize

The Tehran press began discussing Tehran Mayor Ahmadinejad as a presidential candidate in the summer of 2004, but he was such an unknown quantity at the time that other prospective candidates garnered much more media attention in the ensuing months. The Isargaran continued to work quietly during that time, but it issued a prophetic statement, quoted in "Siyasat-i Ruz" on 2 January: "The more famous the candidates, the more their agendas will be overshadowed by their names, and consequently the destiny of the country will be the same as it has been up to now."

But any illusions about unity and solidarity among the conservatives had been put aside. As of December 2004, there were at least five possible hard-line candidates, and as some stepped aside others took their places. When the more traditional Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces -- which included the older organizations such as the Tehran Militant Clergy Association and the Islamic Coalition Party -- met in March 2005 and selected Ali Larijani as its candidate, Hussein Fadai of the Isargaran abstained from voting. Soon thereafter he created what came to be known as Coordination Council II, which considered others' candidacies.

The Isargaran eventually backed the candidacy of national police chief and former Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, announcing that he won out over Ahmadinejad, Larijani, Ali-Akbar Velayati, Mohsen Rezai, and Ahmad Tavakoli, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 30 May. The Isargaran statement explained that all the candidates had the minimum qualifications, and it added that the Isargaran met with all the candidates to exchange views. The society pledged that it would depend on the outcome of public opinion polls to determine who would earn the most votes, and for that reason it chose Qalibaf.

This was a peculiar situation, with a party backing someone other than one of its founders. The move could be perceived as a Machiavellian political maneuver meant to deceive the competitors in the presidential race. Indeed, after his loss, Qalibaf complained of betrayal by his supposed supporters. The decision to back Qalibaf, furthermore, created splits in the Isargaran -- central council member Abol-Hassan Faqih left to lead Ahmadinejad's election headquarters, deputy-secretary general Ali Darabi joined Ahmadinejad's campaign, and Ali Ahmadi left to head Mohsen Rezai's campaign. Regardless, the Isargaran backed Ahmadinejad in the second round of the election, when he defeated Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

There appear to be real and continuing differences between Ahmadinejad and the group that he helped found. As the legislature considered the president's nominees for cabinet positions in August, the parliamentary presiding board supported the nominees. Isargaran and Abadgaran parliamentarians were reportedly the leading opponents because they did not have sufficient input on the candidates, an "Etemad" report suggested on 23 August. Four of the nominees failed to win votes of confidence; and when the legislature considered new nominees on 9 November, one of them withdrew.

What Does The Future Hold?

The Isargaran held its third major conference in early October, and the organization's provincial leaders and central committee members were in attendance, according to "Iran" on 2 October. The organization appears to be in a strong position -- members include the president and a member of his cabinet, parliamentarians, a Tehran council member (Masud Zaribafan), and a provincial governor (Seyyed Solat Mortazavi of Khorasan Razavi Province). Its role in having some cabinet nominees rejected shows that it is capable of mobilizing support and is becoming a political actor of some import. On the other hand, the growing distance between the Isargaran and Ahmadinejad suggests that it will not be a trouble-free process. Moreover, Isargaran member Mujtaba Shakeri said on 17 October that the Isargaran has yet to determine its relationship with the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, ISNA reported.

As the Isargaran exerts greater political influence, and because the president is a founding member, it is instructive to examine its current foreign policy stance. After its October conference, the group issued a statement saying that if the diplomatic apparatus lives up to its potential, Iran will have "the capability to penetrate and influence the Western coalition against the Iranian nuclear program, and it will be able to create a division in the false international coalitions," "Iran" reported on 2 October. (Bill Samii)