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Iran Report: August 23, 2004


23 August 2004, Volume 7, Number 28

IRANIANS CONSIDER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. An anonymous source close to former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi said on 18 August that he will "definitely" agree to be the candidate of the reformist Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez) in the May 2005 presidential election, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. The news agency added that the association's provincial offices are already preparing for Musavi's candidacy, while the association itself reportedly is in the midst of negotiations with him. The association's Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Musavi-Bojnurdi said on 16 August that, during the previous evening's meeting, there was a unanimous decision that Musavi is the association's only choice, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Bojnurdi added that he and Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur will meet with Musavi in the coming week. Mohtashami-Pur served as interior minister under Musavi.

The Islamic Iran Participation Party is considering backing Musavi, Fars News Agency reported on 24 July, and RFE/RL reported on 26 July that the party's Mohammad Reza Khatami announced his support for the former prime minister as a candidate.

Conservative Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli said on 17 August that he may also decide to run for president, "Resalat" newspaper reported.

Khalil Ali Mohammadzadeh, secretary-general of the Iranian Nation's Welfare Party, said on 15 August that the party has met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and asked him to run for president in the 2005 race, ISNA reported. Rafsanjani served two terms as president from 1989-1997. Rafsanjani reportedly expressed dismay that the party sought him out, saying that a country the size of Iran must have a pool of qualified individuals that could credibly serve as president. Representatives of the Islamic Labor Party and the House of Labor, a state-affiliated workers' organization, also asked Rafsanjani to be a candidate, Fars News Agency reported, but he declined. Executives of Construction Party central council member Hedayat Aqai said on 14 August that the party will also ask Rafsanjani to run again, ILNA reported. (Bill Samii)

ISLAMIC COALITION PARTY GETS NEW LEADER. Mohammad Nabi Habibi was introduced as the new secretary-general of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Party during a 19 August ceremony at Tehran's Jamaran Mosque, ISNA reported. Members of the Tehran municipal council and several parliamentarians attended the event, ISNA reported. Habibi succeeds Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman.

Hamid Reza Taraqi wrote in the 8 July "Shoma" that the 70-year-old Asgaroladi insisted at the party's last congress that it should attract new people. As for Habibi, Taraqi writes, he has 11 years of experience in responsible positions and he has learned from Asgaroladi. "Sharq" reported on 7 July that Habibi is 16 years younger than his predecessor and has served as the mayor of Tehran, provincial governor, in several ministries, and in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. (Bill Samii)

REFORMIST ACTIVISTS FACE LEGAL TROUBLES AND VIGILANTISM. Former Tehran parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi, who is a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, appeared in the court for state employees and the media on 21 August in response to a complaint from Islamic Revolution Guards Corps deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, "Sharq" reported on 22 August. Mirdamadi allegedly said in an interview that military personnel's interference in political affairs weakens the armed forces.

The Tehran public court has fined reformist journalist Emadedin Baqi 1 million rials (just under $115) for insulting the Guardians Council and other officials, "Iran News" reported on 21 August. Baqi's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said his client initially was charged with publishing lies that were intended to disturb public opinion, but the charge was changed to insulting the Guardians Council and officials (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004).

Pro-reform attorney Nemat Ahmadi, who has commented frequently for Radio Farda, said that a group of vigilantes attacked him as he entered a lecture hall in Sirjan, ISNA reported on 18 August. "When I was entering the hall a group of people attacked me," Ahmadi said. "They damaged the car that I was traveling in and beat me up. I was injured." Ahmadi said the government approved the lecture, but he was warned against giving it. Ahmadi reportedly fled to the governor's house and was unable to leave, which prevented him from receiving medical treatment for the injuries he suffered in the attack. Ahmadi thanked the Sirjan deputy governor, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the governorate's security official for saving him from his attackers.

A closed-door hearing relating to the Ayandeh Research Institute took place on 15 August, ILNA reported. Ayandeh, in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization, conducted a poll in 2002 that found that the majority of Tehran respondents favored a resumption of Iranian-U.S. dialogue and relations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002). Institute director Abbas Abdi and his colleagues were subsequently tried and jailed on espionage charges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9, 16, and 23 December 2002, 6 and 20 January, 10 February, and 21 April 2003). After the 15 August hearing, Abdi said he will not discuss the case until a verdict is issued.

Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization member and former parliament deputy Mohsen Armin appeared in court on 14 August, in response to a complaint relating to speeches he made in 1999-2002 and an accusation of spreading lies, "Iran Daily" reported. Armin said on 14 August that unidentified people arrested two individuals connected with the reformist Emrooz website (http://www.emrooz.ws) on 28 July, ISNA reported. Armin did not identify the people who were arrested, but he did note that the arresting institution was not identified for an entire week following the arrests. (Bill Samii)

JUDICIARY MAINTAINS HARD-LINE COURSE. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reappointed Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi for another five-year term as chief of the judiciary, Radio Farda reported on 14 August. Tehran-based lawyer and human rights activist Ahmad Bashiri told Radio Farda that the supreme leader reappointed the Iraqi-born cleric, who is a long-time associate, as a means to maintain his grip on power.

"The judiciary has not made any positive advance in the past five years under Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi, not did it advance during the five years before that when Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi was chief," Bashiri said. He added, "The little reforms he attempted, such as resuming the local arbitration councils and starting specialized courts to deal with business disputes, have failed to bring any encouraging results." If anything, according to Bashiri, the courts have become more strict: "Under Mr. Yazdi, journalists could write more freely. Now, despite the nominal existence of press freedoms, there is no journalist who would dare to print what is on his mind, and it appears that the judiciary is not willing to back away from the hard-line position it has taken during the past five years." Bashiri said the judiciary has become politicized.

Hashemi-Shahrudi's reappointment is not the only significant personnel move to be made within the judiciary of late. Hashemi-Shahrudi has appointed Hojatoleslam Mohammad Niazi as the head of the State Inspectorate Organization, "Hemayat" reported on 10 August. On 15 August, Hashemi-Shahrudi appointed Ayatollah Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi prosecutor-general, replacing Abdul-Nabi Namazi. In addition, Ayatollah Hussein Mofid was appointed to succeed chief justice Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi-Gilani.

Niazi previously headed the Armed Forces' Judicial Organization, the Kermanshah Province Justice Department, and judicial organizations in Khuzestan and Markazi provinces. He would appear, therefore, to have the proper professional background for service in the state legal system.

But what is more interesting about the appointment is that Niazi attended the politically influential Haqqani seminary in Qom. Other Haqqani associates and alumni include its director, Ayatollah Qodusi, who went on to head the Revolutionary Courts, and Haqqani founder Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Beheshti, who headed the judiciary. Hojatoleslams Mohseni-Ejei, Razini, Ramandi, Sadeqi, and Mobasheri also are Haqqani graduates who serve or served in the judiciary. Haqqani alumni who serve or served in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security include Hojatoleslams Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani and Ali Yunesi (as ministers), as well as Hojatoleslams Fallah, Islami, and Purmohammadi (now in the Special Court for the Clergy). Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian also served in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Special Court for the Clergy, and he now heads Iran's Documents Center. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Araqi now heads the Islamic Propagation Organization. Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a Friday prayer leader and hard-line ideologue, served on the Haqqani board of directors.

Former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who was not connected with the Haqqani seminary, reportedly encountered resistance whenever he tried to replace Haqqani alumni, according to the 1 February 2001 "Guzarish." "They are like links in a chain, you touch one of them and they all protest," he complained. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS OPEC MEMBERS EXCEEDING QUOTAS. Iran's representative to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Hussein Kazempur-Ardabili, said on 14 August that OPEC member states are exceeding the cartel's production quotas by 2.8 million barrels per day, Stockholm's "Svenska Dagbladet" reported. Ardabili told the daily that worldwide requests that OPEC increase production in order to bring down the price of oil are "mistakenly directed." "The prices are going up now without respect to the fundamental market elements of demand and supply," he said. "If things calm down on the issue of police and military issues, the price of oil could drop like a stone, since there is too much oil."

Abdolreza Assadi, the managing director of the Karun Oil and Gas Exploitation Company, has said that Iran produces more than 1 million barrels of oil per day, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 16 August.

Meanwhile, Naji Saduni, executive manager of the Azadegan oil field, said on 14 August that he doubts Japan's Inpex Corporation will withdraw from a $2 billion project to develop the oil field, despite media reports that Japan is under pressure from the United States to do so, "Iran Daily" reported on 15 August. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

STATOIL'S IRANIAN INVESTMENT CRITICIZED. The biannual Offshore Northern Seas conference and exhibition is scheduled to take place in Stavanger, Norway, in late August, Oslo's "Aftenposten" newspaper reported on 19 August, and Iran is scheduled to announce opportunities for investment in its oil and gas sector during the conference. Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian, according to "Aftenposten," is scheduled to meet with Norwegian Oil Ministry officials and with the leadership of the majority state-owned oil company Statoil.

A recent report from the Washington-based Center for Security Policy that names about 400 public companies that do business with states that support terrorism notes that Statoil is among its "dirty dozen" companies because of its ties with Iran (http://www.divestterror.org). According to the report, Statoil plans to invest up to $300 million in Iran's South Pars gas field, and it adds that Statoil intended to pay more than $15 million to the London-based consultancy Horton Investments in order to gain influence in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004). The Center for Security Policy report accuses Statoil of sending the message that "sponsoring terrorism is fine as long as our company makes a profit," and of undermining U.S. diplomatic efforts and sanctions.

Statoil refused to comment on the Center for Security Policy report, "Aftenposten" reported on 15 August.

Iranian Oil Engineering and Development Company official Ali Akbar Al-i Aqa said on 15 August that Statoil is one of the companies that have purchased documents needed for a possible bid to develop the new Yadavaran oil field in Khuzestan, IRNA reported. The Yadavaran field has proven reserves of some 17 billion barrels, according to the Iranian official. In addition to Statoil and companies from China, France, and Russia, Tehran is negotiating with India's Videsh to develop 20 percent of the oil field in exchange for 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE REVISES FIVE-YEAR PLAN, REVERSING GROWTH PLANS... Iran's new conservative parliament is taking steps to impose greater state control over the economy. The legislature's actions will reverse moves by the previous legislature that were intended to promote economic growth by attracting foreign investment and through privatization.

The legislature on 16 August suspended for one year aspects of the Fourth Five-Year Plan that deal with privatization, IRNA reported. The legislature announced that the suspension came about because it had not yet had a proper debate about the plan. In fact, the sixth parliament had already approved the five-year plan, but the Guardians Council sent it back after finding that some of its provisions violated the constitution.

Radio Farda reported that other aspects of the five-year plan altered by the legislature on 15 August relate to privatizing the state banking monopoly and allowing foreign banks to operate in Iran (http://www.radiofarda.com/en_article/2004/8/ ddf8489b-a06a-413a-a845-4503c9331207.html). A conservative parliamentarian, Hamid-Reza Hajibabai, said the executive branch's development plan "was not based on social justice, but on excessive capitalism and privatization."

Radio Farda's Paris-based economic commentator, Fereydoun Khavand, said, "The fourth five-year economic-development plan is not what Khatami had submitted to the previous parliament." While the Fourth Five-Year Plan was flawed and had unrealistic long-term goals, Khavand said, the people who drafted it wanted to accelerate the privatization process and open-market economic reforms. He added that the leftist, reformist faction is the one that favors open markets and privatization, whereas the conservatives favor state control.

Deputy Petroleum Minister for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mahmud Astaneh said on 15 August that the legislature has omitted other articles of the five-year plan that will affect development of the oil and gas sectors and the oil and petrochemical industries, IRNA reported. Omission of these articles, Astaneh said, will cut state revenues by more than $80 billion. The specific articles affect the percentage of oil and gas sales that will go to the government. Other parts of the plan that are affected deal with transportation, mail and telecommunications, and information technology. (Bill Samii)

...AND GIVES INTERNET AUTHORITY TO STATE BROADCASTER. Revisions to the Fourth Five-Year Plan by the current legislature will give the state broadcasting organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), power over the use of the Internet and access to satellite television, "Iran" reported on 18 August. These powers include establishment of websites, as well as the receipt of news networks and entertainment programs. The legislation originally submitted by the executive branch gives regulatory authority over the Internet and satellite programs to the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry and the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, in addition to IRIB.

A report from OpenNet Initiative (http://opennetinitiative.net/bulletins/004/) asserts that Internet access in Iran is officially censored. The report found that political, social, religious, and pornographic sites were blocked, as were web blogs. Radiofarda.com is among the blocked sites. (Bill Samii)

WESTERN PROVINCES SEE 30 PERCENT INCREASE IN SUICIDE ATTEMPTS. "Iran Daily" reported on 16 August that there has been a marked increase in suicide attempts in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces since 2001, particularly among women resorting to self-immolation. Hadi Motamedi of the Office for Social Disorders of the State Welfare Organization said that a survey carried out in Kermanshah Province, where the number of suicides has increased by 37 percent in the past three years, found that more than 50 percent of women there suffer from depression, of whom about 15 percent attempt suicide. Motamedi said that the eight-year war with Iraq left these women vulnerable to mental illness. "These women have been suffering from dual deprivations due to being unaware of their rights," Motamedi said. "Factors such as a rise in education level, lack of jobs, lack of access of counselors and psychiatrists, mistreatment, and abuse by their spouses, family violence, [a] growing awareness of social conditions, and inappropriate family behavior and relations can induce suicide attempts among women." Motamedi said that he hopes the newly created Welfare and Social Security Ministry will effectively address the problem. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BAM AFTERSHOCKS STILL BEING FELT. There was an outpouring of international support for the victims of the December 2003 earthquake in the city of Bam. Yet the survivors remain dissatisfied with government efforts on their behalf and have filed a lawsuit against local and provincial officials. To make the situation worse, an earthquake of a magnitude of 4.2 struck Bam on 16 August, IRNA reported, although casualty figures were unavailable.

Kerman Red Crescent Society Managing Director Mehdi Abna said on 29 July that South Korea is helping with the construction of 100 prefabricated residential units, France is putting up 1,500 prefabricated health units, Japan has donated 1.3 million yen ($11,900) for building schools, and Great Britain has allocated $10 billion to help the disabled and orphaned children, IRNA reported. Abna added that Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden are providing similar assistance. Mohammad Saidikia said on 20 July that $481 million of a loan for use in rebuilding Bam from the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and Japanese and Spanish banks has been finalized, IRNA reported.

In Tehran on 18 July, IRNA reported, the cabinet approved some $142 million for rebuilding and strengthening houses damaged in the earthquake.

In the approximately eight months since the earthquake, many of the people who lost their homes still live in tents and other temporary shelters, "Sharq" reported on 5 August. The people of Bam have complained to the Kerman Province Justice Department about officials' "mismanagement and negligence in doing their duties and the unclear trend of spending cash grants from internal and external sources." The individuals specified in the complaint include the Kerman governor and his deputies, as well as the Bam governor and some of his subordinates. Locals complain that some of the money donated as earthquake relief is unaccounted for, and donated equipment, such as dialysis machines, never reached Bam and are in Zahedan, the capital of neighboring Sistan va Baluchistan Province, instead. Some of the newly constructed facilities, furthermore, have not been inspected officially and may be unsafe. (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)

WASHINGTON CALLS FOR IRAN'S ISOLATION. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said on 17 August at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., that Iran is a "fundamental proliferation challenge" and its weapons-of-mass-destruction efforts "pose grave threats to international security," according to the State Department's website (http://www.state.gov/t/us/rm/35281.htm). Bolton said Iran therefore must be "isolated," not "engaged." In detailing "Iran's true objectives," Bolton said that Iran wants to use highly enriched uranium and plutonium to obtain nuclear weapons. The plutonium can be secured through a heavy-water production plant and through the light-water reactor at Bushehr, he said. Bolton dismissed Iranian claims that it needs nuclear power to fulfill its electricity needs or so it can export its oil and gas. He said that Iran's evasiveness in dealing with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicate Tehran's true intentions. Now is the time, Bolton said, to report this issue to the UN Security Council. The IAEA board of governors is scheduled to discuss Iran in September.

In Tehran, meanwhile, two members of parliament expressed their apprehension over the upcoming IAEA board of governor's meeting, state radio reported on 17 August. Tehran's Hussein Sheikholeslam said that Iranian officials who participate in the discussions with the IAEA must not let the issue become politicized, because this is what the enemy, which he failed to name, wants. Sheikholeslam said that Iranian activities are transparent. Another legislator, Mohammad Talai-Nik, said he believes Iran's nuclear file will remain open and under IAEA review. "They may raise a series of new expectations and demands and pretexts," he added. Talai-Nik described these so-called pretexts as part of a process of attrition on the part of the United States. He said Iran must take the initiative in blocking these pretexts. (Bill Samii)

MILITARY OFFICIALS WARN OF REPRISALS IF NUCLEAR CENTER IS ATTACKED. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said in an 18 August interview with Al-Jazeera television that Iran would retaliate if its nuclear facilities are attacked. "We will view any strike against our nuclear installations as a strike against the whole country and we will reply with our utmost power," he said. He added that Israel would not be able to do such a thing without permission from the United States -- "we cannot separate between the two sides" -- implying that Iran would act against both Israel and the United States.

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr said on 16 August that "if a missile is fired at the Bushehr [nuclear] power plant, Israel must say good-bye forever to the Dimona nuclear center, which is where nuclear weapons are produced and kept in that country," Radio Farda and Fars News Agency reported. Speaking during military exercises that were taking place in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, Zolqadr said that dozens of countries use nuclear technology and Iran also has a right do so peacefully.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 21 August that Shamkhani's comments were distorted, IRNA reported. According to Assefi, Shamkhani was only saying that Iran will defend its territorial integrity, and furthermore, Shamkhani actually said: "Tehran does not let anyone invade the country. If anyone tries to attack Iran, we will decisively respond and will defend the country's interests."

An anonymous senior source in the Israeli government said that Tehran is panicking, "Yediot Aharonot" reported on 22 August. It is trying to tone down these officers' comments because the Iranian government fears either a U.S. or an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. Simultaneously, it has accelerated work on its nuclear project and the Shihab-3 missile. (Bill Samii)

IRGC, AL- QAEDA, REPORTEDLY PLOTTED TOGETHER AGAINST U.S. PERSONNEL. An anonymous "security source close to the government of President Mohammad Khatami" said in the 19 August "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that elements in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), its special operations Qods Force, and Al-Qaeda planned to assassinate U.S. military, CIA, and FBI personnel in the Caucasus and Central Asia with the intention of dragging Iran and the United States into an open conflict. The plan was foiled by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which arrested five of the plotters just days before President Khatami's early-August trip to Azerbaijan. The ministry provided Baku with the names of the plotters in Azerbaijan. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIAL REJECTS ACCUSATIONS OF INTERFERENCE IN IRAQ. Iranian presidential adviser Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur commented on events in Al-Najaf in a 19 August interview with Al-Jazeera television. "We consider this a war between infidelity and Islam. The United States is the spearhead of infidelity.� Naturally, we condemn this escalation by the Americans.... We condemn this big massacre against Muslims in Iraq." One day earlier he addressed this topic in an interview with ISNA. He said that "America, its supporters, and international Zionism" will target other Islamic countries if they succeed in Iraq and Palestine, and he accused them of having an anti-Islamic "vendetta." Mohtashami-Pur said Iran would send personnel to Iraq if the Iraqi government requests this, and he dismissed as lies allegations of Iranian interference there. (Bill Samii)

DRUGS CONTINUE TO BEDEVIL IRANIAN AUTHORITIES. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 21 August that three drug smugglers were hanged publicly in Kerman Province, according to Reuters. The newspaper added that police seized 3.5 tons of opium and morphine, as well as weapons, from two of the men. Two days earlier, police counternarcotics chief Colonel Mehdi Aboui said that drug seizures in Iran in the first quarter of the year (starting 21 March) were 82 percent higher than they were in the previous year, IRNA reported on 19 August. He said 106,300 kilograms of drugs were seized. Aboui attributed this to the increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. In the same period, Aboui added, 42,500 drug dealers and 97,300 addicts were arrested.

The United Nations, in its "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2003" report, credits Iran with seizing the greatest amount of narcotics (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/trends2003_www_E.pdf). According to the UN, Iran accounted for about three-quarters of world opium seizures in 2001, while Pakistan accounted for 5 percent and Tajikistan accounted for 4 percent. Iran ranks second behind China (20 percent) in morphine and heroin seizures in 2001, with 19 percent.

Afghanistan, according to the UN, is the world's leading producer of opium. Tehran claims that it is paying a great price for being Afghanistan's neighbor. According to Iranian officials, more than 3,300 security personnel have lost their lives in the war on drugs. On 30 June a memorial ceremony took place in Tehran for police who have been killed in the war on drugs, "Hambastegi" reported on 1 July. Tehran also claims that some 2 million Iranians are addicts or abuse drugs in some way.

One can debate the accuracy of these numbers -- officials have been citing the 2 million figure for several years -- but there is little question that the prevalence of drugs is a problem for Iran. A drug dealer in southern Tehran said a "daily fix" of heroin sells for 20,000 rials (about $2.50), and a "daily fix" of opium sells for 70,000 rials (about $8.75), AFP reported on 11 July. (The price difference can be explained by the greatly reduced purity of the heroin.)

Mehdi Najmi, the prisons chief in Iran's northeastern Khorasan Province, said in the 26 June issue of Mashhad's weekly "Shahrara" that 62 percent of the province's 24,000 convicts were jailed on narcotics charges. Drug addicts make up 13.5 percent of the convict population, he said, while 48.5 percent are smugglers. Most of the addicts are aged 20 to 30, and most of the smugglers are aged 30 to 40. Incarceration is an imperfect solution to the problem, according to Najmi, because the addicts need treatment. Furthermore, he said, drugs are smuggled into the prisons -- more than 100 kilograms of drugs were discovered within the prisons' walls in the previous year.

Tehran therefore publicizes its counternarcotics activities, and the official Islamic Republic News Agency carries almost daily reports from around the country about drug seizures. For example, Iranian police Captain Morteza Erjaei told IRNA on 15 August that police in Fars Province had seized 173 kilograms of miscellaneous drugs over the past week, the news agency reported. Erjaei said that two drug traffickers were arrested and 90 kilograms of opium were confiscated in Darab. Erjaei added that police found about 59 kilograms of opium in two separate operations in Darab, and that hauls of 5,500 and 17,400 kilograms of opium were confiscated in the past week in Fasa and Marvdasht, respectively, IRNA reported. He added that police arrested two Afghan nationals carrying some 2,250 kilograms of heroin in Neiriz. IRNA reported on 15 August that police in Urumiyeh, located in West Azerbaijan Province, seized more than 114 kilograms of morphine during a recent raid.

There have been a few reports from Iran that question official claims about drug seizures. A report in the 31 July issue of "Sharq" newspaper noted that there is a 265-ton discrepancy between the figures on drug seizures provided by the Drug Control Headquarters (DCH) and the national police. DCH's Ali Hashemi said, "After being seized and confiscated, these illicit drugs are handed to the public prosecutor's office, wherein a board made up of representatives of the public prosecutor's office, the law enforcement force, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the Drug Control Headquarters oversee all traffic coming in and out." Some of the seizures are destroyed at the provincial level, and some of the seizures are turned over to a pharmaceutical company for manufacturing prescription drugs. According to the newspaper, however, there are discrepancies regarding the amount of seized drugs turned over to this company.

Seyyed Mahmud Alizadeh-Tabatabai, who was a presidential appointee to the DCH, said in the 9 December 2000 "Siyasat" that corruption reaches the highest levels. DCH's Ali Hashemi touched on this subject in the 17 July issue of "Vaqa-yi Ittifaqiyeh." He said that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has instructed that any security officials connected with organized crime must be dealt with harshly, and strict laws have been passed in this regard. He added that police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf is pursuing this issue aggressively and in this connection 5,000 officers were fired last year.

Iran's poor relationship with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan hindered counternarcotics activities in the past. Iran's relations with Kabul now are friendly, and Tehran is involved with crop-substitution plans in Afghanistan. Tehran claims to have provided $10 million in aid for opium eradication (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June 2004).

Iran is working closely with other states that neighbor Afghanistan in an effort to create a "security belt" that will stop narcotics shipments. In this regard, Hashemi was in Islamabad on 5 July to participate in meetings organized by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime involving Pakistan and Afghanistan, IRNA reported. Hashemi complained at this meeting that due to U.S. sanctions, Iran cannot properly equip the forces on the border. Hashemi said the UN should provide the necessary equipment so Iran can secure its borders. He added that patrolling, destruction of drug laboratories, and information exchanges must also increase.

Opium production in Afghanistan continues to climb (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 July 2004), so Iran's problems with drug abuse are not likely to disappear. Indeed, given speculation in the counternarcotics community that the next crop will exceed last year's, the situation could well deteriorate. (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)

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