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Iran Report: September 27, 2004


27 September 2004, Volume 7, Number 33

DIPLOMA MILLS' ACTIVITIES REFLECT IRAN'S BIGGER PROBLEMS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami marked the 22 September beginning of the Iranian academic year with a speech in which he said his administration has done everything within its power to improve the state of the education sector, Iranian state radio reported. Yet recent reports about the alleged activities of a foreign university's Iranian branch reflect several problems that have not been resolved. First, this reflects the hope that a university education will make it easier to get a job in a country with a double-digit unemployment rate. Second, this reflects the tremendous demand for a limited number of university places -- young Iranians surveyed recently described their greatest problem after employment as the university entrance exam, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 1 May. Third, it reflects a system in which state officials use academic credentials to receive higher salaries.

Tehran Province Justice Department spokesman Abbasali Alizadeh said on 14 September that the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology does not recognize degrees from the American University of Hawaii, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. The university, which utilizes distance learning and has its worldwide headquarters in Hawaii, has offices in Tehran (see the institution's website at http://www.auhiran.com). A few days earlier, Alizadeh said the institution's chancellor, Ardeshir Qassemlu, is banned from leaving Iran and his accounts have been frozen, "Resalat" reported on 9 September.

This is only the most recent effort to close down this institution. A former instructor, Hushang Nasserzadeh, told Radio Farda on 20 September that over the last two or three years the government issued warnings in the broadcast and print media that this institution is illegal and it even refrained in its warnings from using the word "university" (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/9/ba6bf4eb-256a-41cc-96a1-a2a06b16198d.html). Nasserzadeh added that the institution's chancellor, Qassemlu, reassured him that he has all the necessary licenses.

The director-general for legal affairs at the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, Morteza Shahbazinia, said the American University of Hawaii has been in Iran for about 10 years, but claimed that it has no credibility and "there are few countries where the credentials from this university are accredited," "Kayhan" reported on 9 September. The institution issued some 8,000 degrees for tuition fees of 50 million to 120 million rials (about $6,300-$15,000), but the extent of its academic activities has been questioned, according to Iranian media reports.

Nor is this chancellor Qassemlu's first run-in with the law. Shahbazinia said Qassemlu -- whose only academic degree is reportedly one issued by his own institution and who previously worked in real estate -- was previously sentenced to one year in prison on a fraud conviction. The appeals court overturned the conviction, and Shahbazinia suggested that it is not a coincidence that many of the institution's graduates work for the Tehran Province Justice Department.

This time the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology has coordinated its activities with those of the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, because the institution is issuing medical degrees.

The Iranian branch of the American University of Hawaii, "Kayhan" reported on 5 September, has never tried to get a permit from the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology. It is registered on Kish Island.

Nasserzadeh told Radio Farda that the institution issued degrees in exchange for money in order to satisfy people's egos. This is part of a phenomenon called "madrak gerayi," roughly translated as "degree-ism." A higher degree is not just a matter of prestige and ego, however, because officials with doctorates are eligible for higher salaries and positions on the basis of those credentials.

The case of the American University of Hawaii is just the most recent example of a diploma mill operating in Iran. The Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology's Shahbazinia told "Kayhan" that the Russian Voronezh State University's branch in Iran (http://www.vsu-th.com) has been sentenced to a fine and closure, and evidence is being collected against the Eastern Studies Institute, which is affiliated with France's Sorbonne University. Shahbazinia added that a complaint has been filed against the Isfahan unit of the Comprehensive University of Applied and Practical Sciences. In this last case, the Isfahan Province Justice Department has rejected the complaint, and the institution continues to conduct examinations in the name of the ministry. (Bill Samii)

NEW ACADEMIC YEAR BEGINS IN IRAN. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami launched the new academic year in Iran with a 22 September speech in which he said his administration has done all it can to correct shortcomings in the educational sector, Iranian state radio reported. Khatami then posed four presumably rhetorical questions: "What is the relationship between intellectual development, freedom, equality, and ethics in our expected Mahdavi system (A perfect system to come at the time of the advent of the 12th Shia Imam), and what is the role of human awareness and resolve in creating this system?" "How is Mahdaviyat defined in divine religions, especially Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism?" Khatami's third question: "What lessons can we learn from the Constitutional Movement, the oil-nationalization movement, and the great Islamic Revolution? What did the great people of Iran want? And what did they achieve?" His final question: "What has been the role of reform in the past 150 years in our country? What are the setbacks and achievements of reform?" If there were any answers to these puzzlers, state radio did not provide them. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALISTS' ARRESTS PROMPT PRESIDENTIAL IRE. Executive branch spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 20 September that President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami will have two cabinet members look into the recent arrests of journalists, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 and 17 August and 20 September 2004). A letter signed by 212 photojournalists and correspondents to Khatami urged the president to take action. "Though every executive official can ignore the spirit and proceedings of [the] law, you, as the chief executive, have taken [an] oath to execute the constitution item by item and safeguard this national law," the letter read.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters that the recent crackdown on journalists and the media comes at a bad time, "Sharq" newspaper reported on 20 September. "Under the conditions that we along with the region are under pressure politically and because of nuclear issues, raising such issues will confront the domestic political climate with tensions," he said. Abtahi demanded the immediate release of Said Motallebi, the father of the Netherlands-based journalist Sina Motallebi.

The authorities released Motallebi on 19 September, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported two days later (http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=11384). Motallebi is forbidden from having any contact with international organizations or the press, according to RSF. (Bill Samii)

IRAN WORKING ON NATIONAL INTRANET. Majid Zaherivash, managing director of Sorush Media -- which is affiliated with the state broadcasting agency -- said in a 15 September call-in show on the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network that the Iranian government is working on a national intranet that would allow people to communicate and obtain information without accessing the Internet. The Communication and Information Technology Ministry is behind this project, which is intended to protect families, and fiber-optic cables linking the major cities are being laid. He added that the Iranian government should do more to protect Iranian websites from hackers. Zaherivash also expressed concern about computer games, which he said are produced by major powers and are intended to secure the interests of the Americans and "the Zionists."

Iranian naval forces commander Admiral Abbas Mohtaj expressed concern about the Internet during a 14 September ceremony at the Imam Khomeini Naval University in Noshahr, IRNA reported. The unnamed enemy is waging a "war of nerves" against Iran, Mohtaj said, and it is trying damage Iranians' self-confidence via "widespread propaganda on the Internet." Under these circumstances, Mohtaj advised, naval personnel must remain true to their values, trust in God, and be confident. "Training the souls of military forces should be given precedence more than training their skills," Mohtaj added.

Regardless of the perceived dangers of the Internet, the Iranian government does make use of it. According to an article in the 28 August issue of the weekly "Ertebat," there are at least 17 websites connected with the Iranian government, including websites for the president (www.president.ir), the parliament (www.majlis.ir), and the judiciary (www.judiciary.ir). Several ministries have websites as well, including the Ministry of Agricultural Jihad (www.agri-jahad.org); Ministry of Commerce (www.moc.gov.ir); Ministry of Cooperatives (www.icm.gov.ir); Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (www.mod.ir); Ministry of Economic Affairs & Finance (www.economicaffairs.ir); Ministry of Education and Training (www.medu.ir); Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfa.gov.ir); Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education (www.mohme.gov.ir); Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (www.mhud.gov.ir); Ministry of Industry (www.mim.gov.ir); Ministry of the Interior (www.moi.gov.ir); Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance (www.ershad.gov.ir); Ministry of Roads and Transport (www.cao.ir); and Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology (formerly the Higher Education Ministry; www.moe.ir). (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS URGED TO EAT RIGHT. Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Masud Pezeshkian said at the Iran Nutrition Congress on 6 September that a balanced diet contributes to longevity by preventing heart disease, IRNA reported. He said lifestyle and diet should be linked in a strategy to promote heart health. Pezeshkian noted that about 600,000 people die of obesity in the United States and Europe every year. (Bill Samii)

HIV/AIDS INCREASING IN IRAN. Minister of Health, Treatment, & Medical Education Masud Pezeshkian told visiting Kyrgyz Health Minister Mitalip Mamytov on 22 September that the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed Iran's AIDS control program, IRNA reported.

Health Ministry official Mohammad Mehdi Guya said on 2 September in Ardabil that 30,000-40,000 people in Iran are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, with 7,108 patients registered at medical centers as suffering from the disease, state television reported. Guya explained that the disease is usually transmitted through the sharing of needles and syringes by drug addicts.

One year earlier, Guya estimated that 23,000 to 25,000 Iranians are HIV positive (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 October 2003). (Bill Samii)

MAJORITY OF IRANIAN PHYSICIANS LIVE BELOW POVERTY LINE. Parliament deputy Hussein Husseini, who sits on the legislature's Health and Treatment Committee, said in Noshahr on 12 September that only 5 to 5.5 percent of Iran's gross national product is spent on health care, IRNA reported, with no foreign-exchange reserves being used in support of the sector. Husseini added that even the budgeted amount has not been spent properly.

Deputy Health Minister Mohammad Ismail Akbari said in a letter to the Management and Planning Organization that because of the unexpectedly low budget allocation in the last quarter of the Iranian year, many planned programs were shelved, IRNA reported on 11 September. He added that the health budget should be increased to 7.5 percent of gross domestic product. Budget shortfalls are affecting epidemiology, family planning, emergency care, and disease control, Akbari said.

Akbari said that the majority of Iranian physicians live below the poverty line, Radio Farda reported on 7 September (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/9/94683130-ec39-45f0-be8a-1a56e49bee57.html), citing Fars News Agency. About 1,000 doctors earn high incomes and another 5,000 have adequate incomes -- but about 30,000 of their colleagues, or 83 percent of all physicians, have incomes below the poverty line. Akbari said these doctors make between 700,000 and 800,000 rials per month (about $88-$101). Akbari added, however, that health standards in Iran are better than those in neighboring states. (Bill Samii)

ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS WARNED ABOUT UNITED STATES. The Assembly of Experts -- 89 popularly elected clerics tasked with monitoring the supreme leader's performance -- began their semiannual meeting on 19 September and issued its final communique the next day. The final communique said Iran has the right to peacefully use nuclear energy and urged the country's officials to resist American "blackmail," state television reported. The statement went on to assert that the Middle East should be transformed into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, the country's defensive capabilities must be strengthened, and the government must defend Iranian interests regarding the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Domestically, it called for job creation, the elimination of poverty, and an end to corruption, as well as the elimination of factionalism and political games.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the Assembly of Experts on 21 September, Iranian state radio and state television reported. He said the Islamic Republic has divine goals, ideals, and values, but its instruments and methods are human and could make mistakes. He said people should not confuse goals and tactics, and they should not change their goals "in the name of modernism and reform." "That is a deviationist way of thinking," Khamenei said, adding, that is the same as "reaction and regression." He also cautioned against "steadfastness" that is really "obscurantism." Khamenei said Western media have conducted a propaganda campaign calling for reform in Iran, "But what they want is not reform. They want corruption." The concerns expressed by "hegemonic power centers" about weapons of mass destruction serve as camouflage for their worries about the Islamic system, which has proven to Muslims that it is possible to establish a state along Islamic principles.

A review of 10 years of newspaper archives on the Assembly of Experts "is completely devoid of any sort of news value," columnist Hussein Safar-Harandi wrote in the 22 September "Kayhan." The news coverage consists mostly of selections of official speeches at the assembly meetings, Safar-Harandi wrote, and these are "chiefly cliched indications of everyday matters." The public should be told about the "pious life of their leader," about his austerity, and about his reluctance to spend public funds, according to the "Kayhan" columnist, so that they would become more willing to question other public officials about their needless expenditures. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE'S LIMITS ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT CRITICIZED. The parliament voted on 19 September to amend two articles of the Third Five-Year Development Plan (2000-05), IRNA reported. The amendments compel the government to obtain legislative permission to conclude any contract in the aviation or telecoms fields with a foreign firm or a firm that has majority foreign ownership. Any agreement signed by the government since 21 March is subject to amendment, and any new agreement must receive legislative approval within three months of its conclusion.

Executive branch spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 20 September criticized the legislature's decision, IRNA reported. Ramezanzadeh said this means parliament must be informed before negotiations commence, and this would undermine the government's role in foreign policy and economic activities with other countries.

Economist Said Leylaz told IRNA on 20 September that the only thing this would accomplish is to close the economy even more and to lower productivity. Leylaz stressed the economic value of privatization and foreign investment.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters on 22 September that parliamentary approval of legislation that affects the executive branch's ability to sign contract with foreign firms would paralyze the government and impose high costs, IRNA and Reuters reported. "This will cost the country billions of dollars," he said, according to Reuters. "I find it completely against the national interests." He added, according to IRNA, that the "approval of the bill is likely to be against the constitution and identical to interfering with the responsibilities of the executive power by the legislative branch." (Bill Samii)

IRAN MARKS 'SACRED DEFENSE WEEK.' Iran kicked off "Sacred Defense Week" -- the annual commemoration of the beginning of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War -- on 21 September with a parade near the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran. The parade was shown on state television and featured military equipment used by the armed forces, as well as military and security personnel.

Among the personnel marching in the parade were paratroopers and commandos, who also conducted parachuting displays. Special operations personnel from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as IRGC military police and ground forces also participated in the parade. IRGC troops marching in the parade carried banners reading "Death to America" (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/040921/ids_photos_wl/r2932113732.jpg). Clerics and seminarians, described by a state television announcer as members of the Basij, also marched (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/040921/ids_photos_wl/r630780555.jpg).

Among the missiles on display during the parade were the Shihab-1, Shihab-2, and Shihab-3 and their launchers; the Nazeat-6 and Nazeat-10; the Tondar-69; the Zelzal; and the SAM-6. Also on display in the parade were armored personnel carriers -- including the M113 -- and Chieftain, Zulfaqar, and T72 tanks. (Bill Samii)

ASYMMETRIC WARFARE IS NEW MILITARY DOCTRINE. The Ashura-5 war games, which took place in the western provinces of Hamedan, Kurdistan, and Zanjan, began on 12 September, Radio Farda reported (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/9/206ce9ce-8188-402b-95b1-dfa8dca4e39a.html). Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) deputy operational commander Brigadier General Hussein Salami said the exercises would involve personnel from the IRGC and the Basij Resistance Force, Radio Farda reported.

According to a report from Iranian state radio, the exercises are focused on defense against foreign threats, testing defensive tactics and equipment, and improving military morale. Iranian state television added that Iranian forces airlifted T-72 tanks for the first time. IRGC Commander in Chief General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 11 September that the exercises will include surface-to-surface missiles, long-distance warfare (jang az rah-i dur), and air-defense operations, Fars News Agency reported. Rahim-Safavi added that IRGC fighter aircraft and regular army air corps (Havaniruz) forces would participate in the exercises.

IRGC spokesman General Masud Jazayeri said on 14 September that asymmetric warfare is an important component of the exercises, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said that Iran learned about asymmetric defensive tactics from its experiences during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, from regional wars, and it is benefiting from innovations in tactics and logistics. The IRGC is therefore able to respond promptly to any attacks, Jazayeri said, and can repel any invader regardless of its strength or technological abilities.

The IRGC accomplished all its objectives in the exercises, Rahim-Safavi said in an 18 September interview with state television. He expressed regret that three people lost their lives -- one in a traffic accident and two when they walked into a mine field left over from the Iran-Iraq War.

IRGC commander Rahim-Safavi said this was an opportunity to utilize a new defense strategy and doctrine, which he said is based on asymmetric warfare. "The principles of this kind of warfare have been formulated in view of extra-regional threats which we assume the Islamic Republic will face." He said that in the future Iran will face threats from "extra-regional powers -- particularly the Americans and the Zionist regime are the two greatest threats to the Islamic Republic." Rahim-Safavi said the United States and Israel recognize that Iranian offensive forces have an extraterritorial reach. "They know full well that if they start an onslaught against us, we will not be confined to our land borders and that we will attack them outside the boundaries of our land borders." (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATORS SUBMIT BILL FOR NPT WITHDRAWAL. An unspecified number of parliamentarians have submitted a draft bill demanding that the Iranian government submit its notification of withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the Iranian nuclear case is not concluded by the time of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting in November, "Etemad" reported on 22 September. The legislation said that the most recent governing board resolution on Iran "intends to impose illegal conditions and unreasonable bribe-like demands from the United States and its allies." The bill, it went on to say, aims to defend Iran's "independence and national sovereignty and security."

Alaedin Borujerdi, head of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on 21 September that there is no bill calling for withdrawal from the NPT on the legislative agenda, IRNA reported. "Any suggestion to such effect is contrary to the national interest," he added.

Another member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Karaj's Rashid Jafari-Jalali, said on 20 September that, unless the Iranian case is closed at the next IAEA board of governors' meeting, "Iran will go its own way," state radio reported. He noted that this is permitted under the NPT. Jafari-Jalali went on to warn the Iranian people that, no matter what the country did to meet the IAEA's conditions, "they will still try to stop this and to deny us the use of this modern and profitable technology."

Parliamentary presiding board member Alireza Zakani read out a statement on 19 September, from more than 200 of his colleagues, in which they rejected the previous day's IAEA resolution on Iran, IRNA reported. They also threatened to not ratify the Additional Protocol of the NPT if the board of governors does not mend its ways. The legislators vowed that Iran will continue working on all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle regardless of such resolutions.

Parliamentary speaker Gholamali Haddad-Adel said on 19 September that Iran will enrich uranium if it deems it necessary, and it will discontinue enrichment if it is unnecessary, IRNA reported. He said the IAEA cannot order Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN PLEDGES TO COOPERATE WITH IAEA. Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, the chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei on 21 September and said Iran would do its best to cooperate with the nuclear watchdog in order to resolve outstanding issues, IRNA reported. The two met on the sidelines of the 48th General Conference of the IAEA in Vienna.

Aqazadeh also said that Iran will begin converting 37 tons of yellowcake uranium into uranium hexafluoride gas, "The Guardian" reported on 22 September. The IAEA board of governors' 18 September resolution on Iran expressed concern about the plan to convert yellowcake uranium (http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2004/gov2004-79.pdf; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 September 2004).

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi discussed the nuclear issue when he met with his counterparts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. He reassured Germany's Joschka Fischer on 23 September that Iran intends to continue its cooperation with the IAEA, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. Kharrazi added that Iran wants to resolve any outstanding issues, and he reminded Fischer that Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment activities was voluntary.

France's Michel Barnier relayed an "absolutely firm" message in his meeting with Kharrazi, an anonymous French diplomat told AFP on 22 September. "He told him that he had to dispel all suspicions over Iran's nuclear program and return to the spirit of the Tehran accords." The accords were signed in October 2003, when British, French, and German foreign ministers visited Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003, and for the full text, see http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Focus/IaeaIran/statement_iran21102003.shtml).

Kharrazi told Iranian state television on 23 September that he also met with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and other Europeans. Kharrazi said he told them that Iran has the right to use nuclear technology peacefully, and he stressed that the only way to solve problems is through dialogue.

"We've made our choice: Yes to peaceful nuclear technology. No to atomic weapons," President Mohammad Khatami said on 21 September, according to "The International Herald Tribune." He then sounded an uncharacteristically tough note, saying, "We will continue along our path even if it leads to an end to international supervision." The usually soft-spoken president's comments probably were intended for the venue at which they were made -- a military parade in Tehran marking "Sacred Defense Week." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REJECTS NEGOTIATIONS WITH WASHINGTON. "There is no one in America to negotiate with right now," Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said at a 19 September press conference in Tehran, when asked if the time has come for negotiations with the United States, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. Rohani recommended waiting until after the November presidential elections. He went on to say that Tehran is not avoiding speaking with Washington and the two sides have participated in multilateral discussions, but the time for "comprehensive" negotiations has not come yet.

Rohani attributed the lack of dialogue on the nuclear subject to U.S. intransigence, saying: "I do not want to say that we completely refuse negotiations with America concerning [Iran's] nuclear dossier. But the Americans themselves, for their inappropriate stances and also the pressures they have exerted on the agency, have caused the problem.... When they resort to such intimidating or bullying methods, we may say that the Americans themselves are the ones who kill the opportunities." Rohani added that the United States could have been part of the negotiations between Iran, Germany, Britain, and France in October 2003.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told a gathering of disabled veterans and their families in West Azerbaijan Province on 20 September that the U.S. attitude toward Iranian nuclear efforts reflects a reliance on power and force, state television reported. "The world is a cruel place," Khatami said. "It is a world full of lies. Just see what is happening in the world today. The Iranian nation is the target of the great powers' pressure and verbal attack so that it can't progress. What is happening regarding our nuclear activities these days is a sign of perversion in the world and the rule of power and force over international relations."

Khatami added that there is pressure against Iranian nuclear activities because of the country's "crime" of seeking independence, pursuing progress, and wanting to "strengthen its model of religious democracy." If the United States is so worried about human rights and nuclear proliferation, Khatami asked, why is Israel not under similar pressure? (Bill Samii)

ISRAEL WARNS UN OF IRANIAN TERRORISM. "Iran has replaced Saddam Hussein as the world's No. 1 exporter of terror, hate, and instability," Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the UN General Assembly on 23 September, according to the Israeli government press office website (www.gpo.gov.il). "Terror, Islamic fundamentalism, and Iranian nuclear ambition" were at one time seen as Israeli concerns, but now the international community is united in its opposition to weapons of mass destruction and terror. "The international community now realizes that Iran -- with missiles that can reach London, Paris, Berlin, and southern Russia -- does not only pose a threat to the security of Israel, but to the security and stability of the whole world," Shalom said. He went on to encourage the General Assembly to deal with Iranian and Syrian involvement with terrorism and Syria's occupation of Lebanon. (Bill Samii)

OBSERVERS PARSE IRANIAN ROLE IN IRAQI INSURGENCY. Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i said that Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, which can be "documented by figures," has fallen since Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih visited Tehran, "Al-Hayat" reported on 22 September (for more on Salih's visit, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 August 2004). The reduction in interference, he said, includes fewer border violations. Some of those who enter Iraq from Iran are religious pilgrims, while "others are trying to join in acts of sabotage or smuggling." The Iraqi defense minister added that support for radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has fallen since he lost his backing from the Qom-based Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 September 2004).

Thousands of people responded to al-Sadr's call for his supporters to occupy the Imam Ali shrine, the Iraqi defense minister said in reference to the alleged Iranian role in the August crisis in Al-Najaf in the 21 September "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 August 2004), while others engaged in military activities in the governorates of Al-Basrah, Al-Kut, Al-Amarah, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Diwaniyah. "Many of the attackers came from outside the borders, particularly from Iran," he added. "We arrested 45 Iranians and 11 Afghans in Al-Kut and 36 Pakistanis in Al-Najaf. They appeared on Iraqi television and admitted that they came to liberate the shrine."

"Iranian interference in some Iraqi affairs does not mean that the Iranian government condones this," Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told London's "Al-Hayat" in an interview published on 20 September. "But it is originating from some circles that back certain religious tendencies, as was the case with Muqtada al-Sadr's issue." Allawi continued, "We dealt with it not as a religious tendency...but as the violation of the sovereignty of the law, which is something that we cannot be lax about."

Personnel from British military intelligence and MI6 have determined that a cell within Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) is the main source of money and training for insurgents in southern Iraq, "The Sunday Times" reported on 19 September. The IRGC cell reportedly has flooded Al-Basrah with thousands of U.S. dollars and is providing Shi'a militiamen with weapons -- including a type of rocket-propelled grenade with a special warhead -- and tactical training.

Officials from the U.S. State and Defense departments, as well as military officials, also assert that money, arms, and even personnel are getting to radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from Iran, "The Washington Post" reported on 20 September. Al-Sadr reportedly has the backing of many poor Iraqi youths but has alienated, among others, the moderate Shi'ite business class, the daily reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the extent of Iranian support for the insurgency is unclear, according to "The Washington Post." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on 14 September there is "no doubt" that money comes from Iran and Syria and he mentioned a shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile being smuggled in from Iran. In a possible effort to recreate Hizballah's success in Lebanon, Iran is funding hospitals, clinics, and social services in parts of Iraq not reached by the central government, U.S. administration officials told "The Washington Post." (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQ RELEASES IRANIAN BUSINESSMEN AFTER TWO MONTHS. Mohammad-Mehdi Teimouri, Masud Zareh, Yusef Muhseni, and Qasem Salehi -- Iranian businessmen arrested by Iraqi and U.S. troops on 18 July -- were released on 22 September, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004). Teimouri said he and his colleagues were held in Baghdad and their Iraqi captors beat them frequently. Teimouri said the four were asked why they were in Iraq and were accused of espionage, and he cited a memorandum of understanding on cultural cooperation as proof of their innocence. (Bill Samii)

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