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Iran Report: January 13, 2003

13 January 2003, Volume 6, Number 2

TERRORISM INVESTIGATIONS SHED LIGHT ON IRAN-AL-QAEDA LINKS. Recent testimony of Kuwaiti and Lebanese Al-Qaeda suspects and reports in Western news media support assertions that the terrorist organization's members have support in Iran. Some aspects of the testimony, however, raise questions about the extent of that support and about who is providing it.

The 12 December issue of "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" carried the indictment and confessions of four Al-Qaeda suspects -- Muhsin al-Fadli (Kuwaiti, unemployed, age 21), Maqbul al-Maqbul (Kuwaiti, former Interior Ministry official, age 32), Muhammad al-Mutayri (Kuwaiti, charitable-foundation official, age 30), and Adil Bu Haymid (Kuwaiti, former officer, age 36).

One of the four, al-Mutayri, said that he went to Afghanistan in October 2001 after the U.S. bombing campaign began. He described his route as follows: "I went to Bahrain, [and] from there to Mashhad in Iran. I then crossed the border into Afghan territory." And he described the purpose of his trip: "I went to fight alongside the Taliban against the Americans." After spending about 40 days at the Kandahar airport, al-Mutayri decided to get out. He described what happened next: "I entered Pakistani territory, and from there [went] to Iranian territory, where I was arrested by the Iranian security services and later handed over to the Kuwaiti authorities."

Another, Bu Haymid, reached Kandahar in July 2001 and then went north to fight the Northern Alliance near Kabul. Around November 2001, he left Afghanistan via Pakistan, and in Iran he was detained by the authorities who subsequently extradited him to Kuwait. In Kuwait, he was set free. Bu Haymid also confessed that he contributed $40,000 to Muhsin al-Fadli, who said that the money was needed to help "a group of Uzbeks in Iran with large families."

More information about an Iranian connection to Al-Qaeda came to light during the late-December terrorism trial in Beirut of four Lebanese and one Palestinian, "The Daily Star" reported on 27 December. One of the accused, Abdullah Mohammad Muhtadi, wanted to go to Afghanistan to fight against U.S. forces. Another one of the accused, Mohammad Yehia Kaaki, told Muhtadi to go there via the border with Iran and gave him the phone number of a contact in Tehran. But when Muhtadi and a companion arrived in Tehran, the contact told them that it would be too difficult to infiltrate across the border because of stringent Iranian security measures. Frustrated, Muhtadi went back to Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Belgian investigators have also found evidence of Iranian ties to the case of a $20 million Al-Qaeda diamond-buying plan, according to a report in "The Washington Post" on 29 December. The diamond buying took place in reaction to U.S. efforts in 1998 to freeze the terrorists' assets. Two of the alleged conduits in the Al-Qaeda plan are Lebanese diamond merchants Samih Ossailly, who was arrested in Belgium in April, and his cousin, Aziz Nassour, who currently lives in Beirut. Together, they ran a company called ASA Diam. Investigators have telephone records of calls to Iran from ASA Diam, as well as calls to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Nassour said in a telephone interview with "The Washington Post" that the four calls to Iran were for personal business.

The testimonies, therefore, point to the existence of Al-Qaeda supporters in Iran who could provide logistical support to individuals who wanted to infiltrate Afghanistan. The diamond merchants may well have also had Al-Qaeda contacts in Iran. Yet there were limits to what the Al-Qaeda contacts could accomplish in Iran -- witness the arrests and extraditions of the Kuwaitis as they fled Afghanistan and the inability of the Lebanese to cross the border from Iran into Afghanistan. Thus, the question becomes: Who was Al-Qaeda dealing with in the Iranian government and security forces? (Bill Samii)

LEBANESE AND PALESTINIANS TRAIN IN IRAN. Lebanese Hizballah is making military preparations with Iranian help in reaction to hostile rhetoric from Israel, Nicholas Blanford writes in the 7 January issue of Beirut's English-language "The Daily Star." Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had said on 5 January that there is a 50 percent chance that Israel would attack Lebanon during or after a U.S. invasion of Iraq. In preparation, Hizballah is sending part-time personnel to Iran to visit the holy Shia shrines and also to get military training from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). Up to six or seven people from each southern Lebanese Shia village are undergoing what "The Daily Star" calls "refresher courses."

The press director of the Palestinian Authority's Information Ministry, Mr. al-Khatib, on 27 December rejected allegations that Palestinians who go to Iran for medical treatment subsequently receive military training, Ramallah's "Al-Hayah al-Jadidah" reported on 28 December. Al-Khatib said that this is part of Israel's previous allegations about the presence in the Gaza Strip of Al-Qaeda personnel (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 December 2002).

According to the Israeli domestic security service, the Shin Bet, the Palestinians received military training after their treatment and then returned to Israel with instructions to conduct attacks and recruit more terrorists, Tel Aviv's "Ha'aretz" newspaper reported on 26 December. Hundreds of wounded Palestinians have gone to Iran since the beginning of the current uprising 2 1/2 years ago, and while there many of them met with senior terrorists, such as Nasrallah, Hamas's Khalid Mashaal, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad's Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, according to "Ha'aretz." (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS SUDDENLY VERY INTERESTED IN COUNCIL ELECTIONS. The director-general of the Interior Ministry Office of Election Affairs, Mohammad Ali Moshfeq, announced on 6 January that more than 210,000 people have signed up as candidates for the late-February municipal-council elections for some 170,000 seats, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. This would mark a very impressive increase in public interest, since on 3 January, just two days before the deadline for candidates' registration, Moshfeq said that about 51,000 people had signed up. Mashhad parliamentarian Ali Tajernia, who is one of the election supervisors, said that by the evening of 3 January fewer than 49,000 people had signed up, but that number had doubled by the evening of 4 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January 2003). This means that on 5 January approximately 110,000 people rushed to register as candidates. Screening bodies will now consider the candidates' eligibility. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT DOWNPLAYS BOMBS IN ZAHEDAN, BLAMES FOREIGNERS. The Iranian government has reacted to explosions on 5 January in one of its eastern cities in two ways: by downplaying them and by blaming foreigners. In reality, the region is plagued by ethnic and tribal disputes between locals and the central government, as well as smuggling by locals who have no other source of employment (for more on ethnicity in Iran, see

Percussion bombs damaged buildings and shops in the city of Zahedan on 5 January, the official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran television network reported. Four people were injured in the blasts. The next day, Sistan va Baluchistan Province Deputy Governor-General for Political and Security Affairs Gholam-Reza Javidan said that the bomb blasts were not politically related, and he speculated that they were the work of hooligans using homemade fireworks, IRNA reported on 7 January. Javidan said that there were six explosions in five locations. Meanwhile, provincial governor-general Heidar-Ali Nurai said that the police are investigating the incidents and would soon identify the perpetrators.

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 8 January hinted that foreigners are behind the explosions in Zahedan, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. "We think that the threats made by certain foreign groups in the past several months against the Islamic Republic are not irrelevant [to the case], but investigations are not yet complete," he said.

Similar incidents in the past were linked to disputes between local Sunni and Shia Muslims. Although some 90 percent of the Iranian population practices Shia Islam, which is the state religion, the majority of those living in Sistan va Baluchistan Province practice Sunni Islam.

In what is unlikely to be a coincidence, Law Enforcement Forces chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf arrived in Zahedan on 6 January. Qalibaf announced that special patrols would be established soon to contend with what IRNA referred to as "the criminals and rascals who are increasingly threatening the social order." Qalibaf said that the rising number of such antisocial elements has become a major problem in the country's big cities. Qalibaf said that the creation of special border-security units has helped reduce the crime rate in the east and that the police place a high priority on equipping these battalions.

The Iranian government's concern about border security has been a long-running issue, especially in the eastern provinces where locals must contend with smugglers and other bandits. Mr. Ahmadi, the Interior Ministry deputy minister for order and security, announced that a comprehensive plan for enhancing border security would be executed soon, the weekly "Payam-i Ostan-i Semnan" reported on 3 November. He said the Interior Ministry and the army would cooperate, and he described the establishment of new border units and the construction of new border posts. (Bill Samii)

MORE PARTICIPANTS IN IRANIAN BROADCASTING WAR. The Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, which presumably has links to the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, has announced that the Voice of South Azerbaijan will commence radio broadcasts to Iran on 8 January, according to TURAN news agency on 6 January and the online newspaper "Baku Today" on 31 December, as reported on Radio Netherlands' "Media Network" website ( There will be two broadcasts a week initially, at 9570 MHZ at 8 p.m. Tabriz time on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and daily broadcasts will begin in February. A Voice of Southern Azerbaijan broadcast on shortwave from 1996 to 1998 and was operated by the National and Independent Front of Southern Azerbaijan, according to Radio Netherlands.

An opening ceremony for six new television transmitters and four new radio transmitters was held in central Iran on 2 January, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. The broadcasts will reach residents of Golpayegan and Khonsar towns and enable them to watch provincial programming and the national news network on the UHF and VHF bands. On FM, they will get Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting stations Radio Maaref, Radio Farhang, Radio Payam, and Radio Javan. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT TO MONITOR WEBSITES. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security has been placed in charge of a special committee tasked with identifying "illicit" websites, the official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 4 January. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution created the special committee, which also includes representatives of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry and the state broadcasting organization. Once the committee identifies the problematic websites, it will inform the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone, and it will, in turn, take action -- presumably by blocking access to the websites. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER SAYS YOUTH RETAIN REVOLUTIONARY VALUES. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a 9 January speech in Qom that was broadcast by Iranian state radio rejected suggestions that the generations born after Iran's 1978-79 revolution have turned their backs on Islam, and he said that people who make such allegations are "despondent, depressed, and sad at heart [and] think that everyone else suffers from the same ailment." Nevertheless, he warned, corruption and "carnal desires" could become "tools in the hands of the enemy." Khamenei said the enemy is waiting to attack and "the enemy offensive might not always take the form of a military attack. It could take the form of a cultural attack, a psychological attack, an economic attack, a security attack, or an effort to penetrate sensitive departments [of the country]." Khamenei warned in his conclusion: "Do not look to the enemy propaganda and the dirt spread by their propaganda trumpets. They are compelled to spread such propaganda." (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT TACKLES PRESS LAW. "With 18 journalists behind bars, Iran is the biggest jail for journalists in the Middle East," Reporters Without Borders said in its annual press-freedom survey that was released on 7 January ( In overall terms, the number of journalists in the world who were attacked, threatened, or jailed rose dramatically last year -- 692 journalists arrested in 2002 compared to 489 in 2001, and 1,420 news people physically attacked or threatened in 2002 compared to 716 in 2001.

Moreover, the Tehran Public Court on 11 January banned "Bahar" daily. The court's letter to Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei said, according to IRNA, "The daily Bahar, despite earlier suspension and conviction on several charges, has been persisting in propagating against the [Islamic] system and publishing lies in order to instigate public opinion." "Please require that the daily is prevented from printing and publishing until further notice," the letter continued. "Qom-i Imruz" newspaper closed on 26 December in response to what publisher Alireza Fuladi termed "diverse pressures" and a campaign of threats ahead of the municipal elections, IRNA reported. "Shams-i Tabriz" newspaper was closed on the judiciary's orders for stirring up "ethnic divisions," ISNA reported on 26 December. Owner Ali Hamed Iman was sentenced to 74 lashes and a suspended two-year prison sentence.

In total, the Iranian government has closed at least 76 publications since April 2000 (some of them have since reopened). According to the Ruydad website ( on 3 January, 87 publications have been closed since May 1997.

Iran's parliament made its first amendment on 1 January to the harsh press law that allows the closures, which is particularly significant because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei quashed its attempt to amend the press law 2 1/2 years ago. Khamenei warned in a 6 August 2000 letter that was read aloud to the parliament, "Should the enemies of Islam, the revolution, and the Islamic system take over or infiltrate the press, a great danger would threaten the security, unity, and the faith of the people and, therefore, I cannot allow myself and other officials to keep quiet in respect of this crucial issue."

Khamenei went on to say in his letter, "The current [press] law, to a degree, has been able to prevent the appearance of this great calamity, and [therefore], its [amendment] and similar actions that have been anticipated by the parliamentary committee are not legitimate and not in the interest of the country and the system." The legislators reacted by engaging in scuffles, and some walked out of the chamber (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 14 August 2000).

The amendment introduced on 1 January would eliminate Part 2 of Paragraph B of Article 9 of the press law, removing the current geographic restrictions on distribution of a publication, and subject matter would not be limited to a specific topic. The amendment awaits approval by the Guardians Council.

During that day's open session of parliament, Isfahan parliamentary representative Rajab Ali Mazrui, who is also the chairman of the Iranian Journalists Union, complained about the situation faced by many publications. Mazrui asked, according to the 2 January edition of "Hayat-i No": "Why should we divest other provinces and deprived areas from having access to the press that can be distributed nationwide? In addition, this is unfair discrimination in the law." He said that the restriction on distributing "Hamshahri," which is associated with Tehran municipality, had resulted in some 1,500 lost jobs. "It is not right that citizens in Tehran can read a reputable daily, but citizens in other cities and towns are deprived of it," he added.

Damghan representative Hassan Sobhani, "Hayat-i No" reported on 2 January, expressed concern that publications would be misused by political factions. Sobhani said that he favored national distribution, because "Entekhab," which belongs to the Islamic Propaganda Office of Qom, and "Qods," which is published by Astan-i Qods Razavi (the Imam Reza shrine foundation in Mashhad), have messages for everybody. He suggested that the publications be limited to specific subjects.

Parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani, who dealt with press matters when he was with the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance and who is a founder of the Iranian Journalists Union, dismissed the idea of limiting the distribution or subject matter of a publication. Burqani said that such an idea is impractical, "Hayat-i No" reported on 2 January: "Based on this proposal, a daily like 'Jam-i Jam' must publish materials in connection with radio and television programs, or 'Qods' must limit its materials to reports on Astan-i Qods Razavi, but how many events occur in the Voice and Vision [state radio and television] or Astan-i Qods Razavi to serve as subjects for writing articles and commentaries and filling pages of these dailies?"

Burqani hinted that the parliament would not back down if the Guardians Council were to reject the press-law amendment. "If the Guardians Council does not approve this act, we will begin finding fault with the countrywide distribution of 'Entekhab' and 'Qods' dailies," he said. (Bill Samii)

COURT CONTROVERSY CONTINUES... The continuing trial relating to an opinion poll that found that the majority of Tehran citizens hope for renewed Iran-U.S. relations continued in the first week of January. As some defendants deny any wrongdoing, questions have surfaced about the political motives of another one, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) claims that the court is not providing it with information.

The second session in the trial relating to the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls was held on 6 January, state television and IRNA reported. Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, who is the attorney for institute director Behruz Geranpayeh, rejected the charges of contacts with foreign nationals by saying that his client got approval from the Foreign Ministry beforehand, and Haji-Mashhadi said that Geranpayeh was not responsible for hiring members of the terrorist opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization.

Another defendant, current parliamentarian and former Deputy Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Burqani, said that he had approval from Ataollah Mohajerani, his boss at the ministry, to provide funds to the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls, according to IRNA.

There have been allegations that the accused were provided with classified documents by the executive branch, and a government spokesman said later that the MOIS would be provided with the relevant documents. MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said after the 8 January cabinet meeting that the court has not provided the MOIS with the supposedly classified documents, the "Bahar" daily reported on 9 January. MOIS personnel have attended the closed hearings of the trial, but Yunesi said that they still have not been given access to the complete case files. (Bill Samii)

...AND THERE IS CONCERN OVER DEFENDANTS' CONFINEMENT. The Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) in an 8 January statement expressed concern over the continuing solitary confinement of Abbas Abdi, Hussein Qazian, and Geranpayeh, the three main defendants in the polling-institute trial, IRNA reported. The IIPP said the defendants should be granted bail and freed immediately, and it criticized the defendants' lack of free access to their lawyers.

Saleh Nikbakht, Abdi's lawyer, confirmed that the judge in the case had just ordered Abdi's transfer from solitary confinement, "Tehran Times" reported on 11 January, and he said that his client had not been under mental or physical duress. Nevertheless, according to the IIPP's 8 January statement, solitary confinement is a form of psychological pressure.

This could be one reason for Abdi's rumored withdrawal from political life. Nikbakht confirmed these rumors in the 8 January issue of "Bahar" newspaper, but he explained that Abdi is waiting to see if the factional infighting of Iranian politics subsides. The withdrawal could also be associated with Abdi's statements during the 25 December court hearing, in which he apologized for conducting a poll, rejected the notion of a national referendum on the country's political future, and dismissed the idea of reformists leaving the political system.

Abdi's rejection of his previous political stands could be based on a desire to protect his wife from the threat of a court case, or it could be "to avoid revelations to do with national security that could have sorely embarrassed senior reformists," "The Economist" reported on 9 January. If the latter reason is correct, then the allegations that the pollsters were granted access to classified documents by the president's office could be true after all. (Bill Samii)

DOCTORS GIVEN ACCESS TO DISSIDENT CLERIC. Government security personnel initially denied access to physicians and an unidentified deputy health minister who were trying to visit Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi at his home in Qom, ISNA reported on 6 January. Montazeri was the designated successor to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, until 1989. Montazeri's criticism of current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resulted in his being placed under house arrest in 1997. Montazeri's son, Ahmad, said his father has heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, and has been suffering from a sleeping disorder for the past three months, Radio Farda reported on 6 January. Ahmad told Radio Farda that the doctors were allowed in on 7 January, at which time they attributed the ayatollah's sleeping problems to being cooped up in the house for five years and prescribed some medicine. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS REJECT ANTI-TORTURE BILL. Unidentified parliamentarians said that the 12-member Guardians Council, which must approve the constitutional and religious compatibility of all legislative proposals, on 8 January rejected a bill that would ban torture, according to Reuters. The Guardians Council first rejected the bill in June 2002, so the legislature made revisions and approved amended legislation in December (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 November 2002 and 23 December 2002). If the impasse continues, the legislation will be referred to the Expediency Council. (Bill Samii)

MIXED RECEPTION FOR STONING BAN. Administrative Court chief Hojatoleslam Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi said that stoning as form of capital punishment has been "stopped for a while," according to the "Tehran Times" on 28 December, and the "Financial Times" had previously reported on the stoning ban (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 December 2002). Female parliamentarians are promoting legislation to abolish the practice, and two prominent clerics have spoken out in favor of alternatives to stoning. But a member of the Guardians Council, which must confirm the compatibility of all legislation with the 1979 Iranian Constitution and religious law, has said that there is no alternative to stoning as a punishment for adultery.

Ayatollah Hussein Musavi-Tabrizi said that ending stoning was a reaction to modernity, AP reported on 29 December. He said, "Any punishment, including stoning, that defames Islam or depicts a bad picture of the religion in the world is harmful to Islam, and it is fully Islamic to stop it."

Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi said in a written decree obtained by AP on 29 December, "In certain circumstances, death by stoning can be replaced by other methods of punishment." Female parliamentarians sought Makarem-Shirazi's support for their anti-stoning legislation.

There are signs, however, that point to Guardians Council opposition to any anti-stoning legislation. Council member Ayatollah Gholamreza Rezvani said that there is no substitute for the stoning of adulterers, "Hayat-i No" reported on 29 December. Rezvani said that Islamic rulings do not depend on societal tastes. "Stoning is a sanction for ethical problems such as adultery, and there is no other sanction for having intercourse with a married person," Rezvani said. Rezvani added, "No other punishment could be suggested as a replacement for stoning."

If there is an impasse between the Guardians Council and the parliament over the law to end stoning, it would be up to the Expediency Council to make a final decision. Parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad indicated after the 31 December legislative session that such approval would be forthcoming, if required, because the cessation of stoning was "based on a sort of expedient consideration," Hayat-i No" reported on 1 January.

Ansari-Rad used Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's creation of the Expediency Council itself as an example. "If special experts discerned an expediency, in spite of opposition to religious tenets and the constitution, that expediency would be preferable," Ansari-Rad said. "This is exactly the meaning of considering time and place conditions in religious tenets," Ansari-Rad said, adding that, "The society accepts a punishment at a certain juncture but no longer accepts that punishment in another period due to cultural and social circumstances."

Yet Hojatoleslam Mohsen Qaravian, a conservative cleric based in Qom, said on 4 January that the ban on executing adulterers by stoning them is only temporary and it would be up to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to make a final decision, IRNA reported. "Stonings have been provisionally suspended due to their negative effects," he said. "The punishment of stoning, if it is not in the interests of Muslims and Islam, can be suspended for a determined period by the supreme leader," he said.

And, although the stoning of adulterers may be banned, capital punishment for women continues. Two women, Zahra Baqshirini and Farahnaz Yuli, were hanged on 29 December for participating in the murder of a friend's husband, according to the "Etemad" newspaper as cited by AFP on 31 December. Another woman received a 15-year sentence for her part in the murder, while the victim's wife was only sentenced to three years in prison because she was not present during the actual crime. (Bill Samii)

RUMORS OF CABINET SHUFFLE DENIED. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said after the 8 January cabinet meeting that it is he who decides who will serve in his cabinet and that he has not developed any views on this matter, ISNA reported. Later in the day, according to ISNA, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh confirmed that Khatami had not decided to change his cabinet. The executive-branch officials were reacting to statements the previous day by Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who said in the legislature's open session that a reshuffle is necessary in the cabinet's economic team to overcome the country's current slump, "Tehran Times" reported on 8 January. (Bill Samii)

MAIN STUDENT ORGANIZATION NOT IN RULING COALITION. Leaders of both wings of Iran's biggest student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity, said that they are not represented in the 18-member pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad (the Iranian date of Khatami's 23 May 1997 election) Front, "Bahar" reported on 8 January. Jamal Zaherpur spoke on behalf of the majority Allameh wing, and Ahmad Alamshahi spoke on behalf of the minority Shiraz wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity. Both student leaders indicated a general disillusionment with the 2nd of Khordad Front's inability to achieve promised reforms. (Bill Samii)

CRASHED UKRAINIAN PLANE TECHNICALLY SOUND, DEVIATED FROM COURSE. An unidentified spokesman for the Ukrainian government commission that is investigating the 23 December crash of an Antonov 140 passenger aircraft in Iran announced on 4 January that the flight-data recorder shows that everything was operating normally, ITAR-TASS reported. An alarm signaled that the plane was too close to the ground but poor visibility and mountainous terrain hampered the crew's ability to react, he said. The Ukrainian official said the possibility of a problem with Isfahan's radar is being investigated.

A source on the Ukrainian crash-investigation commission said on 9 January that the plane crashed into a mountain because it made a considerable course deviation, ITAR-TASS reported. The source said technical problems had been ruled out but that the investigation is continuing. Ukrainian Industrial Policy Minister Anatoliy Myalytsya, who heads the commission, confirmed this, Iranian state television reported on 10 January. The original investigation results were due on 3 January but then postponed until 8 January. Under international regulations, Iran will make the final statement. (Bill Samii)

A NEW CLIENT FOR ARTHUR ANDERSEN? Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said on 5 January at the Second Seminar of Management Accounting that Iran needs to use modern accounting methods to facilitate commercial exchanges and economic activities, IRNA reported. He added that poor accounting practices are harmful to the industrial sector. Zanganeh suggested employing foreign experts to handle accounting in the legal, financial, and business fields. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT TO TACKLE HOUSING DEMAND. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told a 6 January meeting of the Tehran administrative council that the construction of slums in the capital is a significant problem, state television reported. "The building of slums on the outskirts of Tehran could lead to extensive social, cultural, and political problems," Karrubi warned. Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh said in a 14 December interview with IRNA that, by the year 2021, 73 percent of the Iranian population will live in cities, and a 20-year urban-development plan is to be launched in the fourth five-year development plan to meet the burgeoning demand for housing. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN AL-QAEDA SUSPECT RELEASED IN PAKISTAN. Habib Ziai, an Iranian professor at International Islamic University Islamabad who was arrested five months earlier because of alleged Al-Qaeda links, was released on 6 December, Rawalpindi's Urdu-language "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 9 December. Ziai's wife, Saadia Siddiqa, had petitioned the Lahore High Court against the investigating agencies, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the police, the Defense Ministry, and the Interior Ministry, and she asked the court to order the release of her husband. Unidentified sources say that Ziai was released because the authorities could not establish a link between him and Al-Qaeda, "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported. (Bill Samii)

HEKMATYAR CONTINUES TO CAUSE PROBLEMS FOR AFGHANISTAN. When he was still in Iran, Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar maintained a patter of anti-American statements, and he eventually claimed that he would join up with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to fight the Americans who were attacking Afghanistan. The anticommunist warrior and former Afghan prime minister eventually wore out his welcome: First, Tehran closed his party's offices and then kicked him out of the country (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 February and 4 March 2002). He reportedly relocated to Afghanistan, and since that time there have been frequent reports linking him with violence in the country.

At the end of December, Hekmatyar announced in leaflets distributed in Pakistan that he had formed an alliance with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to resist "foreign occupation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). Furthermore, Nasir Ahmad Rohi, formerly of the Taliban Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, was quoted in the 7 January "Financial Times" as saying that Hekmatyar recently met with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader believed to be hiding in the southern Afghan border region. The two agreed to work together to free Afghanistan and punish individuals working with the United States, Rohi said. He added, "They were in full agreement on the liberation of Afghanistan, holding of free elections in accordance with the Islamic principles as and when the mujahedin liberate the country, and punishment for those who are collaborating with the Americans," according to the "Financial Times."

But in a statement quoted by the Pakistan-based private Afghan Islamic Press on 6 January, Hekmatyar denied that he is allied with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, Reuters reported. Hekmatyar said that he does not want to fight President Hamid Karzai's government: "I want to make it clear that until [sic] America rules our country and forces of others occupy our country, we do not intend to wage war against the interim administration or any Afghan group." Nevertheless, Hekmatyar reiterated his anti-Americanism, saying, "The Afghan mujahedin have pledged to themselves that that they will force America out of their country like the Soviet Union and will not lay down their arms until they drive the occupying forces out of their country."

Hekmatyar's extreme views have alienated many of his former allies. His former deputy in the Hizb-e Islami, Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, in an 8 January statement called on all party activists but Hekmatyar to work together or to reorganize the party, Mashhad radio reported the next day. The statement said that the party's supporters and members should impede Hekmatyar's military plans. In mid-December, Hizb-e Islami members expressed an interest in participating in the central government (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

REPATRIATED AFGHAN REFUGEES FACE DISEASE OUTBREAK. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced in Geneva on 3 January that it wants to repatriate 1.5 million Afghan refugees, dpa reported. About 4 million Afghans currently live outside their country, most of them in Pakistan and Iran. Mohammad Nuri, the UNHCR spokesman in Iran, said on 5 January that more than 377,000 Afghans have returned home from Iran since April, IRNA reported. He said 117,923 returned home voluntarily, which presumably means the rest were forcibly repatriated.

The situation to which some of these former refugees return will be precarious. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 60 children have died as the result of an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) in seven villages of northeastern Badakhshan Province, Reuters reported on 5 January. The UN announced on 5 January that it is transporting medical supplies to the area to contend with the epidemic. (Bill Samii)

IRAN EDUCATES, ASSISTS, ENTERTAINS, AND INFORMS AFGHANS. An anonymous "informed source in the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Kabul" said that Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah would arrive in Tehran on 9 January for a three-day visit, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari radio service reported that day. Abdullah Abdullah is to meet with President Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and other officials to discuss bilateral relations and assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Other topics of discussion, according to a 9 January IRNA report, will be the continuing presence in Afghanistan of U.S. military personnel, the Hirmand River (which flows from Afghanistan into Iran), and the aftermath of the Iraq crisis.

Bismillah Khan, who heads the education department in western Afghanistan's Herat Province, said on 9 January that Iranian authorities have promised to assist his country's education sector, Mashhad radio reported. Bismillah said this assistance includes the provision by Iran of scholarships for Afghan students, the donation of 15 buses to the Afghan Education Ministry, and the construction of a school in Herat Province. Afghan Education Minister Yunis Qanuni visited Iran for two days in early November, IRNA reported on 6 November. During that time, he met with his Iranian counterpart Morteza Haji-Qaem, President Khatami, and other Iranian officials, and the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on mutual cooperation in the fields of education and science. This agreement covered school construction, developing textbooks, and pedagogical training.

Afghan Minister of Martyrs and the Disabled Abdullah Khan Wardak told Mashhad radio on 5 January that Iran will provide assistance for the construction of medical-treatment centers in six Afghan provinces. Wardak added that Iran's Red Crescent Society has promised to build an orthopedic center for disabled Afghans. Radio Free Afghanistan reported in early December that more than 1 million Afghans were disabled during the war against Soviet occupiers and the subsequent civil war. On 9 December, disabled demonstrators in Kabul called for Wardak's resignation and complained about insufficient benefits.

Ismail Fallah, who heads the Kabul office of Iranian state broadcasting, presented some radio and television programs to Afghan Information and Culture Minister Rahim Makhdoom on 7 January, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Fallah also described his organization's donation of two VCRs to Herat television and its training of two Herat Province journalists. The Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic and Afghanistan Radio and Television signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation on 25 December, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari service reported the next day.

Kandahar Province businessman Abdol Qodus Barikzai on 7 January explained the popularity of Iranian television programs in his province, Mashhad radio reported. "Other countries' TV programs are not in keeping with the Afghan people's culture. Therefore, the programs of Iranian television are very suitable and instructive," Barikzai said. (Bill Samii)

GUESS WHO IS NOT COMING TO DINNER. An anonymous "informed source" at the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on 7 January that Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri's visit to Iran is neither cancelled nor postponed because such an event was not scheduled in the first place, the "Entekhab" daily reported on 8 January. The source added that Tehran and Baghdad are considering a possible visit by Sabri. Earlier reports that Sabri would visit Tehran engendered a bad reaction from Iran's press and parliament.

The "Aftab-i Yazd" daily on 6 January claimed that Iranian officials are trying to ward Sabri off by demanding compensation for the two countries' 1980-88 war. "Is the Iranian side unable to use diplomatic language to convey the answer 'no' to the Iraqi foreign minister?" it asked. The daily warned that Sabri's visit could be viewed as an act of solidarity in opposition to the United States.

Meanwhile, Ardabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen said in the 6 January "Aftab-i Yazd" that he has prepared a motion for a vote of no confidence in Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi as soon as Sabri sets foot in Iran. "Far from seeing any reason why Naji Sabri should visit Iran, the Iranian nation is counting the minutes so they can see the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime at the earliest opportunity," Pirmoazen added.

After the announcement that Sabri would not be coming to Tehran, Pirmoazen said that Sabri's visit was cancelled because some 100 parliamentarians had threatened to give Kharrazi a no-confidence vote, ISNA reported on 7 January.

Pirmoazen added that his colleagues believe Iraq must fulfill four conditions before Sabri could visit Iran, ISNA reported on 7 January. Hussein must declare the 1975 Algiers Accord valid. This would confirm the land border and eliminate disputes regarding the Shatt al-Arab waterway. He must apologize to Iran for attacking it in 1980. He must implement fully UN Security Council Resolution 598, which effectively ended the war, and pay compensation. And he must release all Iranian prisoners of war still remaining in Iraq.

An anonymous source said that President Khatami had set the same preconditions in a 6 January message to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, "Tehran Times" reported. A Foreign Ministry official will be sent to Baghdad to convey this message. (Bill Samii)

PUK AND SCIRI MEET IN TEHRAN. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani and a delegation of PUK officials arrived in Iran late on 6 January. According to IRNA, Talabani said that the purpose of his trip is to strengthen relations between Iraqi Kurds and Tehran. The visitors are expected to remain in Tehran until 10 January. The major topics of discussion are to be the December Iraqi opposition conference in London and the upcoming one in northern Iraq, Suleimanieh's "Kurdistani Nuwe" newspaper reported on 7 January.

Talabani had separate meetings on 7 January with President Khatami and Speaker of Parliament Karrubi. Khatami and Talabani discussed future developments in Iraq and the December Iraqi opposition conference in London, Suleimanieh's "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 8 January. Khatami described Iran's relationship with the Iraqi opposition: "Iran's policy is to support and strengthen the Iraqi opposition, and it is prepared to give every form of cooperation in this matter in order to bring about a democratic and united Iraq, in which people can rule themselves." Khatami thanked the PUK for preserving security on Iran's border with Iraqi Kurdistan, and he urged the Iraqi opposition to have a unified plan for change in Iraq.

Talabani met on 8 January with British Ambassador to Tehran Richard Dalton to discuss regional developments, IRNA reported.

Talabani met with Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on 9 January, Iranian state radio reported. Rafsanjani warned Talabani about what he sees as U.S. motives in the region. "America is not looking for peace, stability, tranquility, and the establishment of a free Iraq, since a free and independent Iraq is one that supports the Palestinian people, and it will not serve and ensure American interests," he said.

Talabani said in a 10 January press conference that he conveyed assurances from U.S. officials to the Iranians that Iran would not be targeted after Iraq, according to IRNA. Talabani reiterated this in his 10 January telephone interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television and with the London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper on 9 January. Indeed, he even said in the Al-Jazeera interview, "U.S. officials believe that they have common interests with Iran."

Talabani was expected to meet with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim to set a date for the next opposition meeting, "Entekhab" reported on 7 January. But in fact he had what IRNA called an "unplanned and unexpected meeting" with al-Hakim on the way to Tehran from the western city of Kermanshah. Talabani later met with SCIRI's Abdelaziz Hakim, Mohammad Heidari, Mahmud Asadi, and Adel Abdelmahdi, SCIRI member Mohsen al-Hakim told IRNA. Al-Hakim said they decided to hold the next meeting of the Iraqi opposition's coordination committee in Arbil on 15 January. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI OPPOSITIONIST RUNS OUT OF QOM. Shia Assembly of Iraq founder Abd-al-Majid Khoi's 8 January presentation at Qom's Imam Reza Mosque ended abruptly when the audience objected to his comments on possible cooperation with the United States, IRNA reported the next day. Khoi said the United States has its own reasons for changing the regime in Baghdad but that this coincides with the Iraqi peoples' interests and that they should take advantage of this situation. "Iraqi groups must use the existing opportunity for the sake of the Iraqi people," Khoi said. "In order to be successful in this context, we shall participate in any meeting or dialogue with groups or countries that we see fit, and we shall pursue this with domestic and foreign circles," he added. Khoi was criticized during the question-and-answer session and heckled with chants of "Long Live [Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer] Sadr" (a leading Shia cleric who was executed by the Iraqi regime in April 1980) and "Go Back to America." The organizers had to shelter Khoi in what IRNA described as "a small room on the mosque's balcony." BS

TEHRAN TRIES TO PRECLUDE IRAQ CONFLICT. Iranians would be glad to see the end of the Iraqi regime, but they are very unhappy with the prospect of a U.S. presence or a pro-American government on their western borders. As Tehran takes diplomatic steps to forestall a war, some of its leading officials have spelled out their concerns.

In a 9 January speech that was broadcast by Iranian state radio, Supreme Leader Khamenei asked rhetorically if the United States will attack Iraq as part of its war on terrorism, "or is it for Iraq's numerous oil wells, for dominating the region, for defending Israel, for lording it over the Islamic Republic of Iran? Today, these are the secrets of the global arrogance that have been exposed. Everyone knows about them." Khamenei claimed that regional actors no longer trust the United States, saying, "Arab nations and governments, too, have totally lost their belief in America's pledges and statements."

On the same day, Foreign Minister Kharrazi said during a visit to Athens that Iran is ready to work with the European Union to avoid a war in Iraq, IRNA reported. "Any war in Iraq would have its impact on Iran. The simplest impact is the refugees that may come over to Iran, but there are many other issues: deportation to Iraq, the future government of Iraq, the use of chemical weapons, and many other issues that are a matter of concern to Iran and other neighboring countries," RFE/RL quoted Kharrazi as saying.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul was expected to meet with Iranian officials in Tehran on 12 January to discuss ways to avoid a military confrontation in the current Iraqi crisis, IRNA reported on 8 January. This visit appears to be part of Iran's efforts to avoid a war on its western border. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 9 January that similar discussions will take place with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah when they visit Tehran in the coming week, Reuters reported. (Bill Samii)