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Iran Report: February 3, 2003

3 February 2003, Volume 6, Number 5

DISQUIET OVER 'SERIAL MURDER' SENTENCE REDUCTIONS. Ministry of Intelligence and Security chief Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi was forced to resign when it was determined that so-called rogue elements in the ministry were responsible for the late-1998 murders of nationalist dissident Dariush Foruhar and his wife Parvaneh, poet Mohammad Mokhtari, and writer-translator Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh. The killers were sentenced in January 2001 after a trial that avoided determining who actually ordered the murders, and in August 2001 the Supreme Court reduced the original sentences (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 January 2001 and 27 August 2001).

The sentences have been reduced again. The Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces announced on 28 January that the Supreme Court has revised several of the sentences, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The death sentences for Mustafa Kazemi and Mehrdad Alikhani have been changed to life imprisonment, and the death sentence for Ali Roshani is under review. The sentences of Mahmud Jafarzadeh and Ali Mohseni have been changed to 10 years in prison, although in January 2001 they were sentenced to death. Hamid Rasuli, Mohammad Azizi, and Morteza Fallah all received life sentences, but new sentences are forthcoming. The Supreme Court upheld the three-year sentences of Hussein Asna-Ashr and Ali Safaipur, as well as the sentences of Ali Nazeri (2 1/2 years), Asqar Sayyah (six years), and Khosrow Barati (10 years).

The Supreme Court announced that the sentences were reduced because of the victims' families' request for clemency, according to IRNA. Other reports, however, contradict this claim.

Parliamentarian Davud Hasanzadegan said on 29 January that the legislature's Article 90 Committee -- which looks into citizens' complaints -- has asked the Supreme Court to provide it with the complete text of the verdicts that reduced the sentences, "Iran Daily" reported on 30 January. Hasanzadegan said that the victims' families had filed complaints against the sentence reductions. Hasanzadegan said that the commission is unhappy with the general course of the investigation into the serial murders. (Bill Samii)

COUNCIL ELECTIONS COULD TURN INTO A REFERENDUM. As observers wonder about the significance of the late-February municipal-council elections, there is little light being shed on who the actual candidates will be. Some observers, however, have said in recent days that the council elections could well become a referendum on the future of reform in Iran.

The possible outcomes for the forthcoming municipal-council elections may have many meanings, according to the daily newspaper "Mardom Salari" on 30 January. The council elections in towns and villages are "not so important," but in Tehran and other big cities they can be seen as a plebiscite on the country's political future. If few people vote, it means that they are disappointed in the reform process. If the same number of people vote this year as in 1999, and the majority favor the reformist front, it would mean that the majority of people want the reform process to continue unchanged. If, however, the majority of voters favor the conservative lists of candidates, "it would show the people's demand to cede power to the opposing faction, and in fact it would show the people's will to yield to the absolute power of the right-wing faction." And if people vote for candidates who are outside the current power structure, it would mean that they want reform to take a new path.

Conservatives claim that they will not present a list of candidates. Seyyed Mohsen Yahyavi, the deputy secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Association of Engineers, said in the 26 January issue of "Hambastegi" that neither his organization nor the conservative Followers of the Line of the Imam and the Leader intend to present a list of candidates, because they fear that the reaction to such lists may discourage qualified people from running for office and could encourage unqualified people to run. Yahyavi left himself some leeway, however, when he said, "A situation might come about in which we might support experts whose eligibility has been proved, but it cannot be said with certitude at the moment who we will support."

Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association, did not say whom he would support in the election, but he made it clear what kind of person he would like to see standing as a candidate. He said that the Tehran municipal council failed because its members wanted to recreate a Western model of democracy rather than serving Islam, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 22 January. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security has an important task in preventing the election of those who are not committed to the system and the constitution, according to Asgaroladi. In this way, the ministry can prevent the system's destruction.

The reformists' intentions are not clear, either, and there appear to be splits within the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front. The front's coordinating council decided not to support Solidarity (Hambastegi) Party leader Ebrahim Asqarzadeh on its list, "Entekhab" reported on 28 January, leading the party to threaten to leave the front. "Mardom-Salari" managing editor Mustafa Kavakebian said that the Islamic Iran Participation Party and the Executives of Construction Party are the main players in the reformist coalition and that the other parties in the coalition do not have much to do, "Iran Daily" reported on 27 January.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 26 January that the 2nd of Khordad Front is discussing which candidates it will back in the upcoming municipal-council elections, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Several reformist groups -- the Islamic Iran Participation Party, the Solidarity Party, the Executives of Construction Party, and even the nationalist religious forces -- have already named the candidates they back in Tehran, "Entekhab" reported on 20 January. They cannot decide whom to back jointly, and all 18 members of the 2nd of Khordad Front will present separate lists, according to "Entekhab."

Another alternative has been suggested to supporting party-backed lists of candidates. A commentary in the 14 January "Aftab-i Yazd" daily said that the upcoming municipal-council elections would be the time for new people -- "young and innovative forces" -- to enter the political scene. Political development requires balanced progress in all areas, according to the commentary. Therefore, "the closed circle of power and politics must be opened up for the entrance of fresh forces that have not been caught up in the spiral of political wrangles and factional prejudices." The commentary went on to say that all political tendencies and ideologies should have a share of political power. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE CONTINUES BUDGET DEBATE. The Iranian legislature late on 28 January approved the outline of the state budget for the year starting 21 March 2003, IRNA reported on 29 January, and discussions on the final budget continue. Parliamentarian Mohsen Farahani said earlier that President Mohammad Khatami's government needs access to foreign loans and the removal of the impediments to foreign investment in Iran. Yet the administration prevented experts from governmental agencies from discussing the budget with the relevant parliamentary commission, "Resalat" reported on 27 January. The conservative daily also warned that the budget forecasts unrealistically high oil revenues, unrealistically high tax revenues, increased internal borrowing through the sale of bonds, and an excessively high rial-dollar exchange rate. "Resalat" added that increased official imports of household appliances and computers will undermine domestic industries, while it criticized proposed reductions of the defense budget at this time of heightened regional tensions. (Bill Samii)

MONTAZERI IS FREE AT LAST. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi left his home in Qom on 30 January for the first time since being placed under house arrest in 1997, Reuters reported. The cleric, who was accompanied by his sons Ahmad and Said, waved to a crowd of about 100 supporters and then visited the shrine where a son killed in a 1981 terrorist bombing is buried.

Montazeri's release had been expected for several days after expressions of concern about his health and subsequent interest about Montazeri's situation on the part of the Supreme National Security Council (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003). Moreover, Islamic Human Rights Committee Secretary Mohammad Hussein Ziaifar said there is no question that Montazeri's release is necessary from a human rights perspective, the "Etemad" daily reported on 26 January. Ziaifar added that even people who oppose Montazeri concur that the current situation threatens his health, because his medical problems relate to the psychological trauma of confinement.

An anonymous Interior Ministry official said on 27 January that the Supreme National Security Council had decided to end Montazeri's house arrest on 28 January, IRNA reported. The governors of Qom and Isfahan were given instructions on how to deal with any resulting disturbances, according to the official. Ahmad Montazeri, on the other hand, said on 27 January that he knew nothing of this matter, ISNA reported. Ahmad Montazeri added that his father's health situation has improved in the last day or two and that a doctor visited him on 24 January.

Then, Speaker of Parliament Karrubi told reporters on 28 January that he welcomed the Supreme National Security Council's decision to end Montazeri's confinement, IRNA reported. But that day came and went with no sign of Montazeri, while Special Court for the Clergy judge Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei announced that the restrictions on Montazeri would be lifted on 29 January, "Resalat" reported on the same day.

Ahmad Montazeri met on 29 January with officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), ISNA reported, who told him that before they freed his father they had to "remove a [police] booth outside the house and open up my father's meeting room." Ahmad said that a schedule must be organized for those who would like to see his father, and he downplayed the possibility of Ayatollah Montazeri seeing large groups.

The political future of Ayatollah Montazeri remains unclear. At his age, over 80, he would not be expected to be very active. Yet he is very popular and his criticism of the politicized and corrupt clergy and of the current supreme leader give him a great deal of legitimacy with the public at large. Montazeri's religious knowledge and the quality of his publications, furthermore, contribute to his standing in the religious community. An anonymous source cited by London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 28 January said that before Montazeri decides on his possible political future he would require medical testing and time to meet with his students and supporters.

According to the "Iran" newspaper on 29 January, Ayatollah Montazeri's children promised the Supreme National Security Council that their father would stay out of politics. Ayatollah Montazeri denied this assertion and said: "There have been no conditions. These rumors that my children have asked for my pardon -- all are lies and baseless," Reuters reported. "I stress that ending my house arrest was not coupled with any kind of pledge on my part to keep silent or give up my political stands," he said in a 30 January interview with Doha's Al-Jazeera satellite television. "I am determined to express my opinions based on the revolution's principles of freedom, independence, and the Islamic republic but certainly without insulting any senior official or creating tension," he added.

Ayatollah Montazeri did not waste much time, and on his first day of freedom he criticized the Guardians Council and received some of Iran's leading dissident clerics. Montazeri met with clerics Mohsen Kadivar, Assadollah Bayat, Hadi Qabel, Ahmad Qabel, and Jalaledin Taheri, ISNA reported. Regarding the Guardians Council, Montazeri said: "Do not abandon your obligations because the country belongs to the people. The Guardians Council has to accept this. If people have freedom to take part in elections, they will most definitely elect good people. The people would naturally refrain from electing wrong or irreligious people," ISNA reported.

Moreover, Montazeri criticized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's place in the international community, "The New York Times" reported on 1 February. "Chanting death to this and that is not the way to run a country. We have lost our prestige in the world. We are constantly falling behind."

Regardless of Ayatollah Montazeri's political future, his son Ahmad told the Associated Press on 28 January, "the house arrest will remain as a black page in the history of the Islamic republic." (Bill Samii)

'START THE MORNING WITH HAMSHAHRI.' With this headline, the "Hamshahri" daily newspaper resumed publication on 28 January. Tehran Justice Department deputy head Ali-Asghar Tashakori on 27 January announced the lifting of the temporary ban on "Hamshahri," which is published by the Tehran municipality, Iranian state television and IRNA reported. The daily was suspended on 22 January after Labor House Secretary Alireza Mahjub complained that the newspaper refused to print his clarification regarding an article published by the newspaper (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003). Tashakori said Mahjub's reply would have been published in the 23 January issue of "Hamshahri," but the ban precluded its publication, according to the 28 January "Hamshahri." The suspension was lifted because Mahjub and Labor House member Mohammad Hamzei withdrew their complaints on the condition that their reply to the article would be published in at least two high-circulation dailies, including the official "Iran" newspaper. The reply appeared there on 27 January. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT CRACKS DOWN ON SOCIAL CORRUPTION. Four men -- Mohammad Sadat-Fath, Nadir Ibrahimi, Ali Farmaseh, and Davud Jafari -- were publicly executed by hanging in Arak on 30 January, after a provincial court found them guilty of posing as taxi drivers and raping their passengers, IRNA reported. The provincial Justice Department chief said that the hangings should serve as a lesson to others. According to the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran on 31 January, however, the four were actually "freedom fighters" who had shot at militiamen and were arrested in November. As the committee accurately pointed out, some of those executed on criminal charges are actually political dissidents.

Colonel Ahmad Ruzbehani announced that Basij forces on 27 January detained 233 "hoodlums and thugs" in a recent operation to clean up the capital city of Tehran, "Entekhab" daily reported on 29 January. According to the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice headquarters, 600 members of the Basij participated in operations in 30 Tehran neighborhoods that yielded narcotics, syringes, alcoholic beverages, and pornographic pictures. The operations were in reaction to Tehran residents' request to confront wicked people, drug dealers, and purveyors of social corruption, Ruzbehani said.

Eleven students have been flogged in Robat-Karim, west of Tehran, for drinking alcohol, IRNA reported on 25 January, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." The students received 80 lashes for drinking and 20 more for causing a public disturbance while under the influence of alcohol, for a total of 100 lashes each. In a separate incident, a Tehran court sentenced a 19-year-old male to death by hanging for his third alcohol-related offense, "Iran News" reported on 12 January.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps announced on 4 January that Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice units have dismantled 32 "centers of corruption" and arrested 138 people in the past nine months, IRNA reported. This crackdown included breaking up parties at which males and females intermingled, as well as arresting runaway girls and returning them to their families. (Bill Samii)

CLERIC CALLS FOR SEX EDUCATION IN IRAN. Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sanei said on 25 January that sex education is essential to public health and would not undermine public values, IRNA reported. "We should not ignore this grave issue only under the illusion that education of sexual issues could destroy the decency of the religion," he said. "There are other factors that corrupt society, and experts' discussion of sexual issues is in line with the aim to protect the health of society." Sanei said that in today's open society people should be able to distinguish between moral and health issues. Iran is facing a rise in HIV/AIDS and prostitution is rife. (Bill Samii)

GIRLS SICK AFTER VACCINATIONS. A sit-in by schoolgirls from Sardasht, West Azerbaijan Province, is continuing at the Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ministry's prayer hall in Tehran, the "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 30 January. The girls say that they became ill after receiving vaccinations from the Health Ministry.

A girl named Khatavan told "Entekhab" that the physician who vaccinated her and the other girls did not vaccinate her own daughters. The brother of another girl said that the officials stated that it was a measles vaccine but did identify the actual substance on the vaccination card of his sister or 74 other girls. Yet another girl's mother said that officials from the ministry claimed that the symptoms would gradually disappear. The girls have sent written appeals to the supreme leader, the president, the judiciary chief, and the speaker of parliament.

Piranshahr and Sardasht parliamentarian Hasel Daseh said that Health Ministry physicians examined the girls and found that nothing was wrong with them. Other physicians said that similar illnesses had been seen in Yazd and Kerman, but the girls eventually got well. (Bill Samii)

PACE OF IRANIAN NATURAL-GAS ACTIVITIES HIGH. The public-relations department of the Iranian Petroleum Ministry announced on 29 January that the country's natural-gas production would increase by 14.2 million cubic meters when the Salman field in the Persian Gulf is developed, IRNA reported. Simultaneously, Hussein Ahmadi-Jazani, director of Phase I of the South Pars gas field, said on 25 January that the first stage of that project would come on stream in March and would yield 14.16 million cubic meters of natural gas, which will increase by June to a yield of 28.32 million cubic meters, IRNA reported. The initial output will go for domestic consumption, Ahmadi-Jazani said, and the additional 28.32 billion cubic meters of natural gas produced when the project is totally developed would be exported.

Iran is involved in a number of international gas-related activities. A Pakistani delegation met with Qatari officials in Doha on 29 January to discuss the construction of an underwater natural-gas pipeline that would originate in Qatar's northern gas field, pass through Iranian and United Arab Emirates territory, and terminate in Pakistani Baluchistan, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

An Iranian delegation headed by Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram was in Ashgabat on 28 January to discuss the export of Turkmen gas to Iran and to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sectors, Turkmen Radio 1 reported. Almost 5 billion cubic meters of gas was transported through the Korpeje-Kurdkui pipeline in 2002, according to the "Turkmenistan" newspaper on 29 January, which is a 13.1 percent increase from the previous year.

Romanian Minister of Industry and Resources Dan Ioan Popescu on 26 January met with Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh, and they signed a memorandum of understanding on the transfer of Iranian natural gas to Romania and to the rest of Europe, IRNA reported. The Romanian and Iranian sides agreed to create committees that would determine the requirements for such a project.

Namdar-Zanganeh on 25 January met with Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Ram Naik and discussed cooperation in the natural-gas sector, IRNA reported. Their arrangement for the provision of Iranian liquefied natural gas to India has caused some irritation in Islamabad. (Bill Samii)

IRAN, INDIA SIGN 'NEW DELHI DECLARATION'... President Khatami and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihary Vajpayee on 25 January signed the "New Delhi Declaration," which sets out the main bases of bilateral cooperation between the two countries, Iranian state radio reported. They signed six additional agreements dealing with economic, scientific, educational, and training cooperation. And at the end of their talks, the two executives signed a statement calling for a peaceful resolution, under UN auspices, to the Iraq crisis.

According to a more detailed report about the New Delhi Declaration from IRNA on 26 January, the two sides condemned international terrorism and said that it should not be evaluated on the basis of double standards, and they called for multilateral discussions on nuclear disarmament. The two leaders declared their support for Afghanistan's unity and reiterated their commitment to its reconstruction and development. They also agreed to cooperate in upstream and downstream activities in the energy sector.

During a 26 January press conference, Khatami said that the main areas of bilateral cooperation would be in the economic, technological, and scientific fields, Iranian state television reported. Khatami also expressed hope about a north-south transportation corridor to connect Russia, Iran, and India, and he acknowledged Indian activities at the Iranian port of Chahbahar.

On his return to Tehran on 28 January, Khatami described the signing of the numerous agreements and added that they also signed an agreement on the export of Iranian liquefied natural gas to India, Iranian state television reported. He noted that companies on both sides complain about bureaucratic delays that delay the implementation of existing agreements. (Bill Samii)

...HOLD MILITARY DISCUSSIONS... Indian naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh visited Iran earlier in the month and signed a memorandum of understanding for defense cooperation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003), and Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani built on this visit when he accompanied President Khatami on his trip to India.

Before leaving, Tehran Shamkhani said that the main topics of discussion would be establishment of common defense mechanisms, regional cooperation, and counterterrorism, "Resalat" reported on 25 January. On 25 January, Shamkhani sent a message to his Indian counterpart George Fernandes to congratulate him on India's Republic Day, IRNA reported. "The growing trend of mutual defense relations as well as the political, cultural, and historical commonalities set the ground for further defense and security cooperation between the two countries," Shamkhani's message read.

The memorandum of understanding signed by Singh and Shamkhani in Iran could have a far greater effect than these relatively bland statements indicate. According to on 23 January, the agreement calls on India to support the construction of warship repair facilities at Chahbahar, to station engineers from the Indian Air Force and the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics at Iranian air bases in order to upgrade MiG-29 aircraft, and to train Iranian troops. The agreement also calls for Indian engineers to refit and maintain Iran's T-72 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery pieces, and to sell Konkurs antitank guided weapons and spare parts to Iran.

What India gets in exchange could have a tremendous regional impact. India wants to be able to deploy troops, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and light armored vehicles to Iran during crises with Pakistan, according to India also hopes to sell naval vessels and submarine simulators to Iran.

Shamkhani met with Fernandes and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra on 27 January to discuss a range of issues, New Delhi's PTI news agency reported. The Iranian Navy would like to have its Russian-made Kilo-class submarines repaired at the Indian Navy's submarine maintenance facility at Vishakhapatnam, New Delhi's "Hindustan Times" reported on 29 January. A spokesman for the Indian Navy also said that Iran and India would create a joint working group to determine the schedule for a joint naval exercise. (Bill Samii)

...VOW TO AID AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION. "The international community should think about the reconstruction and real development of Afghanistan and help the central government of that country," President Khatami said during a question-and-answer session in New Delhi on 25 January. "Both Iran and India believe in this, and they will continue to cooperate with each other," Iranian state radio quoted him as saying.

On 24 January, Iranian Ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian met with Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, Mashhad radio reported. Taherian said the meeting dealt with agreements reached when Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah visited Tehran in early January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003). One topic was the disbursement of financial assistance, and they also addressed work on the Dogharun-Herat highway from Iran to Herat Province, the Milak Bridge between Iran and Nimruz Province, and other projects in Herat Province, Taherian said. (Bill Samii)

AFGHANS IN IRAN TO BE REPATRIATED BY 2004. Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official responsible for refugees, said on 27 January that 500,000 of the 2.4 million Afghan refugees in Iran have left and that the rest of them will return to Afghanistan in the next two years, Iranian state radio's Zahedan-based Pashto service reported. After what Husseini referred to as the "voluntary repatriation" of the Afghans living in Iran, the only Afghans remaining in Iran would be the ones to whom the Interior Ministry grants temporary residency permits. Husseini added that Afghans in Iran who are working without work permits will be detained and deported. (Bill Samii)

KUWAITI AFGHANS TRAVEL THROUGH IRAN. Kuwaiti Interior Minister Shaykh Muhammad Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah said in the 30 January issue of Kuwait's "Al-Qabas" daily newspaper that Sami al-Mutayri, who carried out a recent terrorist attack near Camp Doha in which one American was killed and another wounded, traveled through Iran on his way to Afghanistan to join Al-Qaeda. Mutayri then participated successfully in a selection process in the Medyaf region on the Iranian-Afghan border to determine which Arab Afghans Al-Qaeda would recruit. Several other Kuwaitis testified recently that they traveled through Iran as they went to and from Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN UNHAPPY WITH BUSH'S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS. President George W. Bush's observation in his January 2002 State of the Union address that Iran is part of an "axis of evil" was greeted with some disgruntlement from Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 February 2002). Iran did not get the same label in his 28 January 2003 State of the Union address, but President Bush's comments were not well received this time either.

Bush said: "In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction, and supports terror. We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government and determine their own destiny -- and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom." (For the full text and related materials, see

The first official Iranian reaction came from Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 29 January, when he said that President Bush's comments about Iran were "baseless, superficial, and wrong," IRNA reported. Kharrazi said that the United States has launched a propaganda campaign with the aim of expanding its global hegemony. "America continues its wrong approach toward Iran," Kharrazi said.

Members of the legislature also got into the spirit of things. Speaker of Parliament Karrubi said on 30 January that the Iranian citizens mentioned by President Bush are "a number of mercenaries who have no place among the Iranian nation," state radio reported. Afterward, the members of parliament chanted "Death to America." Luristan Province representative Alaedin Borujerdi said on 29 January that President Bush uses such language "because of the blow that the Islamic Republic of Iran and its great nation have dealt against them, [and] they are trying to turn back the clock," state radio reported.

Abadan representative Mohammad Rashidian on 30 December described Bush's comments as repetitive, and he said that claims about the absence of democracy in Iran are "baseless and unfounded," IRNA reported. Ardabil representative Vali Azarvash said any fair person understands the significance of elections in Iran and "all the [Iranian] state officials have been elected by the people." Azarvash said that Iran's "religious democracy" scares Bush, and rather than establishing democracy in Iran he "wants to put an end to religious democracy." Semnan's Seyyed Taher Taheri said, "I don't know how a person, who has become president with the help of the Justice Department, gives himself the right to bring into question the widespread participation of the Iranian people in the elections."

An unidentified "official close to the reform-oriented foreign-policy commission of the parliament" on 29 January rejected the accusations that Iran supports terrorism and is trying to produce weapons of mass destruction, dpa reported. The anonymous source was similarly dismissive of Bush's comments about Iranian domestic affairs. "The Iranian people do not need Bush to gain what they want, and such remarks are an uncivilized approach towards Iranian leaders and a totally unjustified interference in Iran's internal affairs," the source said.

Guardians Council member and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said during the 31 January Friday prayer sermon that President Bush does not understand Iran, state radio reported. "Do you think that if two people phone up a phony imperialist radio like your Radio Farda and say something, or if someone in some corner of the country phones up Radio Farda, then that is what the Iranian nation is saying?" Yazdi said Iran is very democratic, and he ridiculed criticism of Iran's human rights record. (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN DOES NOT ANTICIPATE U.S. ATTACK... Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Moayeri told reporters after the Third Pakistan-Iran Roundtable Meeting at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on 24 January that he believes the United States will not target Iran after it deals with Iraq, the Lahore edition of Islamabad's "The Nation" reported on 25 January. Moayeri said the United States recognizes that Iran is not Iraq. During his address to the meeting, Moayeri said that Iran opposes unilateral action against Iraq and that the issue should be dealt with through the United Nations. (Bill Samii)

...SUPREME NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY QUESTIONS U.S. INTENTIONS... Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said during a 25 January meeting with Japanese Ambassador Takekazu Kawamura that the United States -- which he described as the self-appointed leader of the world -- seeks to dominate the region and Iraqi oil, IRNA reported. Rohani said UN inspectors should be allowed enough time to complete their work, and he added that the outbreak of war in Iraq is acceptable only if it takes place under UN auspices and is serious about disarming Iraq. Rohani went on to say that the entire Middle East should be free of weapons of mass destruction, and he referred to the threat posed by, in IRNA's words, "the Zionist regime's chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-arms arsenal." (Bill Samii)

...IRGC READY TO DEFEND REVOLUTION. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a gathering of personnel from the 27th Mohammad Rasulallah Division on 28 January that the United States and Israel have launched a propaganda campaign in order to promote blasphemy and to wipe out religion in Iranian society, ISNA reported. Rahim-Safavi accused the United States of "creating political, religious, and ethnic divisions and encouraging corruption." The IRGC is ready to defend the Islamic revolution, he said. (Bill Samii)

IRAN, IRAQ EXCHANGE MARTYRS' REMAINS. The remains of 47 Iranians and 131 Iraqis were exchanged at the Mehran-Zurbatiyah border crossing on 27 January, the "Tehran Times" reported on 28 January. Eight of those Iranians died in Iraqi prison camps, five of the Iraqis died in Iranian prison camps, and the rest were killed in action during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, according to Brigadier General Mir-Feisal Baqerzadeh, who is in charge of the Joint Staff Command's Missing-in-Action Committee. Baqerzadeh said on 27 January that Iran and Iraq are serious about resolving issues relating to prisoners of war and the missing in action, IRNA reported. He said the two sides met at the Khosravi-Manzarieh border point the previous week to discuss the issue and will meet again on 29 January. Baqerzadeh said Iranians are searching for their comrades' remains in five areas of Iraq, and the Iraqi side has proposed undertaking similar searches in Iran. Baqerzadeh said the two sides have exchanged the remains of some 12,000 people since the war ended in 1988. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ORGANIZING IRAQI OPPOSITION. Recent meetings of Iraqi opposition groups in Tehran and in Iraq underline Iran's resolve to reserve a more important place for itself in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq than it did in the post-Taliban Afghanistan. The meetings also demonstrate the relative irrelevance of the Iranian Foreign Ministry in national-security-related matters.

Muhsin al-Hakim of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said on 25 January that an Iraqi opposition meeting was under way in Tehran, IRNA reported. According to al-Hakim, the focus of the meeting was to prepare for an opposition conference in northern Iraq that is planned for February. Al-Hakim said participants included Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Brandeis University Professor Kanan Makiya, Iraqi National Movement leader Muzar Shukat, and Kurdish representatives Latif Rashid and Kuran Talabani. Another participant is Major General Wafiq al-Samarrai, a former chief of Iraqi military intelligence who defected in 1994, according to "The New York Times" of 25 January.

Professor Makiya said the oppositionists at the meeting turned down an Iranian offer to protect them in Iraq, "The New York Times" reported on 25 January. But this helpfulness is coming from only one faction within the Iranian hierarchy, and Makiya said the opposition members did not meet with anybody from President Khatami's office or from the Foreign Ministry. "We're not involved with the Khatami group. They have absolutely no say over Iraqi affairs," Makiya said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 26 January confirmed that no meetings between Chalabi and Iranian officials had been arranged.

Formally, the main participants in the formulation of Iranian foreign policy are the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Defense Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry, which are all supposed to coordinate their activities through the Supreme National Security Council chaired by President Khatami. In reality, the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security have a great deal of autonomy and are the real players in Iranian foreign policy. These are also the organizations working most closely with the Iraqi opposition.

IRNA reported on 28 January that the opposition meetings in Tehran were continuing, and it described meetings between SCIRI officials, Chalabi, and some of the other visitors. A delegation from the SCIRI traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet with leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) earlier in the month, ISNA reported on 19 January.

It is notable that these meetings are taking place in spite of repeated objections by Iranian officials to U.S. military action in Iraq, and they coincide with an expansion of relations between the SCIRI and Washington. Shahram Chubin, a regional expert at the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland, gave one explanation for this in an interview with RFE/RL. "Since the Iranians do expect there will be a war, they want to have some influence in Iraq. And what better way to do it than through this one institution [SCIRI] that they have?" (see "Iraq: Shia Majority Hopes For Greater Share Of Power After Saddam,", 27 January 2003)

Chubin added, "There is no inherent tension between American interests in postwar Iraq and Iranian interests in postwar Iraq, since they both want a stable, moderate, relatively well-integrated-into-the-region Iraq. It's only on the very broad things beyond that [that they differ] -- you know, will [post-Saddam Iraq] be pro-American or anti-Iranian?"

Iran is not limiting itself to reliance on the SCIRI, and Tehran's concern about a post-Hussein Iraq is behind the frequent meetings between Iranian officials and Iraqi Islamists. Colonel Masjidi, commander of the IRGC's Ramadan headquarters, met with the Islamic Movement in mid-January, "Hawlati" reported on 27 January. On 18 January, Masjidi and other Iranian officials met with Kurdistan Islamic Group chief Ali Bapir, Suleimanieh's "Komal" publication reported on 25 January. Furthermore, a delegation led by Bapir arrived in Tehran on 3 January, according to the 4 January issue of "Komal." On 30 December, Kurdistan Islamic Group officials in Arbil received Messrs. Abbasi and Qodusi from the Ramadan headquarters, and on the same day another delegation of Iranian officials met with the Kurdistan Islamic Group's spiritual leader, "Komal" reported on 4 January.

Islamic Movement deputy leader Siddiq Abd-al-Aziz refused to say if the IRGC is proposing a Kurdistan Islamic Group-Islamic Movement union, according to the 27 January "Hawlati." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Colonel Masjidi had met with officials from both Islamist groups and with the PUK. He also said that the two Islamist groups have begun negotiations.

The accelerated pace of meetings between Iranian officials, the Kurdistan Islamic Group, and the Islamic Movement may be tied to the state of relations between the Iranian government and the Ansar al-Islam (also known as the Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan). A PUK official said that in November the Iranian government informed the Kurds that it no longer has ties with the Ansar al-Islam, reported "The New York Times" on 14 January. Nevertheless, Kurdish officials told "The New York Times" that Iran has encouraged Ansar and helped it destabilize Kurdish secularists. Moreover, "Hawlati" reported on 30 December that Iran continues to aid Ansar.

This raises questions about Iran's motivation for supporting Ansar al-Islam. According to "Hawlati," Iran's original objective was to protect its border with Iraq's Kurdish regions by creating a "security belt." Now, Iran hopes to involve the secular Kurdish groups and the Islamists in a war of attrition, thereby reducing their ability to participate in creating a post-Hussein state. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT'S IRAQ POLICY. Khoi parliamentary representative Ali Taqizadeh in a 26 January speech to the legislature criticized the performance of the Foreign Ministry in dealing with Iraq, the "Tehran Times" reported on 27 January. He said that trying to make friends with certain countries is illogical and Iranian diplomacy should not create new enemies for the country. Taqizadeh said that inviting Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to Iran is not beneficial, but he did not mention Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hussein Sadeqi's recent meeting with Sabri in Baghdad (on the possible visit by Sabri, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003, and on the meeting in Baghdad, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003).

Meanwhile, "Entekhab" Managing Director Taha Hashemi said Iran should not hold talks with Sabri but that it should negotiate with the United States and Iraq, the "Iran Daily" reported on 27 January. Hashemi said Iran should not take sides, adding, "siding with [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] today does not mean supporting the Iraqi nation but implies supporting Saddam himself."

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Javad Hojjati-Kermani said on 28 January that Iran should have an active role in the Iraq crisis, ISNA reported. He said Iran should not cooperate with the United States in occupying Iraq, nor should it side with Iraq, because that is tantamount to supporting a tyrant. Iran should be actively neutral and try to prevent a war, he said. (Bill Samii)