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Iran Report: April 8, 2002

8 April 2002, Volume 5, Number 12

SUDANESE VISITOR CALLS FOR ARMING PALESTINIANS. Iran and Sudan are strengthening their trade relations, but less overt aspects of their relationship -- intelligence ties and links with terrorism -- could have a greater impact. Sudan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mustafa Osman Ismail arrived in Tehran on 5 April for a two-day visit. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had extended an invitation on 1 April, when he met his counterpart on the sidelines of the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Kuala Lumpur. During that meeting, Ismail expressed an interest in expanding mutual relations, IRNA reported.

On 7 April, Ismail called on Islamic countries to ship arms and troops to Palestine. He said, "If we could put arms and troops at the disposal of Palestinians, we will have made the best assistance," IRNA reported. "If we could open fronts, similar to those in Lebanon and other regions, against Israel, this will definitely prove effective in backing the Palestinian struggle," he said, adding that, "If the political, financial, and moral support for Intifada continues, the uprising...will definitely force supporters of Israel to submit to a just and peaceful settlement."

Sudanese support for terrorism is not a new phenomenon. The U.S. State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2000," (which came out in April 2001) reports that Sudan is a state sponsor of terrorism, as is Iran. That report says that Sudan serves as a "safe haven" for Lebanese Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Hamas, groups supported by Tehran and actively opposed to the Middle East peace process.

Nor is the Tehran-Khartoum relationship a recent development. The U.S. State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism, 1993" asserted that, "Iran has become the main supporter and ally of the fundamentalist regime in Sudan." The report said the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps trains the Sudanese military, and the "Iranian Ambassador to Khartoum [Kamal Majid] was involved in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and played a leading role in developing Hizballah in the 1980s."

In 1994, Western intelligence reports said that Sudan assisted Algerian guerrillas by letting Iran smuggle small arms and ammunition to them. According to "The New York Times" in December 1994, an anonymous "senior Administration official" explained that, "What all this shows is that Iran is prepared to fish in troubled waters where it can." Moreover, Iranian naval forces used Port Sudan to fill up on supplies and the Iranian Air Force received special landing rights in the country.

The State Department's 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 reports on terrorism note that Khartoum condoned many of the "objectionable activities of Iran, such as funneling assistance to terrorist and radical Islamic groups operating in and transiting through Sudan." This reference was removed from the 2000 report, although it did note that Sudan continued to be used as a safe haven by members of groups such as Hamas and the PIJ.

Meanwhile, the trade and economics aspects of the Iran-Sudan relationship are growing. Iranian Minister of Commerce Mohammad Shariatmadari visited Khartoum in late January, along with a trade delegation that participated in an international trade fair. Shariatmadari met with President Lieutenant General Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and Minister of Energy and Mining Awad al-Jaz, IRNA reported on 29 January. Two days earlier, a joint Iranian-Sudanese businessmen's council was created. During the signing ceremony, Shariatmadari discussed Iran's ability to contribute to building infrastructure and the current "economic and industrial renaissance in Iran," according to the Suna news agency on 28 January. And in early January, Iranian Minister of Agricultural Jihad Mahmud Hojjati met with Sudanese Ambassador Ali Mohammad al-Tani and stressed the expansion of economic and agricultural cooperation between the two countries, according to IRNA.

Sudanese President al-Bashir called for the expansion of Tehran-Khartoum bilateral relations in a message he sent to Iran's President Mohammad Khatami, Sudan TV reported on 27 December. His wish appears to be coming true, and this could contribute to the spread of terrorism. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AMBIVALENT ON OIL WEAPON. Tehran has come across as ambivalent on Baghdad's 2 April proposal to force Washington to end its support for Tel Aviv by shutting off oil supplies to the U.S. After initially rejecting the Iraqi proposal, the Iranian foreign minister subsequently made a statement suggesting Tehran would take such a step only in conjunction with all other Islamic oil-producing states. And soon thereafter, the supreme leader urged Arab states to impose a one-month oil embargo. In this way, Tehran is having its cake and eating it too: It continues its tough stance against Israel, it benefits from the rise in oil prices caused by uncertainty over supplies, and it can be fairly confident that such an embargo will not materialize.

Iraqi interim Foreign Minister Humam Abd al-Khaliq Abd al-Qafur, who also serves as the minister of higher education and scientific research, met on 2 April with Iranian Charge d'Affaires Mehrdad Akhavan to discuss withholding oil exports as a weapon that would force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, according to Baghdad television. Baghdad welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's "proposal to utilize oil as a weapon...[Iraq] is ready to join Iran and other countries without any preconditions to stop its oil exports to America," added a report about the meeting that appeared in the 4 April "Bonyan."

But at the time of the meeting it was not quite so clear that Kharrazi had made such a proposal. Speaking on the sidelines of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Kharrazi said that the Islamic world has "enough instruments to use," although he conceded that use of the oil weapon "would be very effective." Nevertheless, according to IRNA, "Kharrazi rebuffed accusations that Iran supported the Iraqi government's proposal."

In a 4 April statement from Moscow, Kharrazi seemed more enthusiastic about the oil weapon. He said: "It is bound to be a notably effective action if all the petroleum-producing Islamic states were to pass such a decision," according to ITAR-TASS. Moreover, Tehran radio, which is run by the hard-line appointee Ali Larijani, on 4 April called on leaders of the Arab world to sever diplomatic ties with Israel and utilize weapons at their disposal, "in particular the oil weapon."

Then, during the 5 April Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for use of the oil weapon. He said: "It seems to me that among important deeds that Arab states can do -- those that export oil -- is to exploit oil. It is not right that the West should be saying throughout the world, 'Do not use the oil weapon.' The oil belongs to the people. They must be able to use it to their advantage. The Americans used wheat as a weapon. They used foodstuffs as a weapon. And that is what is being done in many parts of the world. Why should Arab and Islamic states be deprived of this right?"

The next day, Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari urged the OIC to consider a trade embargo against Israel, IRNA reported. Shariatmadari encouraged the Islamic states to impose an oil embargo against the U.S.

An oil embargo against the U.S. would not directly affect Iran, which has not exported oil to the U.S. since the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, the Iranian economy is almost entirely dependent on the sale of gas and oil, and Tehran certainly has benefited from the recent rise in oil prices. Crude futures reached a six-month high after the Iraqi proposal was made on 2 April, having increased by 35-36 percent since 1 February. Tehran also knows that the embargo is unlikely to take place, as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Persian Gulf states have said that such an action is impractical and not in their interest. Indeed, these countries are dependent on oil revenues, too. Safe in the knowledge that an oil embargo would not affect it directly and is unlikely to occur anyway, Tehran can continue to act resolute on the Palestinian issue. (Bill Samii)

CASPIAN DOMINATES KHARRAZI'S MOSCOW VISIT. When Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Moscow on 4 April, RIA reported, he said that the main focus of his discussions would be realization of agreements that were reached when President Mohammad Khatami came to Russia the previous year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 March 2001). But in light of an upcoming conference of the Caspian Sea littoral states, it is likely that the division of the sea's resources and a relevant legal regime were the main subjects.

The Caspian-states conference is to be held in Ashgabat on 23-24 April, IRNA reported on 29 March, and invitations have been forwarded to Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. Indeed, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told ITAR-TASS on 4 April that "special attention" would be paid to the Caspian during Kharrazi's discussions. Kharrazi also noted that all the littoral states should have equal access to the Caspian's resources. Kharrazi expressed his hope that the Caspian states would reach a consensus on the sea's status.

The Caspian Sea topic seems irreconcilable. Tehran wants common control of the Caspian and a 20 percent stake for each country, regardless of the length of its coastline. The participants in the talks seem skeptical, although their attitudes may change after the Moscow talks. "Moscow sources" said that the meeting "is unlikely to yield a final agreement on the Caspian Sea's status," Interfax reported on 27 March. The result would be only a final declaration outlining points of agreements and a commitment to more talks, the Russian news agency said. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Urnov said the next day that "no declaration defining a new legal status for the offshore will be signed," Platt's news service reported. Urnov anticipated "some form of interim memorandum." Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Tokaev said on 26 March that the summit was not likely to produce "any specific decisions."

Moreover, according to RFE/RL correspondent Michael Lelyveld, Russia has already lined up Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to back its plan for dividing only the seabed into national sectors along a median line, keeping the waters in common. In late March, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said that he was preparing to sign a border-delimitation agreement with Russia during a June visit to St. Petersburg. Around the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow was close to signing a protocol with Kazakhstan.

Nuclear ties are also important, as Kharrazi had canceled a visit to Moscow late in 2001 amid a dispute over financial arrangements and the simultaneous visit to Moscow by American arms-control officials. ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April that the two sides held discussions on building a second reactor at Bushehr. "Guided by the results of work on the first power unit, the sides are now discussing the possibility of completing construction of the second unit. It is possible to sign a contract for another two years," Atomstroyeksport Managing Director Viktor Kozlov said. He went on to say that major deliveries are planned for this year, and the first reactor should go into operation in December 2003. Russia will supply Iran with fresh nuclear fuel on the condition that the spent fuel is returned to Russia for reprocessing, Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 27 March according to Interfax.

The expansion of trade ties was also discussed. Kharrazi and Ivanov exchanged ratified notes on the prevention of double taxation, Interfax reported on 5 April. Security issues in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan were some of the other topics the Iranians talked about with their Russian hosts. (Bill Samii)

HARD-LINE ADVICE FOR ARAFAT PREDOMINATES. The political leadership in Tehran is advocating a hard-line solution to the current Middle East crisis, but not all Iranians agree on the wisdom of that approach. A group of reformist journalists and intellectuals told RFE/RL's Persian Service that they want to see a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the 5 April Friday prayer sermon praised suicide attacks and Palestinian Authority leader Yassir Arafat's vow to die as a martyr. Khamenei said, "Yassir Arafat has also announced that he is ready for martyrdom. This is a very good decision." Khamenei prefaced this by saying, according to state radio, "The combatant Palestinian organizations -- such as Hamas, Fatah, Hizballah, the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] and others -- have joined hands and made a unanimous decision. They have found the strategy of sacrifice. They have realized that readiness to sacrifice is the way to liberate Palestine. They have experienced martyrdom. They have realized that the enemy is impotent in the face of martyrdom and the martyrs who have no fear of death."

The supreme leader's sermons were followed by a state-organized demonstration against Israel. "Tens of thousands of Tehran worshipers marched toward the Palestinian Embassy in Tehran chanting 'Death to Israel' and 'Death to America' after the Friday prayer ceremonies," IRNA reported.

Speaking at this event, state officials called for more militant action against Israel. Parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, who is the secretary-general of Iran's "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference, called for the establishment in Arab and Islamic countries of offices where "volunteers who want to go to Palestine to fight Zionist occupiers" could register. Mohtashemi-Pur also said, "Palestine's neighbors must open their borders to permit the passage of financial, spiritual, and military assistance [for the Palestinians], as well as the passage of volunteers who want to take part in the anti-Zionist struggle," state television reported.

And the supreme leader's representative in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Hojatoleslam Ali Movahedi-Kermani, defended suicide bombings in an interview with the Iranian Students' News Agency. He said, "One cannot possibly describe the Palestinians' martyrdom operations as acts of terrorism.... In fact, they are defending their own rights by launching such operations."

Similar hard-line sentiments were expressed at a 3 April rally at the Palestinian Embassy. Among the slogans chanted by the participants was "America and Zionism are the murderers of the Islamic ummah [community]" and "We are ready to fight for the liberation of holy Qods." Speaking at this event, reformist parliamentarian Mohtashemi-Pur said that there is "genocide" in the occupied territories. He went on to say, state television reported, "The heroic resistance of the people of Palestine and the Palestinian government is totally endorsed and supported by the people and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh added that the Iranian foreign-policy establishment is trying to mobilize "an international political movement against the Israelis' horrendous acts."

Speaking at the same event, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's Tehran representative, Abu Jihad, declared that, "The official stance of the Arab countries makes them partners in the crimes committed by the Zionists in Palestine," Tehran TV reported. Palestinian Ambassador Salah al-Zawawi said that the Intifada would continue, according to Tehran radio.

What state media did not report was that a group of reformist journalists and academics calling themselves the "Iranian Intellectuals" delivered to the Palestinian Embassy, the same day, a letter for Palestinian Authority leader Yassir Arafat in which they called for a peaceful resolution to the Middle East crisis. Among the signatories of the letter were Hamid-Reza Jalaipur, Said Hajjarian, Ahmad Zeidabadi, Ali-Reza Rajai, and several imprisoned people such as Emadedin Baqi. Another one of the signatories, reformist journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service that all Iranian factions want to see full implementation of all the relevant UN resolutions, they all support the Palestinians' human rights, and they all want to see Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Nevertheless, Shamsolvaezin explained, they do not all agree with Tehran's hard-line policy on the issue. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REJECTS AL-QAEDA LINKS... Tehran radio on 3 April said that recent comments about Iran by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were "insulting and interfering." Rumsfeld asserted on 2 April, "There is no question but that Al-Qaeda [has] moved into Iran and out of Iran to the south and dispersed to some other countries." AP and "The Washington Times" reported the next day that he went on to say: "They are not operating out of Iran in the sense that they were out of Afghanistan, so there's that distinction. But I can't think of a thing I've said that anyone, by the wildest stretch of their imagination, could characterize [Iranian actions] as 'helpful.' They're all harmful and contributing to the problems with respect to the global terrorists."

Tehran addressed the Al-Qaeda issue at the 26 March meeting of the UN Security Council. Iranian Permanent Representative to the UN Hadi Nejad-Husseinian told the meeting that Tehran had briefed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the identity of foreign nationals who were arrested after entering Iran illegally from the east, IRNA reported the next day. The Iranian official explained that Tehran had turned over some of these people to their home countries and the rest were still in detention pending actions by their home countries.

U.S. Presidential Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in a 13 March speech that "elements of the Iranian regime" actually facilitated the escape of Al-Qaeda personnel, refusing to arrest them or turn them over to the coalition or the Afghan interim administration. Now that Tehran has admitted that terrorists are there, Khalilzad suggested that it should say how many are still in Iran and how many have left the country. Anonymous senior U.S. and Israeli officials assert that senior Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musaab Zarqawi is in Tehran under the protection of Iranian security forces, "The New York Times" reported on 24 March. (Bill Samii)

...AND OBJECTS TO TERRORISM ACCUSATIONS. Tehran also does not accept assertions about its links with Middle East terrorism. Speaking at the Organization of Islamic Conference meeting in Kuala Lumpur on 2 April, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that one cannot compare Palestinian bombers with the individuals who flew hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Kharrazi explained, "The difference is that the Palestinians are resisting the occupation of their land," Reuters reported.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had said on 1 April that, "Terrorists have declared war on civilization, and states like Iran, Iraq, and Syria are inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing."

There have been other recent American statements about Iranian links with terrorism. President George W. Bush said on 30 March that, "The Iranians must step up and stop fostering terrorism. " And Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet said in 19 March testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Iran continues to provide support -- including arms transfers -- to Palestinian rejectionist groups and Hizballah." Tenet went on to suggest that Tehran could be trying to "escalate the violence of the Intifada and strengthen the position of Palestinian elements that prefer armed conflict with Israel."

According to a 24 March report in "The New York Times" that relied on anonymous sources, Tehran and Palestinian Authority leader Yassir Arafat have formed a secret alliance, the culmination of which was the arms shipment on the Karine A (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 February 2002). A "senior American official" told "The New York Times" that the revival of the Intifada has "stirred the radical juices in Iran.... They wanted things to burn hotter." Anonymous "American and Israeli officials" added that since the uprising began 18 months ago, Tehran has provided cash bonuses to Palestinian Islamic Jihad for each suicide bombing.

The Palestinian Authority rejected the report about its alliance with Tehran. Cabinet Secretary Ahmad Abd al-Rahman said that the allegation "is an illusion in the sick Israeli mind." He added that, "This Israeli fabrication is a big lie. The report's reference to an Iranian-Palestinian alliance is totally false." (Bill Samii)

HEKMATYAR SUPPORTERS ARRESTED IN KABUL. Iranian Permanent Representative to the UN Hadi Nejad-Husseinian told the UN Security Council on 26 March, in an apparent reference to Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, that Iran expelled Afghans were trying to destabilize the Afghan interim administration, IRNA reported. Yet some 300-700 people linked to Hekmatyar were arrested in a series of raids in Kabul, Western news sources reported on 4 April. An anonymous "senior intelligence official" in the Afghan Defense Ministry said that Hekmatyar had started sabotage operations, according to the "Financial Times," and anonymous "Afghan officials" said that many of those arrested had traveled recently to Iran and Pakistan, according to "The New York Times." Afghan Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni said: "The number of these [arrested] people is 160; they have been accused, but not convicted yet. A process of investigation is underway that would determine the degree of their guilt or innocence. There were indications that these people were engaged to form a number of networks that would engage in terror, abduction, and sabotage. A series of written documents [has] been found that indicate these intentions." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN POLICE NEED CONFIDENCE BUILDING, REFORM. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari stressed at an 11 March Law Enforcement Forces (LEF, Niruha-yi Entezami-yi Jomhuri-yi Islami) conference the importance of increasing public trust in the LEF by implementing further confidence-building measures, state radio reported. Speaking at the same event, LEF chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said, "One of the most important duties of police is to build confidence between the people and the law-enforcement forces. We have to improve significantly in this respect," "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Improving the level of trust between the public, on the one hand, and the LEF and other domestic-security agencies, on the other hand, will not be easy. Nevertheless, the LEF has already taken certain steps that seem to have engendered some confidence.

The creation of the Police 110 rapid-reaction system is one of the means by which the LEF has restored public confidence. People dial 110 on their telephones, report a situation, and the LEF will take the necessary action -- usually within 15 minutes. Moreover, according to Brigadier General Mohammad Royaian of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the 110 police centers will get up-to-date computer systems so they can act even more rapidly. Royaian, who heads the centers, said in the 16 January 2001 "Mahd-i Azadi" that the centers are already fielding thousands of calls a day and that the centers in the 12 biggest cities will get computer systems. He also said that closed-circuit camera systems will be established to monitor the big cities, and Police 110 will work in coordination with the 115 emergency ambulance service.

The LEF advice centers that have been set up in Tehran and other cities are another means to restore public confidence. Ferdows Ghomashchi, who heads these centers, said they were created to increase the public's communication with the LEF, which will in turn increase their trust. With a staff that includes clinical psychologists, family counselors, and legal experts, these centers provide advice on avoiding crime either in person, by telephone, or through the mail. Ghomashchi told the 7 February "Javan" that most of the clients are women who come in for family counseling.

Straightforward law-enforcement activities also help the LEF's reputation. According to the 15 February 2001 "Kar va Kargar," Bahrevan village in East Azerbaijan Province was in the grip of a crime wave -- people were afraid to leave the elderly at home and go to the city for work, and "when families went to bed, they thought that when they went to the barn [the next] morning, they [would] see that some of their cattle [had] been lost, or [that] thieves [had] stolen [their] gas container or stolen [their] farm produce from the fields." Decisive LEF action has gotten rid of criminals, and the locals want Qalibaf to reward the security forces.

The LEF was created in 1991 through a merger of the police, gendarmerie, and the revolutionary committees. Although nominally under the leadership of the Interior Ministry, the supreme leader appoints the LEF chief and in late 1999, Interior Minister Musavi-Lari expressed dissatisfaction with his lack of control over the LEF (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 December 1999). Moreover, there are numerous agencies involved in the domestic-security field as well as some vigilante groups that take on a similar role. The LEF's efforts to expand its mission could lead to conflicts with these competitors. Finally, several incidents indicate that the LEF is linked with high-powered individuals and for this reason it is not accountable for its actions.

Among the LEF's formal competitors in the domestic-security field are the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the IRGC, and the Basij Resistance Forces (the Basij). And there may be even more in the near future. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi announced in October that the Expediency Council has approved the creation of a judicial police force, "Noruz" reported. In September, the deputy head of the Prisons Organization, Husseini, announced the pending creation of a special police force for the prisons, and he said that it would subsequently be separated from the LEF, "Tehran Times" reported. In August, the pending creation of tourist police, which would use personnel from the LEF and the Tour and Tourism Organization, was announced.

Qalibaf announced on 19 February that the "marine guard section" of the LEF will be established in Abadan and border regiments have been created and will be stationed along the eastern frontier from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Oman, ISNA reported. The regular armed forces, the IRGC, and village Basij units, as well as the LEF, already deal with security on the frontiers, especially along the border with Afghanistan.

In addition to the existence of these distinct units and agencies, some provincial LEF units act autonomously. Police in Qom in August announced that they would take steps against "the spread of decadent Western culture" and "the propagators of corruption," and they took action against purveyors of pet dogs and monkeys, lingerie shops, and players of loud music (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 August 2001).

The Interior Ministry demanded a written explanation for the Qom LEF's announcement. The Tehran governor-general's adviser on law enforcement, Aziz Beygi, said the announcement was not coordinated with the national authorities and the Qom LEF was acting autonomously, "Hayat-i No" reported on 21 August. Qom's deputy police commander for public relations, Hassan Zakeri, said that the initial announcement about the crackdown should not have been released. Zakeri said that he did not know who released the statement and nobody has taken responsibility for doing so, "Entekhab" reported on 22 August.

Units within the LEF have overlapping responsibilities. The Social Corruption (Mafassed Ejtemai) Unit of the LEF deals with social behavior of an immoral nature. But there is a similar unit in the LEF called the Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi), which concerns itself with the type of music people listen to, the interaction of people of the opposite sex in public places, and various forms of lewd behavior. This latter group has been in the news recently for arresting and questioning journalists (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 February 2002).

And these official bodies have unofficial competitors. The Organization for the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker) is a sort of self-made group that enforces its standards of acceptable behavior. There also are the hard-line Hizbullah pressure groups, which sometimes act in concert with the security forces and at other times act unilaterally.

The behavior of these self-appointed powers has been condemned by the authorities and by the public. Qalibaf, in a February 2001 press conference, for example, said that "acts outside the law [will not be tolerated], be they committed by bandits the chic [upper class, otukeshideh in Persian] political elements or by those who act under the name of Hizbullah. It does not matter who violates the law." And a commentary in the 11 April "Noruz" said that these vigilantes "believe the government is incapable" and warned that "there is no guarantee they will limit their views to social issues, and they may extend them to the government's political or security capabilities."

But in spite of public condemnations from state officials, there is little reason to believe that anything serious will be done against these pressure groups because of their powerful patrons. Hizbullah, for example, is connected with Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, gets funding from the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, and its membership is drawn from war veterans and the Basij. Some could see pressure groups as bit players in the Iranian drama.

But the actions of pressure groups and the LEF are sometimes coordinated. Perhaps the most infamous example of this occurred in July 1999, when hard-liners attacked Tehran University students as the authorities stood by, and then elements from the LEF and the Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group raided the student dormitory. This led to a week of violent riots across the country. Different reports from the Supreme National Security Council blamed some LEF personnel, "officers in civilian clothes," "unofficial civilian forces," and some students, while the Armed Forces Judicial Organization singled out the LEF for blame. All but two of 20 LEF personnel were acquitted in a February-July 2000 trial.

Although most of the accused were acquitted, there were many questions in the media about who was really responsible for what occurred, who gave the orders, and who the individuals in plain clothes were who participated in the violence (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 17 July 2000). And until those questions are answered, it is unlikely that the public will have complete trust in the LEF, regardless of Qalibaf and Musavi-Lari's comments about confidence-building measures. (Bill Samii)