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Iran Report: July 29, 2002

29 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 28

JAILED JOURNALIST GIVES TELEVISED CONFESSION. During an official press conference on 24 July, jailed journalist Siamak Purzand said that his trial was fair, expressed regret for his offenses, and requested an amnesty. Purzand received an 11-year sentence in early May, on charges reported by Judge Jafar Saberi to include propaganda against the system, espionage for a foreign government and against the Islamic system which harmed national security, provoking the public, encouraging immoral behavior, and drinking alcohol, ISNA reported on 15 May. In early July the court of appeals upheld that sentence. "I say loudly, everywhere, and in any circles that those radios which are acting against Iran's Islamic system are dependent upon the SAVAK [the monarchy's intelligence and security organization] and the Pahlavi regime sympathizers," he added according to IRNA. During his televised confession, Purzand said that he started his activities against the Islamic Republic shortly after the 1979 revolution and with the help of monarchists and Western intelligence services. Purzand said that he and his cohorts intended to gain control over the serial newspapers, starting with "Adineh" and "Jameh" (both of which have been banned). Purzand furthermore claimed that he cooperated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during the 1980 hostage rescue mission. (Bill Samii)

PROVINCIAL JOURNALISTS APPEAR IN COURT... Mohammad Hussein Nazari, managing director of Mashhad's "Ferdows" newspaper, appeared in court on 18 July following a complaint by the provincial police department that in April he provoked unrest and spread rumors, IRNA reported. Reza Monsaref, managing director of West Azerbaijan Province's "Ava-yi Maku," was released from jail on 18 July after posting 20 million rials ($2,500 at the open rate) bail, according to IRNA. Maku's parliamentary representative, Mohammad Abbaspur, complained that the newspaper spread rumors, corrupted public opinion, vilified parliamentary deputies, and sowed discord. The Kermanshah court summoned managing editors Abdol Mohammad Zahedi of "Ava-yi Kermanshah" and Nushin Mohammadi of "Neda-yi Jamei" for a 22 July hearing, IRNA reported on 17 July. The two men face complaints filed by the public prosecutor and members of the local Ansar-i Hizbullah that they incited public opinion.

Mohammad Reza Khadem-Shams, managing editor of the weekly "Seda-yi Urumiyeh," was sentenced to six months in jail and 20 lashes, "Noruz" reported on 19 June. The court of appeals reduced the sentence to a suspended term of 20 lashes. Khadem-Shams said the plaintiffs in the case were the provincial Basij, the Medical University, the Office of Documents, and a provincial official. Khadem-Shams said that his publication would continue on its present course, and he warned, "The officials must know that they are always under the careful watch of the press." Said Purazizi, the managing director of "Bahar," was banned from press activities and fined 500,000 rials for inciting public opinion, insulting officials, and undermining the state, "Iran Daily" reported on 13 June. "Aftab-i Yazd" had reported on 23 May that Purazizi received a six-month ban. (Bill Samii)

...AS DOES A PARLIAMENTARIAN-JOURNALIST. "Hambastegi" managing director Qolam Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami (who represents the Khorasan Province constituency of Khaf and Rashtkhar) received a summons in response to complaints filed against him on 16 July, IRNA reported the next day. A former parliamentarian from Damavand complained about articles in "Hambastegi" that described poor security in the universities, prostitution gangs, and restrictions imposed by the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council. Ebrahimbay-Salami also appeared in court on 7 July. (Bill Samii)

LATEST NEWSPAPER BANS CRITICIZED. Rajabali Mazrui, a parliamentarian and the head of the Journalists' Trade Association, on 24 June criticized the Judiciary's six-month ban on the "Noruz" daily. He predicted that the ban would have negative consequences, according to the Iranian Student News Agency. The Tehran Province Justice Department said that the sentence against "Noruz" editor Mohsen Mirdamadi (who also serves in parliament) was based on complaints from the public prosecutor, the election supervisory board, the Basij Resistance Forces, and state radio and television, according to IRNA. Mirdamadi is banned from press activities for four years. Mirdamadi said that he recommended fellow parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami as the license holder for "Noruz," and this would allow the daily to continue its work after the six-month ban expires, "Hayat-i No" reported on 25 July. "Noruz" effectively serves as the mouthpiece of the Islamic Iran Participation Party.

The Tehran Public Court banned "Azad" daily on 12 July for violating an official directive not to take sides in the case of Isfahan Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri's resignation. The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) had issued the directive, but SNSC official Ali Rabii said in a letter to "Azad" Editor in Chief Bijan Safsari that the SNSC had not taken legal action against the daily, IRNA reported on 13 July. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization issued a statement protesting the daily's closure. The statement pointed out that all the hard-line publications had written articles critical of Taheri despite the ban yet nothing had been done to them, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 July, and newspapers with more complaints filed against them remain open. The organization demanded a lifting of the ban.

The Press Supervisory Board announced on 8 July the temporary closure of the "Mad-i Iran" publication, "Noruz" reported the next day. The managing editor had repeatedly ignored warnings from the Press Supervisory Board and the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, and the publication committed unspecified violations. An appeals court in Zahedan, Sistan va Baluchistan Province, upheld on 25 June the ban on the local "Ruzdara" newspaper. The newspaper had been closed down two years earlier for publishing articles that insulted officials, according to IRNA. The publication's editor was sentenced to five months in jail and a 3.5 million-rial ($2,010 at the official rate) fine and its writer was sentenced to five months in jail and a 2.5 million-rial fine. (Bill Samii)

DEPUTIES QUESTION REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS' POLITICAL COMMENTS. Ninety members of parliament have signed a letter requesting an opportunity to question Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani, according to IRNA on 22 July. The legislators' questions relate to a 20 July statement from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) warning that the U.S. is conspiring against Iran, while some domestic political groups are trying to cause discord and thereby "prompt foreign military action against Iran." The IRGC statement, according to IRNA, said that the deployment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, preparations for an attack on Iraq, and the basing of military forces around Iran are part of the "U.S. strategy to finally launch an attack on Iran."

Isfahan parliamentarian Rajabali Mazrui said in the 22 July "Hayat-i No" as cited by IRNA that the parliamentarians would like to know on what legal basis the IRGC made this statement and they would like to know why the IRGC is involving itself with political issues. Parliamentarian Mohsen Tarkashvan, furthermore, warned that the IRGC's implication that some political factions are serving the U.S. could lead to tension in Iran. And parliamentarian Ebrahim Amini said, according to the 23 July "Aftab-i Yazd," that military institutions should remain apolitical. Amini emphasized that there would be "unity and national consensus" when all political views are given official recognition. He added that state officials decide on policy and military institutions execute the policy, and Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini proscribed involvement by the military in domestic politics. (Bill Samii)

REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS ARE IRAN'S PRAETORIANS. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) started as a revolutionary military, being created at a time when there was concern that the regular armed forces held monarchist loyalties. Over time, the IRGC has taken on "praetorian" characteristics. In other words, there is greater political participation in the higher ranks, and there are examples of mistrust of civil authority. The civilian authorities frequently involve the IRGC in civil affairs, and the IRGC has a domestic security function. Indeed, IRGC officers frequently are given postings in nonmilitary organizations -- for example, the head of police counterintelligence served in the IRGC.

Article 150 of the Iranian Constitution states that the IRGC "is to be maintained so that it may continue in its role of guarding the revolution and its achievements." Mr. Saidi, the deputy of the supreme leader's representative to the IRGC, defended its taking and expressing a political position on domestic and foreign issues using these very terms, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 July. He also said, "The IRGC must express its views whenever society is threatened and people need to be informed," and he added that Ayatollah Khomeini's stricture against involvement in politics only meant that the IRGC should not "act in the form of a party against another party and should not become involved in parties' political affairs."

Indeed, not only does the IRGC regularly criticize and threaten the U.S., it often makes comments against those whose revolutionary commitment it deems insufficient. Twenty parliamentarians on 18 February questioned Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani about the purported threat by deputy IRGC commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr to destroy the region's oil fields in case of an American attack against Iran. Isfahan parliamentarian Rajabali Mazrui explained at that time that the Supreme National Security Council is responsible for determining such policy issues, "Noruz" reported on 26 February, and "it is not clear for us what responsibility has been given to Mr. Zolqadr that he expressed [that] view while a military man is not entitled to interfere with political affairs." Mazrui later withdrew his questions out of a sense of solidarity with the armed forces during a sensitive time, "Kayhan" reported on 2 May.

A more infamous incident of military interference in domestic politics came in July 1999, when 24 high IRGC officials warned President Mohammad Khatami that they blamed his policies for the promiscuous political atmosphere, that foreigners were taking advantage of the situation, and that they (the IRGC) would suppress the student unrest if he did not act quickly. In their letter, the IRGC officials first issued subtle warnings. "We can see the footprints of the enemy in the aforementioned incidents and we can hear its drunken cackle. You should understand this today because tomorrow is too late.... Look at foreign media and radios. Can you not hear their joyful music?" Then they came to the point: "Our patience has run out. We cannot tolerate this situation any longer if it is not dealt with." (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999)

And on 27 April 1998, IRGC commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi threatened the newly vocal reformist media. "We want to eliminate the roots of the counterrevolution wherever they are," he said during a speech to naval officers. Safavi continued, "Jameh" reported on 29 April 1998: "We must behead some people and cut out the tongues of others. Our sword is our tongue. We will make revelations as the Students Following the Imam's Line did [a reference to the group that occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and used the documents it stole against its political enemies] and we will name the cowards."

Furthermore, the IRGC frequently releases official statements that touch on foreign and domestic policy, but these statements do not always elicit a parliamentary reaction. There were no complaints about an official IRGC statement on 24 April, issued for the anniversary of the failed 1980 hostage rescue mission. That statement accused " some ignorant or malicious individuals" of trying to weaken Iranians' anti-American resolve. And on the 14 February anniversary of the death decree for British author Salman Rushdie, an IRGC statement said that the fatwa is "irrevocable." On 30 January an IRGC statement said, "The enemies of Islam, spearheaded by America and global Zionism," have targeted Iranians' unity and are trying to cause discord. The statement added that these enemies are trying to disrupt the people's unity and solidarity.

Individual IRGC officials also make comments that could be interpreted as threats against the U.S. and interference in foreign policy, but criticism of those individuals is rare. Ali Fadavi, a senior IRGC naval official, on 9 July declared readiness to give "unimaginable answers to any invasion by the U.S. or other countries' forces," "Tehran Times" reported the next day. The IRGC commander on 18 June spoke about "foreign enemies, especially the U.S. and the Zionist regime," IRNA reported, and he said that their dreams of causing disturbances would not be realized. In a statement broadcast on 14 June, Rahim-Safavi also complained about the U.S. and Israel. In a 10 June meeting with Iranian and foreign military attaches, Rahim-Safavi accused the U.S. of trying to dominate Central Asia and the Caucasus, and he accused it of heading for a religious war, IRNA reported. He also addressed this theme during an 8 June ceremony.

Deputy IRGC commander Zolqadr said in the 8 June "Entekhab" that there is no benefit to having relations with the U.S. He cautioned against any negotiations, saying, "The aim of the Americans is to conduct negotiations in order to impose their demands and destroy the achievements of the 23-year struggle." And according to the 28 May "Kayhan," he said that America is "constantly hatching plots to topple our state. How can, under such circumstances, some people seek to resume ties and wish to become the slaves of the great Satan?"

Zolqadr discussed the country's intellectual atmosphere in a 19 May speech in Mashhad, saying that it is "flawed," "200 years behind the Western intellectual milieu [in some cases]," and its main characteristics are "Westoxication, anachronistic behavior, being out of touch with the people's demands, and alienation from their own national culture." Three days earlier, according to "Iran News," he said that people who claim they are in court for political reasons are trying to "pave the way for the enemy."

The supreme leader's representative to the IRGC, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, also likes to discuss domestic politics and the U.S. In an 11 May speech he said, "America divides the Iranian government into two parts -- elected and not elected -- while such a division has no grounds because the Vali-yi Faqih [Supreme Jurisconsult], whom America calls nonelected, was elected by the people in some way." He accused the U.S. of using a "creeping coup," "Resalat" reported on 14 May. IRGC commander Safavi on 10 May told Basijis in Chahbahar that "some people do not see America as a threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran and believe that one can enter into a dialogue with the U.S.," but the "official stance of the Islamic system" is that America is a threat. On 9 May he warned about a foreign cultural onslaught.

Safavi on state radio on 14 April said that the U.S. shared responsibility "for the massacre of the innocent Palestinian people." Safavi's adviser, Nasrollah Abolfathian, accused President Bill Clinton's administration of launching a cultural onslaught against Iran and he accused the Bush administration of planning for a military attack. Safavi on 22 February accused the U.S. of terrorism because it supports Israel, IRNA reported.

Personnel from other branches of the armed forces also make public statements that touch on foreign and domestic politics, but these also seem to go unnoticed. Iranian armed forces' general command headquarters chief Major General Hassan Firuzabadi said on 21 June, according to ISNA: "Today, it is clear that the enemy is definitely threatening Iran. That enemy is America. Today, George [W.] Bush is the worst tyrant in the world. He has approved and supported [Ariel] Sharon's actions and crimes in the occupied territories. He has prepared the ground for such actions and he is coordinating with Sharon." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ARGENTINE BOMBING AND BRIBERY. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 22 July rejected a report in "The New York Times" that Tehran had paid $10 million to Argentina's President Carlos Menem to cover up evidence of Iranian involvement in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center there. Assefi said, according to Tehran radio, "The Zionist circles are trying to distract the Argentine public away from the planners and perpetrators of the explosion." "The report is totally baseless and a journalistic fairy tale," Assefi added according to the Iranian Students News Agency as cited by dpa. Menem also denied the charges, "The Washington Post" reported on 23 July.

The allegation against Menem and Tehran is based on the statements of Abolghasem Mesbahi, who according to "The New York Times" is a "high-level defector from Iran's intelligence agency." Mesbahi defected in 1996, and officials in Germany and Argentina say that Mesbahi has provided valuable information about Iranian terrorist operations in Europe and Asia through the mid-1990s. Mesbahi said that Iranian contacts with Menem began in the 1980s, when he was a provincial governor, in the hope that he would rise to become president.

According to a 30 September 2001 article in Buenos Aires' "Pagina/12" newspaper that contained almost identical information, Mesbahi is the same "Witness C" whose testimony led to the indictment of leading Iranian officials for the 1992 murder of Iranian dissidents in Berlin's Mykonos Restaurant. "La Nacion" newspaper reported on 17 July 2000, furthermore, that Witness C was a source for its information that Menem had received $10 million for his silence on the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Mutual Association in Buenos Aires (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 July 2000).

The Argentine Supreme Court in May 1999 blamed Lebanese Hizballah for the 1992 bombing, and in September 1999 it issued an international arrest warrant for Hizballah official Imad Mughniyah for ordering the bombing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 1999 and 20 September 1999). The 1992 bombing was in retaliation for the February 1992 execution of Hizballah Secretary-General Sheikh Abbas Musawi by Israeli forces, University of St. Andrews Professor Magnus Ranstorp writes in "Hizballah of Lebanon" (1997). Islamic Jihad claimed that the bombing was in the name of the "Martyr Child Hussein" (Musawi's son). Ranstorp writes that Islamic Jihad was a "nom de guerre" used during the 1980s in Lebanon by groups involved with suicide bombings and kidnappings, and although some Hizballah personnel were members of "Islamic Jihad," it was not always clear if they were acting within the Hizballah framework.

Mughniyah appears on the U.S. government's list of 22 most-wanted international terrorists, and he purportedly lives or lived in Iran. Mughniyah is in frequent contact with Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security, according to U.S. Central Intelligence Agency documents cited in the 17 January "The New York Times." The government of Iran has denied hosting Mughniyah (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 October 2001). (Bill Samii)

DEMONSTRATIONS OVER DIVISION OF KHORASAN PROVINCE. There have been more demonstrations in Khorasan Province towns about the plan to divide the northeastern province into smaller units. People in the town of Quchan held an officially permitted demonstration on 23 July, according to state television, in which they demanded that their city become the capital of Northern Khorasan Province. The Quchan parliamentary representative, Mohammad Baqer Zakeri, and a local official addressed the gathering. Law Enforcement Forces intervened after some people blocked the Quchan-Bojnurd road, smashed the windows of some vehicles, and attacked the local highway patrol station. People in Nishabur also staged a rally on 23 July, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Local officials addressed the crowd, and a seven-point resolution passed afterwards demanded the use of scientific methods to determine which city would become the provincial capital. The demonstration had a permit from the city governor's office and ended peacefully. Khorasan Province has witnessed a number of demonstrations recently over which towns would become new provincial capitals, mainly because this would give them greater access to government funds. (Bill Samii)

POLICE VOWS CONTRADICTED BY ARRESTS AND FLOGGINGS. Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on 15 July that the police would not intervene in individuals' private lives and the LEF has nothing against young people, IRNA reported. Qalibaf warned that the LEF would intervene when social laws are broken, however, and he urged young people to respect social decency and public norms of behavior. Yet the police's actions belie this live-and-let-live attitude, and a Tehran newspaper warned that LEF's actions could be counterproductive.

A Tehran court on 15 July sentenced 45 males and females aged from 17 to 26 to flogging and fines, AP reported. They had been arrested while they were dancing at a 12 July birthday party in the capital, and they were charged with "illegitimate relations, promoting corruption, and drinking alcohol." A young Tehran resident named Ali told RFE/RL's Persian Service that in a separate incident, police took 25 young men and women to jail after raiding a party. They were released a few days later after paying heavy fines and because a connection of Ali's uncle who knew people within the system used his contacts. Another young man named Ali told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the police detained his brother and other guests at a party. His brother received 90 lashes.

A few weeks earlier, the creation of new special police units (Yegan-i Vizhe) tasked with enforcement of Islamic codes of dressing and behavior was announced (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 July 2002). These units have already earned themselves a reputation for administering bloody beatings, but little detail was available until LEF public relations chief Hassan Zakeri said in the 24 July "Ettelaat" that "60 special patrols have been formed to deal with obvious offenses in society." The new units would concentrate, Zakeri said, on arresting drug addicts and cracking down on people who harass women and exhibit un-Islamic behavior.

"Noruz" newspaper in editorials on 29 and 30 June questioned the LEF's manner of dealing with young people. The daily suggested that the LEF announce the legal grounds on which these units were created, what their responsibilities are, what kind of behavior they will stop, and how they will do so. In a hint that the extent of arrests far exceeds that which is reported, "Noruz" asked, "Is it possible to believe that every day and in every district tens of people must be arrested according to the laws?"

The daily also questioned the need for such special units. It said that the police 110 rapid-reaction emergency system (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 April 2002) has been very effective in improving public security. Anytime the security forces deviate from their normal duties -- for example when they get involved with the "promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice" -- their efficiency suffers. And when the security forces go around investigating the family relationships of young couples, according to "Noruz," they only succeed in alienating the youth.

A 22 July statement by LEF counterintelligence chief Abdulhussein Ramazani may add to the concerns expressed in the "Noruz" editorials. He said that the police have been ordered to prevent gatherings in order to "promote and guarantee social security," IRNA reported on 23 July. He added that troublemakers are preparing the grounds for foreign enemies to infiltrate the country, and that it is up to the LEF to prevent this. Ramazani expressed regret that some officials and institutions are trying to create a gap between the people and those who serve them. (Bill Samii)

OFFICIALS AND EXPERTS CRITICIZE COUNTERNARCOTICS EFFORTS. Several Iranian officials and experts recently discussed the narcotics problem in their country and ascribed demand to cultural and social factors. New Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi, meanwhile, told a European visitor that Iran has taken the necessary steps to combat drugs.

Savojbalaq parliamentary representative Jafar Golbaz said that Iran has not been very successful in fighting narcotics, despite the deaths of over 3,000 security personnel, because of its long border with Afghanistan. Golbaz explained that culture is behind the demand for drugs and that culture is also the solution to the drug problem. In his words, according to "Resalat" on 20 July: "Today, the youth are bored with what they have and wish for things they haven't got. This is rooted in Western culture and should be confronted with the use of cultural tools." And on 18 July, Law Enforcement Forces chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf told a meeting of Friday prayer leaders and Tehran Province mayors that drug distributors (in addition to goons and hooligans) are responsible for most social disorders, according to IRNA.

Two Iranian medical experts recently focused on social issues while discussing the drug problem. Dr. Bolhari, who supervises Tehran University's Student Center, said that cultural factors are a significant reason for the prevalence of drug abuse, according to the 2 July "Azad." There are not enough sports activities, and the cultural programs are not very effective. The dormitories are depressing and overcrowded, with eight students often sharing one room. And although narcotics counseling is available, Bolhari said, few students take advantage of it.

Dr. Kahani, who chairs Tehran's Legal Medicine Research Center, said in the 6 July "Azad" that current economic circumstances are responsible for many social problems, including drug abuse. "Unfortunately, because of financial problems, both the father and mother have to work outside the home, and when they return home, they are not in the mood for talking because they are very tired from a long day's work. Therefore, family members find the potential to commit crime." Kahani went on to say that young people head for the cities to find a better life, but the limited facilities cannot fulfill their demands.

In an 18 July meeting with visiting European Parliament official Elmar Brok, Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi said that among the "necessary measures" adopted in the war on drugs are short-term training courses for counternarcotics forces and the use of sophisticated technical and surveillance equipment to monitor smuggling activities, IRNA reported. Educational and scientific coordination with European governments and international organizations are being pursued, too. Hashemi added that Iran is interested in information exchanges and adopting transparent laws to fight smuggling and money laundering. The previous day, according to IRNA, Hashemi stressed the need for treatment programs. (Bill Samii)

KABUL CALLS FOR COUNTERNARCOTICS AID. Afghanistan's Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai said on 23 July at the Afghanistan Drug Coordination Conference in Kabul, "As much as we may be determined to fight against drugs, as much as Afghans may want to destroy poppy fields, for our sake and for the sake of the international community it will be very difficult, rather impossible, without a proper sustained reconstruction activity." Iran, which is responsible for more than 80 percent of the opium and more than one-third of the heroin and morphine seized internationally in 2001, shares this view. Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi on 17 July said that Afghanistan needs assistance in its ban on opium cultivation, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

HUMANITARIAN GROUPS CRITICAL OF REFUGEE REPATRIATIONS. Mohammad Ali Khabbaz, the official responsible for foreign nationals' affairs in the Khorasan Province governor-general's office, told IRNA on 23 July that some 97,000 Afghans have voluntarily gone home. Khabbaz added that about 1,500 Afghans go home via Khorasan every day. The repatriation project is being run in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and with Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement released on the same day, urged the UNHCR to reverse its policy of promoting voluntary repatriations. HRW Refugee Policy Director Rachel Reilly said that UNHCR's message about stable conditions in Afghanistan is "misleading and contradicted by conditions on the ground." The HRW statement cited continuing factional rivalries and a resultant "security vacuum" in the northern part of the country, anti-Pashtun violence, and seizures of land and demands for money in Farah and Faryab Province. HRW also described "lawlessness and abuses by warlord forces" in southern and western Afghanistan. Many of the returning refugees, furthermore, just settle in urban centers, rather than returning to their place of origin.

Amnesty International sounded a similar warning on 25 July. In a report entitled "Continuing Need for Protection and Standards for Return of Afghan Refugees," AI stated, "In light of the current high rate of refugee returns, lack of absorption capacity to handle those returns, and continued insecurity in Afghanistan, now is not the time for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and states to be encouraging and promoting the return of Afghan refugees." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CONGRATULATES SADDAM. President Khatami cabled congratulations to Iraq's President Saddam Hussein on the occasion of the anniversary of Iraq's 17-30 July revolution. (Iraq's Ba'th Party seized power from a military-led government on 17 July 1968, and Saddam became president on 16 July 1979.) Khatami's cable expressed the hope that "relations between our two countries will witness more and more prosperity in light of the exchanged efforts and cooperation," Baghdad television reported on 24 July. On the same day, Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, when asked to comment on the possibility of a U.S. attack against Iraq, said that "we have repeatedly stated that we are against using military means in international relations." Ramezanzadeh added that no armed Iraqi opposition groups are in Iran.

Ramezanzadeh also rejected Baghdad's claims that it had captured spies and saboteurs from Iran. He said that such allegations occasionally surface, and "we do not know as to the logic and reasoning behind them." Baghdad television on 23 July had carried the recorded confessions of two men identified as Hamzah Qasim Sabat and Ibrahim Abd-Jasim Mohammad, who were also known as Abu-Hatham and Abu-Ayyub (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 July 2002). The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) also denied that the two were associated with Iran, saying that they were "from resistance elements inside Iraq" and were arrested late last year, AP reported on 25 July. (Bill Samii)

WAR GAMES MARK BATTLE WITH IRAQ-BACKED OPPOSITION. Armor and infantry units from Iran's regular armed forces, as well as elements from the Air Force and the Army Aviation Corps, on 25 July staged war games timed to coincide with the return of Iranian MIAs and POWs from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 July 2002) and the anniversary of 1988's Operation Mersad. This 1988 battle took place when the Iranian military ambushed and routed Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization forces that had invaded from Iraq. The purpose of the military exercise, according to state radio, was to evaluate the "training, operational, intelligence, preparedness, and support capabilities of the battle units of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Army ground forces commander General Nasser Mohammadifar said on the same day that Iran is enhancing its defensive capabilities so it can preserve peace and stability on the country's borders, according to state radio. He said, "Through the assistance of dedicated and expert personnel and the valuable experiences gained during the imposed [Iran-Iraq] war, we are ready to carry out any mission to defend our country's territorial integrity and independence." (Bill Samii)