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Iran Report: June 18, 2001

18 June 2001, Volume 4, Number 23

NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP. The Guardians Council is expected to confirm the results of the 8 June presidential election within ten days. Officials from the Council had referred to some violations of the law on election day, but given the regime's pre-occupation with unity and superficial consensus, as well as the Supreme Leader's 10 June approval of the results and the president, it is unlikely that the Council will seriously question the final tally. Nonetheless, the official figures on the number of eligible voters and on voter turnout seem inconsistent and undermine government claims.

The near certitude of Guardians Council approval of the results was indicated in the 15 June Friday Prayer sermon in Tehran, which was given by Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. Praising the overall turnout and congratulating the Supreme Leader for this, Jannati said: "The people gave another winning card to the history of the revolution. They disappointed our enemies and gave a negative response to all those [opponents] who were babbling nonsense on behalf of the enemy and were calling on the people to boycott the elections."

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi told a 14 June meeting of the headquarters charged with addressing election violations that the polls were held in "full security and tranquility" and they featured a high turnout, IRNA reported. Three days earlier, Election Headquarters chief and Interior Ministry official Morteza Mobaleq described the 8 June poll as "one of the soundest elections." And the official in charge of the Tehran election headquarters inspection board, Hussein Robati, rejected accusations of irregularities and said that "despite all doubts raised in the minds of the people, the election was held in a healthy atmosphere," according to IRNA. Mobaleq also said that none of the ballots had been invalidated and about 74,000 Iranians living overseas had cast their votes.

Ali-Akbar Fallahian, one of the losing candidates, has lodged a complaint with the Election Headquarters, according to the 17 June "Entekhab." Other losing candidates, however, are not questioning the results. "The election result has created a sense of political tranquillity and sympathy among the people," Shahabedin Sadr observed, "while complaints could destroy this climate and lead to political tensions." Second-place finisher Ahmad Tavakoli said, "As far as I am concerned the elections are over.

Those who are looking for meaningful or analytically useful election statistics seem certain to be frustrated. The figures Mobaleq cited on 11 June (21,659,053 votes for Khatami out of 28,160,394 votes cast) differed from those issued by the Interior Ministry on 9 June (21,656,476 votes for Khatami and a total of 28,159,289 votes). About 44.5 million people were eligible to vote, according to an Interior Ministry announcement cited in a May IRNA report. This would put the voter turnout at a little more than 63 percent.

Khatami received 69 percent of the votes in the May 1997 presidential election, when 29,076,070 of the 33,000,000 eligible Iranians actually cast their ballots. This would give an approximate turnout of 88 percent. The number of people who voted in the 2001 election was almost 1 million less than those who voted in the 1997 election, even though the total number of eligible voters had increased. (Bill Samii)

A REFERENDUM ON 'REFORM.' "The people's vote is a yes to reforms," Tehran parliamentarian Ali Shakuri-Rad said two days after President Mohammad Khatami's 8 June re-election. "Reform" carries a positive connotation, whether it is used as a noun -- amendment of what is defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved --- or as a verb -- to put or change into an improved form or condition. But what do Khatami and his supporters mean by reform?

When he first was elected in May 1997, Khatami called for a more free press, greater tolerance and public participation, judicial fairness, and a bigger role in public affairs for women and young people. Khatami also viewed outside influence as inevitable, and he argued that running a country on Islamic guidelines that were appropriate many centuries earlier would not yield positive results. Iran should study Western civilizations, learn about their advances in science, politics, and social regulations, and use them advantageously, Khatami argued.

On 9 June 2001, the day that his victory was announced, Khatami said, "What is necessary for us, today and in the future, is to strengthen the democratic system and to protect the people's rights within a religious framework." He added, "An open and healthy legal atmosphere; freedom of speech and criticism, even protest as long as it is within the legal framework; protection of this climate and efforts to strengthen it are the prerequisites for a quicker and greater victory."

In the months prior to the 2001 election there was an attempt by Khatami's backers to cast the event as a "referendum on reform," especially when it was not certain if he would run for office. Abbas Abdi of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, for example, told the party's youth branch in Isfahan that "whether we want it or not, we are facing an unofficial referendum in this election." He also said, according to the 21 May "Hayat-i No," "our main goal is the advancement of the reform movement; will not be possible without the overall participation of the people."

The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization also cast the election as a referendum. Feyzollah Arab-Sorkhi, a member of the MIRO Central Committee, told the 17 May "Seda-yi Idalat" that voters had a choice between two distinct interpretations of the Islamic Republic system and the constitution, and also a choice between two types of governing, and this amounted to a referendum. Arab-Sorkhi added that the referendum focused on governmental priorities: "the opponents of the government have continuously insisted that the people's priority is their economic problems," whereas "the priority in the government of Mr. Khatami is political expansion and the solution to economic problems depends on this political expansion."

Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother, said that "a referendum is the slogan of those who have accepted the rule of the people," the 24 April "Noruz" reported. Just three days before the election President Khatami reasserted his commitment to reform, but he rejected calls for a "referendum" on reforms.

Khatami certainly does not plan to make any radical changes in the system of government; he has consistently called for acting within a constitutional context, even though he also has noted that he does not have enough power within that context to fulfill public expectations. And within that constitutional framework, as it now stands, the Iranian president and every other elected official remain subordinate to the Supreme Leader.

There is greater flexibility in the informal networks -- links by blood or marriage, school ties, military or revolutionary activities -- that are an essential part of Iranian politics. Even within this context, Khatami is loyal to the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult) and to the memory of Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

So the election, if it really was free and fair, showed continuing Iranian support for reform. The definition of reform remains somewhat unclear, as does the speed at which Khatami will pursue it. Hanging over the reform process ominously is the danger that ultra hard-line political figures will resort to the use of deniable assets, such as the Ansar-i Hizbullah or Fadaian-i Islam pressure groups, to violently block the reform process, Michael Rubin asserts in his recently published "Into The Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran." (Bill Samii)

BUSY ELECTIONS FOR STATE BROADCASTING. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) was reluctant to broadcast the final results of the presidential election and resisted Interior Ministry instructions to do so, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 9 June. Until that point, IRIB was very busy with election-related business, broadcasting candidates' statements and interviews with political commentators. It was even busier on election day: it jammed some foreign radio broadcasts and it provided continuous coverage of the election on its Network 2.

RFE/RL's Persian Service was jammed on one of its frequencies but was clear on the other three. Voice of America's Persian Service was jammed on only one of its frequencies. The British Broadcasting Corporation's Persian Service was not jammed on election day, but the Ministry of Intelligence and Security arrested John Simpson of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and other members of a BBC crew on 9 June. The Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry also confiscated a Turkish news agency's van because it had a large satellite dish, which is illegal, a ministry official said in the 12 June "Tehran Times," because "the foreign media can easily dispatch their stories through the facilities of the [IRIB]."

IRIB began its election programs on 23 May. Every night it broadcast separate 30-minute election campaign programs about two of the candidates, in an order determined by drawing lots. In these programs, the candidates answered questions from young people, answered questions from university and theological students, answered questions from members of the public, presented films about themselves, and participated in interviews. A total of 12 hours and 45 minutes of radio and television air time was allocated to each candidate, with six-and-a-quarter hours going to television and the rest going to radio. Candidates also were permitted to broadcast an hour-long program via the Jam-i Jam network to Iranians living overseas.

IRIB did not broadcast President Mohammad Khatami's 5 June news conference until 11 June, nor did it announce the news when he declared his candidacy. Some might see this as evidence of IRIB's hard-line bias, but it could be argued that such broadcasts would have violated the rules on publicity.

Complaints about IRIB are not uncommon and surfaced in the run-up to the election. A commentary in the reformist "Noruz" daily on 28 May noted IRIB's interviews with a number of people who did not plan to vote. Their comments, according to the daily, amounted to demands for a boycott of the election: "However much we did vote matters got worse, let alone being improved. For this reason we shall not vote this time in the hope that things might get better;" "We would not vote because we think it would not have any impact on our fate;" "I will not take part in the election because no attention has so far been paid to our wishes;" "I do not wish to vote at the moment. That is all."

Boinzahra parliamentarian Hojatoleslam Qodratollah Alikhani, who is on the state broadcasting supervisory council, noted IRIB's partiality in the past and expressed the hope that it would not be repeated, ISNA reported on 19 May. IRIB has "failed to remain impartial in a number of cases," he noted, "but we expect the organization to remain impartial in broadcasting the views of the presidential candidates [and it] should refrain from prejudiced reporting and it should not exaggerate existing [social] problems."

Abdulreza Rahmani-Fazl, the deputy chief of state-run radio and television, provided a contrasting viewpoint on IRIB activities in interviews with "Siyasat-i Ruz" (7 May) and "Jami-i Jam" (6 May). He said that different political groups have been invited to "come and express their views" in various news programs, but they have not responded. Rahmani declared that state media cannot support a specific faction, it is under the Supreme Leader's supervision and this means it must be impartial.

"But we have an exact definition of impartiality," Rahmani added, and that does not include "indifference." The regime has organized IRIB, and the regime has the right to ask it to support its objectives, namely defending principles and values, defending Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult, and defending the people's ideals and interests. Moreover, "we have to safeguard Islamic fundamentals and values." The problem is that some people cannot make a distinction between national objectives and factional interests, Rahmani noted.

In a related matter, the parliament descended into chaos on 17 June, when Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi blocked a debate regarding an inquiry into the IRIB's performance. Some of the deputies argued that since the legislature provides IRIB's budget, it has a right to look into its activities, while IRIB's representative to the parliament, Ezzatollah Zarqami, argued that the organization's activities come under the Supreme Leader's purview. (Bill Samii)

THE STREET WITHOUT JOY. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a message congratulating President Mohammad Khatami on his re-election, IRNA reported on 12 June. In spite of such friendly messages, the two countries do not have full diplomatic relations for at least three reasons. One reason is that Iran's foreign policy objectives are not clear to Egypt. Another obstacle to the restoration of relations is a Tehran street named after Khalid Eslamboli, the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. And a third reason is that Iran's charge d'affaires in Cairo is a hard-line figure who has praised Eslamboli and called on Egyptian youth to emulate him.

When reporters asked him about the possibility of an improvement in Cairo-Tehran relations after President Mohammad Khatami's re-election, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said that Iranian foreign policy objectives were obscure. "We hear some voices in Iran calling for relations with Egypt, then after that we hear something completely different," Maher said during a 10 June press conference. Maher could have been referring to Iran's stance on the Middle East Peace Process and its support for violent Egyptian extremist groups, such as al-Jihad (which the U.S. Department of State identifies as a terrorist group).

Just two days before Maher's statement, Iranian Vice President Hassan Rohani referred to the elimination of all obstacles to Iran-Egypt relations and said that he expected the resumption of relations in the next presidential term. Rohani may have had Khalid Eslamboli Street in mind, because the Tehran Municipal Council had agreed in late May to change the thoroughfare's name to Intifada Street or Mohammad al-Durrah Street. At that time, Council member Mohammad Atrianfar noted that the final change depended on approval by the Foreign Ministry.

Approval has not been forthcoming, however, and several Tehran newspapers were outraged at the thought of changing the street's name. The English-language "Kayhan International" argued against changing the street's name on 28 May. It said that Khalid Eslamboli is a major part of the Palestinian cause, and "if more Muslim capitals, including Egypt, had dedicated streets and squares to Martyr Khalid Eslamboli, the Palestinian problems would not have been reduced to its present plight." "A thousand curses upon Sadat who is responsible for the thousands of Palestinians that have been killed by Israel over the past 23 years," the daily added.

The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily opposed the name change in its 27 May issue. If Tehran did not have to change the name of Bobby Sands Street just to have relations with Great Britain, the newspaper asked, why must it change another street's name to have relations with Egypt? Besides which, the Egyptians are worse than the British because they are Muslims who have befriended the enemies of Muslims, "meaning the Zionists."

The initial break in full diplomatic relations occurred in 1980, when Iran's exiled monarch was granted refuge in Egypt. The two countries now have diplomatic representations in the others' capitals, but these are not at the ambassadorial level. Former Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani emphasized the importance of relations with Egypt in an interview with the Cairo's state-owned weekly "Al-Musawwar" magazine on 8 June. The appointment of Seyyed Hadi Khosroshahi as head of the Iranian interests section in Cairo, according to Mohajerani, demonstrates the importance of the relationship to Tehran. Mohajerani said that Khosroshahi is a "first-class official."

What Mohajerani views as a great honor may not be viewed so enthusiastically by the Egyptians. Khosroshahi praised Khalid Eslamboli and said that Egyptian youth should follow his example, Cairo's weekly "Al-Mutaqa Duwali" reported on 20 March, in a biography he authored about the 19th-century Islamist Jamaledin Assadabadi. Moreover, Khosroshahi served in the Islamic Liberation Movements Office that was tasked with exporting the revolution during the 1980s. Khosroshahi was a point of contact with Lebanese Hizballah, and it is believed that he dealt with Saudi Hizballah in the 1990s. (Bill Samii)

MILITARY EXERCISES SEND MESSAGE TO IRAQ. Iranian naval and ground forces held a number of exercises in late May. These exercises had two purposes: training and readiness, and sending a message to neighboring states, particularly Iraq.

The annual week-long Eqtedar-80 exercises in Kermanshah, Ilam, and Khuzestan Provinces began on 26 May. Army ground forces commander Brigadier General Nasser Mohammadi-Far told state television that the main aims of the exercises are deterrence and improvement of the military's ability to react rapidly. Mohammadi-Far emphasized deterrence, saying: "we are carefully observing what is happening around us. We know exactly what is happening. It can never be hidden from us." He went on to tell neighboring states that "the army of Islam is at the service of Islam and the Koran. The ground forces of the army of the Islamic Republic of Iran will always support Islam, the Koran, the guardianship [of the Supreme Jurisconsult] and regional unity. God willing, they will see that for themselves and become happy."

Commandos from the 45th Brigade and tanks from the 84th Armored Division and 92nd Armored Division, with air support from fighters and bombers conducted mock attacks during the exercises' third phase. They also practiced defensive tactics under chemical attack conditions. The final stage of Eqtedar-80 involved assets from the Army Aviation Corps (Havaniruz) that were used to transport personnel and equipment. Afterwards, Lieutenant Colonel Davud Khoshraqam said that the aims of this last stage were to work on readiness to respond to threats to national security, demonstrate readiness to respond to national emergencies, assist other countries in their self-defense, and test equipment.

Ground forces in Fars Province held a one-day exercise, IRNA reported on 29 May. Brigadier General Manucher Karbasizadeh said that the exercise would be called Bayt-ul Muqadass 13 and marks the 1982 liberation of Khorramshahr from Iraqi occupation.

The Salman-3 naval exercises took place near Bushehr in the northern part of the Persian Gulf. These exercises involved the regular navy and air force, and in one phase they practiced the seizure of enemy ships. Another phase of the exercises involved the use of pilotless reconnaissance drones and the use of helicopters to move personnel from the shore to ships at sea.

It is natural that armed forces conduct frequent exercises to improve their readiness and test new equipment. The use of such exercises to send messages to other countries, in the form of "gunboat diplomacy," also is well-established. The orientation of these exercises -- the western side of the country -- suggests that Iraq was the main intended recipient of the message. "Both in an out of Iran's security establishment, Iraq is viewed as the greatest threat to Iran's security," Daniel Byman, Shahram Chubin, Anushiravan Ehteshami, and Jerrold Green write in a recent RAND report on "Iran's Security Policy in the Post-Revolutionary Era."

The regular Iranian military focuses on Iraq's conventional threat, while the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps focuses more on countering the Iraq-based Mujahedin Khalq Organization and supporting anti-Baghdad Shia groups. Iran's defense establishment has a great deal of influence over Tehran's Iraq policy, furthermore, because it depends on intelligence and covert operations conducted by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the IRGC, and the army, as well as information from the Shia opposition. (Bill Samii)

NO WAR, NO PEACE. Twenty years after the Iraqi invasion of Iran, and twelve years since a cease-fire ended the 1980-1988 conflict, Iranian troops still are being killed and maimed by Baghdad's actions. So far, Iraqi mines and unexploded ordinance have maimed 478 members of the ground forces' Corps of Engineers and killed another 108 members of the Corps of Engineers, according to a report from the army ground forces Ideological-Political Office which appeared in the 20 April edition of "Saff."

The frontier area between Iran and Iraq is one of the most heavily mine-infested in the world. About 3 million antipersonnel mines, 700,000 antitank mines, and 4 million unexploded artillery shells have been neutralized until now.

Immediately after the war, the army began efforts to bring civilians back to their homes. Army engineers are active in Ilam, Kermanshah, and Khuzestan Provinces, and they have cleared Dehloran, Musian, Qasr-i Shirin, Sar-i Pol-i Zahab, and parts of Sumar. In Kurdistan Province, de-mining units have cleared 765 mine-infested areas, IRNA reported on 28 April. Much more land, however, remains to be cleared, and the process is very dangerous. Six Iranian soldiers were killed during de-mining operations in Ilam Province on 1 May, according to state television.

A number of factors make this a difficult process. First of all, the Iraqis have not provided maps of the minefields. The mines, furthermore, have shifted from their original locations due to land slides, erosion, and rain. Secondly, some militarily important areas cannot be cleared of mines because Iraq has not accepted all the cease-fire conditions. Finally, there are territorial disputes remaining from the 1975 Algiers Accords, according to Brigadier General Abbas Nabizadeh, the ground forces deputy commander for operations. (Bill Samii)

TRAINING AS IMPORTANT AS EQUIPMENT FOR INDEPENDENCE. The experience of the war with Iraq, when Western arms suppliers refused to sell their products to Iran, taught Tehran the importance of self-sufficiency, according to a RAND report on "Iran's Security Policy in the Post-Revolutionary Era" by Daniel Byman, Shahram Chubin, Anushiravan Ehteshami, and Jerrold Green. This has resulted in a drive for material self-sufficiency, as well as an emphasis on the importance of proper training both for actual combat and for the maintenance of equipment.

"America has imposed a very thorough embargo on us," Brigadier General Majid Aqiqi-Ravan, commander of the Army Aviation Corps (Havaniruz), said in the 21 April issue of "Saff." He went on to say: "The American embargo is so strict that third countries are forced to ignore even letters we write to them asking about spare parts. Therefore, we have to rely on our own resources to provide spare parts for our helicopters." To that end, the Army Aviation Corps strives for self-sufficiency in a number of areas.

Ya Ali Industries, which is attached to the Army Aviation Corps, is responsible for maintenance and manufacturing of spare parts, and it also reconditions old equipment. Its ultimate objective is manufacturing helicopters in Iran. Moreover, Vatanpur Training Center trains pilots and technical staff.

Other military officials concur that training is as important as the actual hardware. Army ground forces commander Brigadier General Nasser Mohammadi-Far told the 21 March "Saff" that training goes hand in hand with maintenance of equipment and faith. Mohammadi-Far noted that all armies must balance economics with combat readiness, especially when military equipment is so expensive and there is constant competition for scarce resources. The equipment's usability must be extended for as long as possible through good maintenance by highly trained personnel.

Some of aspects of the drive for self-sufficiency have been described by Iranian media in recent weeks. A successful test of the Fateh-110 solid fuel surface-to-surface missile was reported on 31 May. It is designed and built by the air and space unit of the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, according to Iranian state television. No information about its range or payload capability was available. IRNA added that U.S. and Israeli concern about Iran's locally developed arms stems from efforts to divert attention from Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile and U.S. efforts to sell weapons to regional countries.

A simulator for training F-27 pilots was introduced on 26 May, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported the next day. The unit was designed and manufactured by the air force's Self-Sufficiency Jihad at one-fiftieth of the world market price, which ranges from $3-30 million. Project chief Colonel Mohammad Bavafa explained that the simulator can be used for training pilots on emergency situations that cannot be recreated in normal flying conditions. The air force plans to build an F-14 simulator by March 2002.

The military configuration of the Dutch-built Fokker F-27 mainly is used as a paratroop transport, and it also has been used for cargo, maritime patrol, and target towing. The aircraft can carry two pilots and 45 paratroopers.

State television announced the development of wireless scramblers for secure communications via high frequency, ultra high frequency, and very high frequency bands on 17 May. Designed and manufactured by the ground forces' Communications and Electronic Research Center, these units will save Iran millions of dollars in foreign exchange, according to center manager Colonel Asgari.

The drive for material self-sufficiency has not ruled out efforts to acquire military or dual-use equipment from countries like Russia, China, or North Korea, or even the United States. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari announced that Tehran will purchase more MI-8 HIP helicopters from the Russian Republic of Buryat, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June and IRNA reported the next day, having spent more than $28 million for helicopters and after-sales service in the first quarter of 2001. The MI-8 is a transport helicopter but it also can provide close air support with its rockets and guns. Safari visited the Ulan-Ude Aircraft Factory with Buryat President Leonid and was shown combat aircraft equipment manufactured there, including SU-29 attack aircraft.

On 12 June Said Homayouni, an Iranian-born Canadian, and Yew Leng Fung, a Malaysian, pleaded guilty in U.S. district court to conspiring to ship restricted parts for military aircraft to Iran. Prosecutors claimed that Homayouni purchased parts for the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 Tiger, and the F-14 Tomcat for export, and some of the shipments actually reached Iran, according to AP. Homayouni and Fung are shareholders in Multicore Limited, which is run by Soroosh Homayouni from London. Multicore has been investigated seven times by the U.S. Customs Service for illegally exporting military equipment to Iran. In late December, a federal grand jury indicted Soroosh Homayouni for conspiracy to violate export laws, and in 1988 Homayouni was convicted for trying to export radar equipment and received a 21-month sentence.

In another case, a British Columbia Supreme Court refused to authorize the extradition to the U.S. of two Iranian-born Canadians for allegedly conspiring to sell banned military goods to an agent of the Iranian government. The two Canadians and an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent discussed Klystron tubes, which are used in missile guidance systems, and they also discussed the purchase of aircraft for export to Iran. Compensation would be with money that could not be traced back to Iran or with heroin and opium. American prosecutors alleged that these discussions constituted a conspiracy to violate the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, the "National Post" reported on 1 June. (Bill Samii)