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Iran Report: October 9, 2000


9 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 38

CANDIDATES AND QUITTERS. Since Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's announcement in late July that he would stand as a candidate in the next presidential election, several would-be competitors have been named. Most of these reports can be dismissed, either because they are just rumors or because the named individuals are not seriously competitive. The bigger questions concern Khatami's current popularity and his viability as a candidate.

Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who now serves as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's foreign affairs adviser, was mentioned by some in Iran as a possible conservative candidate in July. He was visiting Syria and Lebanon at the time, and it was said that this was part of his campaign. The Society of Tomorrow's Iran named Farah Khosravi as its candidate in late-September. Described as a conservative bureaucrat, she would be the first female presidential candidate, if the Guardians Council actually permits her to run. The Society of Tomorrow's Iran also endorsed the candidacy of Mohammad Javad Mohammadi-Nuri, who was mentioned earlier by the Society for the Islamic Revolution's Youth. Former Tehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi's name has cropped up as well. And some observers in Iran suspect that former President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is eyeing the presidency again.

These names probably are little more than a sideshow. The potential candidate who is mentioned most frequently and most seriously is Khatami's minister of Islamic culture and guidance, Ataollah Mohajerani. Superficially, it would seem that his chances are poor, with the frequent rumors about his plans to resign and the even more frequent complaints about him by conservatives, who have tried to get parliamentary votes of no-confidence for him.

Yet Mohajerani has the respect of pro-reform Iranians. He refused to back down when the parliament tried to interpellate him. He has stood by the media, and his ministry kept licensing new reformist publications to replace ones that had been closed by the conservative courts. Mohajerani spoke when Khatami was silent. It is even said that Mohajerani plans to resign because of the president's failure to take a stand against the hardliners and in support of the reformists. An unidentified government official told Reuters that Khatami had refused to accept Mohajerani's 50-page letter of resignation until he toned it down.

Meanwhile, Khatami's popularity seems to have taken some hits. This was indicated by the parliament's 3 October refusal to endorse his candidate for minister of post, telegraph, and telephone, Nasrollah Jahangard. Qasem Sholeh-Sadi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that this showed that the reformists in parliament are losing ground. "Iran News," on the other hand, said that this showed that parliamentarians are willing to ignore factional motives in the interest of selecting the most competent officials. But it also showed that the newly-elected parliament is not as united as some would like to believe.

Khatami is the standard against which other candidates will be measured, although Hojatoleslam Ali Abtahi, head of the presidential office, told the 4 October "Iran" that "it is still to soon to talk about the president's decision concerning the 2001 election." Meanwhile, "Abrar" reported on 1 October that the right wing will either support Khatami's candidacy or not introduce a candidate at all. An editorial in the 26 August "Iran" also had suggested that the right-wing might support Khatami's candidacy. It would do this either to avoid taking a stand that ran counter to popular sentiment, or it would do so in exchange for positions in the cabinet or the administration. The public would not be fooled, the official daily warned. Nobody can forget the hardliners' propaganda against Khatami during the last presidential campaign, and they will see through right-wing opportunism this time.

As for Mohajerani, the Executives of Construction Party (ECP) with which he is identified continues to avow its support for Khatami and the reform movement. But the rancor with which the reformist parties, especially the Islamic Iran Participation Party, attacked ECP candidate Hashemi-Rafsanjani during the parliamentary campaign will not be forgotten anytime soon. (Bill Samii)

SENTENCES FOR VIDEO CONFESSIONS. Shirin Ebadi and Hojatoleslam Mohsen Rahami, reform-oriented attorneys who have worked on several high-profile cases in the last two years, were barred from practicing law for five years after being found guilty of defamation and disseminating false information. They also received suspended prison sentences. Co-defendant Amir Farshad Ebrahimi received a two-year prison sentence, while five others implicated in the case reportedly received suspended sentences of less than one year. The sentences were announced on 28 September, after a closed trial that Human Rights Watch said was not fair in accordance with either Iranian or international law.

Arrested on 27 June, Ebadi and Rahami were accused of encouraging Ebrahimi, a former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Ansar-i Hizbullah member, to make false confessions which they videotaped. The videotape subsequently found wide circulation throughout Iran. In these confessions, Ebrahimi made a number of allegations about people who are in some way involved with Iran's "Power Mafia," such as Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Ebrahimi described his participation in seminars in which the serial killings of dissidents were encouraged by hardline clerics like Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. At such events, the people who were later murdered were referred to as "apostates," and it was said that they are "mobah" (their blood can be spilled with impunity) because they had left their religion.

Ebrahimi said that the Hizbullah was created in the early-1990s through the encouragement of then-President Hashemi-Rafsanjani and the active support of the Executives of Construction Party. Under the leadership of Habibollah Asgarowladi and Hussein Allahkaram, Hizbullah members sought guidance from clerics like Mesbah-Yazdi, Jannati, and Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani. These individuals tended to avoid giving direct instructions. Rather, they would make allusions to or suggestions about specific courses of action.

Specificity was evident, however, in an event involving parliamentarian Faezeh Hashemi. Ebrahimi said that she wanted the Hizbullah to discredit her by publishing photos of her boating and skating at Kish Island with the headline "Everyday is Ashura." She believed that being insulted by an extremist group like Hizbullah would enhance her popularity. ECP's Gholamhussein Karbaschi encouraged the Hizbullah to disrupt his rallies for the same reason.

Ebrahimi also claimed that he was encouraged and directed by Ministry of Intelligence and Security official Said Emami (who would later "kill himself" while in custody for his role in the 1998 serial murders). Emami encouraged Ebrahimi and the Hizbullah to act against Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami during his presidential campaign.

Hizbullah was encouraged to attack the offices of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, and it also was involved with two attempts on the life of Interior Minister Abdullah Nuri. In all these cases, members of one city's Hizbullah would be brought to another city to carry out the attacks, so they would not be recognized, according to Ebrahimi. Ebrahimi also described Hizbullah participation in the July 1999 attack on Tehran University by non-uniformed hardline elements acting cooperatively with the police.

Needless to say, Ebrahimi's confessions caused some consternation among Iran's political elite. "Resalat" on 8 June denounced the confession as a fabrication promoted by England, an Arabic-language London daily, and a London-based Iranian journalist. It added that this was the "latest project of the Mafia-like and terrifying gang of tapemakers." And Hussein Marashi of the ECP said the party would soon file a complaint. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said that Ebrahimi's confessions about action he committed while with the IRGC illustrate the problem of "pressure groups" that exist within the security apparatus, "Iran" reported on 27 August.

Several members of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, such as Mohammad Reza Khatami and Mohsen Mirdamadi, were questioned during the investigation. During the trial, which started on 15 July, Judge Mahmud Alipurian said that if the case of the video confessions was put together with those of journalists Emadedin Baqi and Akbar Ganji, many questions would be answered, IRNA reported on 31 August. A parliamentary group is conducting a separate investigation into the veracity of Ebrahimi's video confessions, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 27 September, and the investigation is expected to take one month. (Bill Samii)

KHORRAMABAD: ONE MORE REPORT COMING. So far, 150 people have been arrested in connection with the late-August clashes in Khorramabad between a reformist student group, hardline vigilantes, and security forces, the Luristan Province Law Enforcement Forces chief said at the beginning of October. But questions, accusations, and counter-accusations persist, although two investigatory bodies have released their findings already. The most recent report -- by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) -- has been criticized by hardliners, the earlier state inspectorate's report was criticized by reformists and the SNSC, and a parliamentary report is due in mid-October. And all the contradictory findings by official bodies are undermining public confidence and increasing the masses' cynicism.

The state inspectorate (National Control and Inspection Organization) findings, which were released in mid-September, immediately came under fire from reformist observers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 September 2000). Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, under whom the inspectorate operates, rejected the complaints and said the report was "valid and well-documented," IRNA reported on 17 September. The next day, he demanded the punishment of those involved in the riots and who destroyed property.

The SNSC rejected the inspectorate's investigation and its mid-September report. The SNSC presented its own findings on 27 September, following an investigation by officials from the Interior Ministry, the Intelligence and Security Ministry, the Law Enforcement Forces, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and the Basij Mobilization Forces.

According to IRNA, the report said that the gathering of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU, or Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, the largest pro-Khatami student organization) was licensed but that the place and time were "inappropriate." The report condemned the provincial security council for its failure to plan for contingencies, security officials were condemned for poor crisis management, and the report recommended that IRGC and Basij personnel who got involved in the unrest should face legal action. Speakers at the student gathering were condemned for a "lack of due consideration of the religious and Islamic beliefs of the Iranian nation." State broadcasting also reported on the SNSC's findings, which said that Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh's reference to hardline protesters at Khorramabad airport as "fascists" was conveyed to the protesters themselves by provocateurs. There also were references to a "third current" which provoked some of the unrest.

The SNSC report was criticized by the Supreme Leader's representative to the Basij, Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, in a letter that was reprinted in the 2 October "Jomhuri-yi Islami." He denied some of the allegations about the Basij and the IRGC and asked "what could possibly be the purpose of that report other than tarnishing the image of the [IRGC] and the Basij?" The letter went on to suggest that "certain [unnamed] individuals" are trying to undermine confidence in "revolutionary institutions." IRGC and Basij representatives to the SNSC's investigatory committee pointed out inconsistencies between the committee's findings and the report's final conclusions. In a letter to the Interior Minister that was reproduced in the 3 October "Entekhab," second brigadier-generals Qasem Qajavand and Ahmad Ruzbani said the content and phraseology of the report was changed 34 times, so they "object[ed] to the contents of the published document."

Habibollah Asgarowladi-Mosalman of the hardline Islamic Coalition Association added, in the 4 October "Resalat," that the OSU and the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party must answer for what happened in Khorramabad. Shiraz parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad told the 1 October "Iran" that after seeing both earlier reports it was clear that some subjects had been avoided by the investigators. The inspectorate's report was hastily prepared he added, and state broadcasting's coverage of the SNSC report was "totally different from the actual text."

A parliamentary report on Khorramabad is due in mid-October. Khorramabad reporter Abbas Darvand told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the parliamentary investigation found that local Friday prayer leader Hojatoleslam Seyyed Kazem Husseini-Mianji, aided by local broadcast media, stirred up trouble. But as Shushtar representative Mohammad Ali Sheikh told "Iran," "there is no single point of reference which enjoys public acceptability." (Bill Samii)

DELAYS IN MINISTRIES' MERGER. The possible merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Construction Jihad, a move which the government approved in mid-August and which has the support of Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari, remains undecided although the deadline for a parliamentary decision is fast approaching.

By 26 September, with only 12 days before the deadline, secondary committees had not completed their debates on which committee would make the final decision, according to "Aftab-i Yazd." Parliamentarians, meanwhile, were still consulting with academic specialists on the prerequisites and potential impact of a merger.

University professor Ali Rashidi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that, when the merger was initially proposed, lumping ministries together for appearances' sake would be pointless. If a merger resulted in greater efficiency and more effective management, however, it would be welcome. Indeed, greater efficiency, through elimination of duplication, reduction of bureaucracy, and the resulting improved use of resources, is one of the reasons for a merger. Miandoab parliamentarian Jahanbakhsh Mohebbnia, however, told the 11 September "Jam-i Jam" that the bureaucratic problems are so great that a hasty combination of ministries would not solve them.

Sepehr Nikgohar, writing in the conservative "Entekhab" on 22 August, agreed that a merger is a good idea if the greater centralization results in "consensus and cohesion in planning and decision-making." But according to Nikgohar, the real problem is "a lack of macro-planning and providential policies." He added that the lack of policies in one area is worsened by the lack of policies in other areas: the "hard currency and [the] monetary sector," export-import sector, subsidies, industry, agriculture, or employment.

Mohebbnia said that the Agriculture Ministry has 90,000 employees and the Construction Jihad employs 130,000 people. Not only are the missions of each organization different, the employees' mentalities are different, too. This would lead to conflicts, he warned, and probably insufficient attention to the rural and less-developed areas. Representatives of the respective ministries, furthermore, are making public statements that give a "brilliant picture of the ministry they side with while attempting to weaken the position of the opposing ministry," "Iran Daily" reported on 1 October. Time is also a factor in determining how desirable a merger would be. One group of parliamentarians encouraged postponing a decision until after Iran's presidential election. Lahijan parliamentarian Abuzar Nadimi asked, according to "Jam-i Jam," "what can we accomplish in a period of a few months?"

There also are recommendations that the Petroleum and Energy Ministries should merge, as should the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Mines and Metals. The Management and Planning Organization (MPO) was created in June through a merger of the Plan and Budget Organization and the Employment and Administrative Affairs Organization. (Bill Samii)

SHARIATI REBURIAL AND OTHER IRANIAN FALLACIES. The Iranian government is thinking of bringing the remains of Iranian intellectual Ali Shariati from their current burial place in Syria to Iran, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported recently. If this is true, it reflects the regime's attempt to cash in on Shariati's appeal to Iran's Islamic nationalists, just as the previous regime tried to cash in on Shariati's appeal both before and after his death.

During the 1960s, Ali Shariati was a critic of the monarchy, but he also attacked the conservative clergy. The clerics began to criticize Shariati and individuals like Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani stopped going to his popular lectures at the Husseinieh Irshad in Tehran. Accusations that Shariati was a regime agent surfaced. At the same time, the regime pressured Shariati to tone down his lectures and lessen his concentration on Shia ideology. Still, Shariati's popularity stayed high. In October and November 1972, however, Shariati went too far, giving a lecture advocating Shia Islam as a political way of life, and the Husseinieh gave a play about a Shia social movement that had gained power in Khorasan. The authorities closed the Husseinieh, and Shariati hid until his father was arrested and offered for exchange.

Shariati was held until March 1976, but newspapers sometimes reprinted his writings and published articles praising him, making it appear as if he had cooperated with the government. Learning this on his release and finding that his options in Iran had disappeared, Shariati moved to England, where he died of a heart attack in June 1977. His supporters said a hit squad from SAVAK, Iran's Intelligence and Security Organization, had done the deed. Then, either to gain from his popularity or to cause further splits within the opposition, "Kayhan" published an article honoring Shariati. The Iranian government also tried to arrange his burial in Iran, but his family refused and he was buried instead at Zeinabiyeh, the tomb of Imam Hussein's sister.

Shariati's best-known works are "Marxism and Other Western Fallacies: An Islamic Critique," "On The Sociology of Islam," and "Man and Islam." Shariati's son, Ehsan, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that nobody in the Iranian government has informed him about the reinterment. (Bill Samii)

IRAN CONDEMNS VIOLENCE IN ISRAEL. Violent clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have resulted in about 100 deaths, have been commented on extensively by Iran's political and religious leaders, and their condemnation of the Israeli role in these events is not unexpected. What causes concern is the possibility that Tehran may somehow play a role in further violence in the region. Tehran has done little to dispel such fears, and its hosting of a top HAMAS official during the time of the clashes only adds to such worries.

The violence erupted on 28 September, after Israeli police fired rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse stone-throwing Palestinians at a Jerusalem holy site (Temple Mount, or al-Haram al-Sharif) during a visit by opposition leader Ariel Sharon. Unrest then spread to other areas. The reaction in Iran was very critical of the Israelis, according to reports by state broadcasting and the state news agency. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that "the Islamic nation is furious and disgusted with the Zionists," and he vowed support for the Intifada. After condemning "the Zionist regime" (Israel) and the American government for supporting it, he pointed out that "they are disintegrating and rotting from within."

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and his cabinet, speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi, and Permanent Representative to the UN Hadi Nejad Husseinian all condemned the events in separate statements. So did a statement from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Some 190 parliamentarians issued a statement that was cited by IRNA on 4 October: "The sacred territory of the divine prophets is now under the occupation of the most savage, racist regime of the world. ...The savagery of the Zionist soldiers in opening fire at the youth is not new. Repetition of such crimes at the present period indicated that it is futile to think that the Zionist enemy will honor the fundamental rights of the Palestinians."

The conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran) also condemned the clashes and said it was "a lesson to all domestic governments seeking rapprochement with the United States." Condemnation also came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference parliamentary union, the Qom Theological Center, the Jewish Community of Tehran, and the Jewish parliamentary representative. The Islamic Publicity Coordination Council also condemned the "savage killing of the people of Palestine by Zionist soldiers" and organized an "anti-Zionist demonstration" in Tehran on 5 October.

Addressing the rally, Karrubi said that "the creation of the Zionist regime in the heart of Islam was a conspiracy [by the West] to dominate Islamic countries and to plunder the riches and wealth of Muslims." He added: "Hitler's massacre of innocent Jews in Germany was a conspiracy of the Zionists. The first premier and the founder of the regime which occupied Palestine was himself involved. He handed over 4,000 Jews to Hitler to realize a plan." The speeches ended amid chants of "Death to Arafat," per a live broadcast on state television. There also were chants of "Death to Israel" and "Death to America." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN VOWS SUPPORT FOR HAMAS AND NEW INTIFADA. "The honor of the rifle requires that it be aimed at the chests of the enemy in defense of the blood of their Palestinian kinfolk and people," HAMAS political bureau head Khaled Mashaal declared during a visit to Tehran. Mashaal arrived in Tehran on 30 September, two days after the clashes started, and he said that he was in town to "consult and confer" with Iranian officials. His aggressive attitude was encouraged by the Iranian officials with whom he met. As their statements show, Tehran is not interested in facilitating peace.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a 1 October meeting with Mashaal and other HAMAS officials that "these events represent the continuation of the Intifada and the struggle." He added that the only solution to the Palestinian issue was to continue fighting and struggling. Khamenei told the HAMAS officials, according to state radio, "you can assure them ['your brothers and sisters in Palestine'] that the government of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] and the Iranian nation will always defend and support them. They will continue to assist the Palestinian nation in every possible way."

"Iran wants to see the liberation of all of the land of Palestine from Zionist occupation," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Mohammad Sadr told Mashaal on 30 September. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps expressed, according to a 2 October radio report, "its full support for the new Intifada of the Palestinian people." President Mohammad Khatami and members of parliament also met with Mashaal.

The clashes came at a sensitive time for the Middle East peace process, Faisal Husseini, the senior Palestinian official responsible for Jerusalem affairs, told RFE/RL's Persian service. "To say the least, it will make things more complicated. The peace process was already in a difficult stage and what happened now will make it even more difficult and create the danger that the peace process will stop altogether." The violence may further radicalize frustrated Palestinians, who could turn to organizations such as HAMAS.

Mashaal gave several provocative interviews to Iranian state media, to Qatar's Al-Jazeera television, and to London's Arabic-language "Al-Hayah" daily. He encouraged Palestinian police to shoot at Israelis, saying, "The Palestinian police now have the opportunity to rectify the situation and direct fire toward the enemies, because this is the real battle, and this is the honor of the rifle." Mashaal urged the Palestinian Authority to release imprisoned HAMAS members, and he called for demonstrations in Arab and Islamic capitals. Mashaal emphasized that the Jerusalem issue can only be resolved "through the defeat of Israel and by forcing that regime to leave the region."

When asked about possible cooperation between HAMAS and Hizballah, Mashaal said that Jerusalem is a Muslim and an Arab responsibility, so "this issue appeals to all Muslims and all Palestinian forces and appeals to Hizballah and Arab and Islamic forces at the official and public levels," according to "Al-Hayah." Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Sadr refused to rule out cooperation between HAMAS, Hizballah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in an interview with "Al-Hayah," although he would not reveal the nature of any teamwork.

The nature of that teamwork may have been shown when Hizballah captured three Israeli soldiers in an ambush along the Lebanese-Israeli border on 7 October. Later that day, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told al-Jazeera television that Israel would have to release all Lebanese prisoners it holds to obtain the return of the captured soldiers. A few days earlier, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said during a rally that was broadcast via satellite: "You have to develop the Intifada into an armed resistance." He encouraged his audience to "move from the stone-throwing Intifada to the phase of real Jihad operations," AFP reported on 4 October.

Reports of Hizballah, HAMAS, and PIJ cooperation on this front have existed for several months. Indeed, Abu Mohammad Mustafa, the HAMAS representative in Tehran, called for greater cooperation between HAMAS, the PIJ, and the Palestinian Authority in an 18 September interview with Tehran's "Jomhuri-yi Islami." Mustafa rejected, however, recent allegations that Hizballah's Imad Mughniyah was coordinating the three organizations' activities, according to the 13 September "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." There also were reports, in January, that the Mughniyah was in touch with Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

Those earlier reports indicated the concerns of unidentified "Western intelligence experts" that Mughniyah and Bin Laden would work together to aid the Chechens against the Russian armed forces. But now Bin Laden is cooperating with HAMAS, according to a 5 September report in the "Chicago Tribune." Palestinian officials have dismissed such claims as Israeli fabrications intended for an American audience, but Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service said that "there appear to be linkages that didn't exist before." He suggested that young Palestinians are reaching out. HAMAS leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin denied that HAMAS wants to have ties with Bin Laden. It does not seem likely that Iran would want a relationship with Bin Laden either, although it may be willing to let its client maintain one. (Bill Samii)

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