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Iran Report: January 4, 1999

4 January 1999, Volume 2, Number 1

IRAN HIT BY WORK STOPPAGES. In the last week of December, about 2000 employees of Karaj's Jahan Cheet factory struck because they had not received their wages, "Aria" and "Zan" reported on 28 December. Local authorities ordered the arrest of the factory's leadership council. And after five months of working without pay, workers at the Aramesh Company went on strike, report "Kar va Kargar" and "Resalat" (28 December 1998). Employees of Rasht's Porsan factory also demonstrated for several hours over non-payment of wages, reports "Kayhan" (28 December 1998). This is the second time this year they have done so. In November, 2,500 workers in a Qaem Shahr textile mill went on strike for the same reason. Even those who do get paid do not receive what they are owed. At the Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company the 7500 workers receive just half of their wages, reported "The New York Times" on 13 December.

WOMEN WILL WIN IN FEBRUARY. Ms. Borujerdi, deputy interior minister for women's affairs, stated that 25 percent of the municipal council seats must go to women, "Aria" reported on 28 December. So far, said Borujerdi, women have registered as candidates in 230 towns. Two days earlier, the establishment and licensing of the Islamic Assembly of Women was announced, according to an Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. The group's secretary-general, parliamentarian Fatemeh Karrubi, called on "women thinkers" to join. The organization believes "there is a need for the formation of women-only groups to encourage women to undertake a greater role in social and political activities." The statement added that "in some areas women even have surpassed men."

This positive note was echoed by Mahnaz Afkhami of the Sisterhood is Global Institute in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service on 24 December. "Iranian women -� from all classes and walks of life -� are accomplishing wonderful and courageous things." She went on to say that an interesting debate has emerged due to a "clash between backward laws and a civilized and modern society." According to Afkhami, women are at the forefront of reconsidering the fundamentalism Iran experienced at a national level.

ULTRA-CONSERVATIVES THREATEN AND ARE THREATENED. Quoted in the party newspaper "Shoma" on 26 December, the Islamic Coalition Association's secretary-general, Habibollah Asghar-Owladi Mosalman, claimed to have "a list of 15 people targeted by American agents for assassination" on 19 January. Among the alleged targets -- other than himself -- are Ayatollah Mahdavi-Kani and Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nouri. The Association was formed in the 1960s as a coalition of grass-roots Islamic clubs and as a joint venture of conservative bazaaris and clerics. It later absorbed the anti-Bahai Hojattiyeh Society, of which Mahdavi-Kani was a member.

Asghar-Owladi also believes that under the Khatami administration 16,000 government managers who believe completely in "leadership of the supreme jurisprudent" have been fired. "Aban" on 29 December quoted him as saying that this made the system inefficient and "crippled" the economy.

On the other hand, Massoud Dehnamaki, editor of "Shalamcheh," the Ansar-i Hizbullah biweekly, threatened, in an interview with the "Iran Daily" on 30 December, that his group supports the principle of "leadership of the supreme jurisprudent" and it will confront anybody who stands in its way. The pro-Khatami Executives of Construction and Students Following the Imam's Line, he continued, have studied psychological warfare, launched newspapers, and combined this with their management experience to "tarnish the atmosphere and abuse the younger generation." He said Ansar-i Hizbullah members are "victims of a political plot."

IRANIAN NEWSPAPERS USE RFE/RL AS A SOURCE. The initial broadcasts of RFE/RL's Persian Service encountered hostile commentary from the Iranian press, but now Iranian newspapers are reporting stories originally broadcast by RFE/RL. Often this is done without attribution to RFE/RL, other times "Radio Azadi" (Radio Liberty) is cited.

On 26 December RFE/RL's Persian Service broadcast a report about RAND Corporation analyst Graham Fuller's recent article in the journal "Middle East Policy." Two days later, "Kar va Kargar," which is associated with the government's "Workers House," published a few paragraphs about Fuller's piece. On 29 December, "Khordad," a new pro-Khatami publication started by former Interior Minister Abdullah Nouri, referred to an earlier RFE/RL interview with publisher Mansour Koushan.

L�AFFAIRE KARBASCHI: THE ARREST AND TRIAL... In the third week of December a verdict on the summer trial of Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi was announced. Or was it? After Karbaschi appealed, the sentence passed in July of 5 years imprisonment, 60 lashes, a $330,000 fine, and a 20-year ban from public office was reduced to two years imprisonment, $3000 instead of the flogging, and a 10-year ban from public office. The other fine remained unchanged. But on 28 December, the Public Relations Department of the Office of the State Prosecutor General announced that Karbaschi's sentence was suspended pending review of the case.

The Karbaschi affair demonstrated how Iran's conservatives are fighting against threats to their power by manipulating state institutions they control, such as the judiciary. But the trial also revealed more subtle factors: corruption and influence-peddling and the fluidity of political alliances. Finally, the trial had an impact on the pending municipal elections.

When Karbaschi was arrested in April 1998, he was charged with misappropriating funds (currency and gold); receiving bribes; abuse of and illegitimate claims on public property; and illegitimate property transfers. It seemed more likely that he was being punished by the conservative-led judiciary for his leadership role in the Executives of Construction Party, which in 1997 actively backed moderate presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami against his conservative opponent, Parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.

Tehran's 10 million residents had different opinions about Karbaschi. His imposition of traffic restrictions and creation of green spaces in the densely populated and heavily polluted city won wide acclaim. Karbaschi was behind construction of roads and overpasses, housing, cultural centers, and supermarkets. The mayor imposed heavy taxes on the conservative bazaar merchants to fund such projects, however, and this only earned their hostility. But Karbaschi�s supporters, the same young people who helped elect Khatami, demonstrated against his arrest until he was released.

After the sentence was passed, Khatami said he hoped that after the mayor's appeal, "the government will be able to make use of the services of that hard-working and outstanding manager." The government's refusal to select a successor to Karbaschi until after the appeal was interpreted as a sign of its support for him.

On 28 October, "Resalat" newspaper, which is linked to conservative bazaari elements, criticized the failure to appoint a new mayor, saying it harmed the municipal government. The same day "Keyhan," a hard-line daily under the direct supervision of the Leader's Office, published a "Special Report" that Karbaschi had no position in the Tehran municipality. The conservative "Quds" newspaper on 10 December criticized Interior Minister Musavi-Lari for not appointing a new mayor, saying it indicated his "strong support ... for a convicted person."

...WHAT THE TRIAL REVEALED... Karbaschi was tried, but it was the judiciary that looked bad. When the charges against the mayor were read, he dismissed them as "baseless nonsense." Karbaschi questioned the court's competence and the investigation's validity. Investigators were accused of torturing Karbaschi and of trying to implicate him in an improper sexual relationship with a female municipal staff member. The mayor and the judge argued openly.

After the trial, an August letter from Executive of Construction member and Central Bank Governor Mohsen Nourbakhsh to Khatami stated that $11.7 million was transferred in 1995 from the judiciary to the personal account of Tehran's judiciary chief. According to the 28 December "Khordad," Hamid Reza Jalalipour, editor of the banned newspaper "Jameh," said that if Karbaschi is considered an embezzler for his actions, then all of Iran's other officials are embezzlers, too.

In August, the "Kar va Kargar" newspaper reported that Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with Judiciary chief Mohammed Yazdi and asked that a neutral judge hear the appeal, implying that the original was biased. In September, the "Zan" newspaper, whose editor is Rafsanjani's daughter, reported that the case investigator was suspended. In fact, parliamentarians like Ali Zadsar Jirofti accused Rafsanjani not only of protecting Karbaschi, but of actually permitting his corrupt activities.

Perhaps one of the most surprising events during the post-trial period occurred in November, when Karbaschi was allowed to travel to Canada and Germany. In addition to giving several lectures, he met with Iranian political figures who had left the country for politically-expedient medical treatment. On 29 November the violent and conservative Ansar-i Hizbullah group announced that it was very concerned by Karbaschi's foreign travel.

...PARTY DEVELOPMENTS... In October, Karbaschi encouraged voter participation in the Assembly of Experts election, although very few Executives of Construction candidates were allowed to compete. Karbaschi, the party's secretary-general, said: "Differences of view over the choice of candidates should not prevent our people from participating in the elections. The main issue in this election is the strengthening of the foundation of the system and this can be achieved through the people's extensive presence." He delivered this message at press conferences and at rallies in Tehran and Qazvin. Some of his supporters saw this as a blatant attempt to curry the conservative establishment's favor to win clemency in his judicial appeal. But in an interview with "Hamshahri" on 7 December 1998, Karbaschi denied that he had "turned to the right."

But perceptions should not be dismissed. Either to avoid association with Karbaschi's besmirched reputation or to avoid being seen as supporters of the status quo, many Executives of Construction members formed a new party (RFE/RL Iran Report, Vol. 1, No. 2, 23 November 1998). The declared aim of the new Iran Islamic Participation Party is to support Khatami, perhaps implying that the Executives of Construction Party no longer does.

Executives of Construction member Morteza Alviri stated this more explicitly in an interview with "Payam-i Hajar" on 17 December. He said Rafsanjani "has a specific economic perspective," whereas Khatami is "mainly a political-cultural figure." The population's primary concern is the economy, according to recent surveys, so this sounds like an endorsement of Rafsanjani.

Hamid Reza Jalalipour, publisher of the banned newspaper "Jameh," said the Karbaschi verdict showed there is no room for real political parties in Iran. If the Executives of Construction were more supportive of conservative candidates in the Assembly of Experts election, Jalalipour said, Karbaschi's verdict might have been more lenient. Mohammad Salamati of the pro-Khatami Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization said the verdict was an act against the president by the judiciary.

Abbas Abdi, a founder of the Islamic Participation Party, said Karbaschi should serve his prison sentence to prove that he is not using political influence, according to the 27 December "Khordad." Tehran University professor Sadiq Zibakalam told "Akhbar" that Karbaschi was brave enough to serve his sentence rather than seek a pardon for crimes he did not commit.

At the end of December, the weekly "Avai Shomal" from Rasht published a cautionary tale which warned against people using influence and favoritism to avoid punishment for their crimes.

... IMPACT ON MUNICIPAL POLITICS. Some 704 new mayors will be appointed by the councils elected in February, electoral supervisor Mansour Ghanizadeh said, and they will serve four year terms unless dismissed earlier, according to "Iran" on 27 December. Registration for these elections began on 28 December. Candidates must not have a criminal record, so if Karbaschi loses his second appeal he will be ineligible. "Akhbar" hoped that a final verdict would be passed in time for Karbaschi to register for the municipal elections. When the verdict was not, a journalist quoted in "Khordad" said the timing of the verdict was intended to prevent Karbaschi from standing in the municipal election because he would have won.

An "Iran News" editorial on 28 October complained that because of the trial, the Tehran municipality had become excessively politicized. Being mayor was no longer about meeting people's needs through technocratic processes and through good management. From now on, the newspaper observed, mayors will be judged on their political skills.

But the impact of Karbaschi's trial was felt outside Tehran, too. In October, "Kayhan" reported that Ramsar, for the first time ever, advertised for a new mayor. According to later reports, nobody the city approached wanted the job because the process was overly politicized and there was concern over victimization.

"SWIM IN THE SEA OF DEATH SO THAT YOU MAY ARRIVE AT THE SHORE OF SALVATION." -- Imam Ali "Saff," a monthly journal of the Iranian armed forces, recently commemorated Navy Day by interviewing Navy chief Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj and the chief of undersea operations. Mohtaj explained that Navy Day is celebrated on 7 Azar (28 November) to commemorate Operation Morvarid (28 November 1980), an air and sea battle started by Iraq to retaliate for destruction of two oil platforms, but "which resulted in the total annihilation of the Iraqi navy." Mohtaj went on to say that much of the success Iraq enjoyed in the war was due to Western assistance it had received, and although Iran turned to the international community for mediation, nothing was done. Despite such problems, the Iranian navy kept the lines of communication open, permitting the export of oil and the import of foodstuffs.

Mohtaj went on to say that Iran's "armed forces are well-prepared and maintain their alertness (so) the enemy may well be deterred." This is done through "various naval exercises and major maneuvers, ... especially joint exercises." Training is very important, too, with an excellent facility at the Imam Khomeini University of Nowshahr and non-commissioned officer and technicians' training at Port Anzali. Old hardware is being upgraded and self-sufficiency in missile guidance systems is being achieved. Naval aviation works with the Defense Ministry's Air Industries Organization. And, although Iran is new to undersea warfare, Mohtaj said, the Defense Ministry's Defense Industries Organization is now manufacturing submarine batteries.

In fact, Iran has sought a domestic submarine capability for several years. In November 1996, the deputy chief of naval logistics, Commodore Mohammad Reza Rahmati, said Iran would launch a locally-built submarine soon. And in a May 1997 speech at the Armed Forces Naval Academy Complex in Mazandaran, then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran would build modern submarines on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea.

But batteries are an important step. The chief of undersea operations told "Saff" that although Iran began accepting delivery of the Soviet-made Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines in fall 1992, it could not really begin to use them until late-1994, when Iran achieved self-sufficiency in submarine batteries. The Iranians considered cancellation of the third submarine delivery due to the battery problems, according to "Jane's Defense Weekly" on 8 October 1994 Battery problems continued to immobilize the submarines occasionally in 1997, according to U.S. Navy officials as reported in "Jane's Defense Weekly" on 20 April 1998. According to the Iranians, Tariq 901, Yunis 902, and Nuh 903 are active in various maneuvers now.

Iran wants the submarines because "the presence of naval fleets of the superpowers in the Persian Gulf leaves a bitter taste." The unnamed interviewee went on to say that Iran's designs are not "aggressive," saying, "We aim to safeguard the region against alien powers." When asked which other regional state has an undersea warfare capability, the interviewee said Pakistan did. According to Reuters, in February 1994 Iran and Pakistan held joint exercises, practicing "joint submarine operations and sinking of vessels," in Pakistani waters. The maneuvers were codenamed "Zulfaqar" after the sword of the Prophet Mohammad's son-in-law Ali.

AGRICULTURE WEEK CELEBRATED WITH CHEAP CREDIT. Iran marked Agriculture Week 22-29 December with state officials attempting to show that Iran's agriculture sector is an important part of its indigenous and independent capabilities and that the government is deeply committed to it through investment. But news the previous week and comments by some Iranian publications shed a different light on these official claims.

At an Agriculture Week event, Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani addressed a group of farmers and said the "eye-catching growth in the agricultural sector" was due to the government's "sound supply and distribution of water, support for investment, expansion of the agricultural sector and establishment of the processing industry." Rafsanjani said several things had contributed to the "revival and promotion of the agricultural sector," including dam building; scientific irrigation methods; procurement of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and mechanized facilities; expansion of processing industries; silo and warehouse construction; and training and education of workers. He reiterated the government's emphasis on investment several times during his speech.

Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari had a different message the previous day. At a special ceremony marking the start of Agriculture Week, Kalantari said the sector had reached an impasse. Currently, annual investment in the agricultural sector does not exceed $200 million. If its full potential in the areas of production and job creation are to be realized, he said, there must be changes in investment policies. In this way, agricultural, industrial, and mineral products can replace oil revenues.

"Iran News" took Kalantari to task for his comments: "Such clear and negative remarks made by a minister are alarming." This is especially so because, according to the newspaper, "the agriculture sector appears to be one of the strongest sectors in the country." The ministry was faulted for failing to promote agricultural activities in the country, advised to "adopt policies to attract domestic and foreign investments," and criticized for its lack of long-term planning.

On 24 December, "Towseh" newspaper urged increased agricultural investment, which in turn will lead to more research and introduction of new technologies. Without these factors, the agricultural sector will not develop and jobs will not be created.

The next day, the Agriculture Bank of Iran announced its preparations to fulfill investment needs. Managing Director Jalal Rasulof said the bank would secure credit resources from the national banking system and would offer them to farmers at lower rates. Already this year the Agriculture Bank offered $36 million (at the official exchange rate, or about $16 million at the free market rate) more than it did the year before, and this exceeds the combined credits offered by the Agriculture Ministry and the Construction Jihad. Rasulof said 51 percent of farmers' requirements are met by the Agriculture Bank, 24 percent by other banks, and 25 percent by the private sector.

Cheap credit and increased government investment are too late to help Iranian farmers or consumers this year. Iran recently said it expected to import 2.5 million to 3 million tons of wheat by late-March 1999. Other countries are ready to take advantage of this demand. U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from the wheat-growing state of North Dakota, said on 15 December that Iran wants to buy $500 million worth of American grain. Dorgan and Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, hope the U.S. government will grant the appropriate export licenses because it will help both Iran and the U.S. Said Dorgan: "We may not like their leaders, but the ability to get U.S. food into these countries will be helpful to us and helpful to the people who need it."

RFE/RL's Persian Service reported from Washington on 24 December that the deal is being negotiated by Niki Trading Company and the Government Trading Corps Of Iran. The deal was first discussed in August, following initial contacts through the father of an Iranian employee at Niki. A Niki spokesman expressed concern that Iran will turn to other sources, such as Australia or Canada, if the export license is not granted.