26 July 2005, Volume 8, Number 29
OUTGOING PRESIDENT DISCUSSES HIS TENURE. As his second four-year term as chief executive comes to an end, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami held a final meeting with cabinet members and other officials on 21 July, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Khatami said his administration encountered a great deal of unfairness, but it refused to give in to calls for more radical action out of fear that violence and chaos will undermine Iran's sovereignty. Rather than changing the constitution, he said, all state institutions should be accountable for their actions. Khatami said reforms did occur, even though "Factionalism, simplemindedness, and tribalism inflicted serious losses against reforms and went so far as misinterpreting the nation's reform movement."
Khatami praised his subordinates and cited their achievements in the economic, scientific, and social spheres. Khatami urged his team to meet regularly in the future, so it can defend itself from the attacks that he predicts are forthcoming.
In what could be a message to the incoming administration of President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Khatami said, "I pray to God that our friends would not make a mistake and misinterpret the people's choice as their intention to return to extremism." (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI ADDRESSES EMPLOYMENT ISSUES. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said at a Tehran meeting of Welfare and Social Security Ministry officials that job creation and improvements in society's technical knowledge are essential for social security, IRNA reported on 17 July. Khatami stressed social justice and denounced people who criticize others to attract attention but then fail to deliver on their promises. Khatami called for more efficient subsidies, poverty eradication, and reduced dependence on oil and other natural resources. Khatami referred to improvements in income distribution -- 47 percent of the population lived under the poverty line in 1972, 40 percent in 1979, approximately 21 percent from 1989-1998, and 11 percent since 2003.
Sounding less optimistic, Deputy Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Mohsen Safai-Farahani said on 16 July that there could be more than 5 million jobless Iranians in 15 years, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Turning to subsidies, he said wealthy Iranians take five times more than those who need them. Safai-Farahani said improvements in women's employment could double family incomes. (Bill Samii)
UNPAID PROVINCIAL WORKERS MARCH ON TEHRAN. Iranian state television reported on 20 July that 250 textile workers were marching on the capital, Tehran. The workers had been on strike for 33 days and said they had not been paid in 13 months. (Bill Samii)
BOY EXECUTED FOR RAPE. Two males -- one of them under the age of 18 -- who were found guilty of raping a 13-year-old boy at knifepoint were hanged in Mashhad on 19 July, Radio Farda reported the next day. They also received 228 lashes prior to their execution. Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, which prohibits the execution of people under the age of 18. However, Iranian law allows for the execution of females older than nine years of age and males older than 15, according to Radio Farda. The practice has been protested by the European Union and human-rights organizations, and in January the UN Committee on the Rights of Child urged Iran to take steps to halt the execution of children. Shiva Dolatabadi, spokesperson for the Association for the Protection of Children's Rights, told Radio Farda that Iranian authorities had reassured her organization that no children were facing the death penalty. Prior to their execution, the two males reportedly expressed remorse and pledged not to repeat their actions. One of the two said that although he admitted his actions in court, he did not know they were illegal. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN AUTHORS WIN HUMANITARIAN AWARD. Four Iranians are among the 27 recipients of the Hellman/Hammett Award, a grant program for writers, Radio Farda reported on 20 July. Named after authors Lillian Hellman and her husband Dashiel Hammett, the prizes are awarded annually to authors who are under pressure from their governments and whose work would benefit from financial assistance. One of the winners is painter and playwright Assurbanipal Babilla, an Assyrian who fled to the U.S. in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution. He now lives in a homeless shelter and works part-time in a coffee shop. After numerous press closures, pro-reform journalist Omid Memarian began writing a weblog. He was reportedly arrested in October 2004 and tortured. Released in December 2004, he has been campaigning against government repression. Sina Motallebi is another journalist who turned to the Internet and was arrested. Now based in the Netherlands, the Iranian government arrested his father. Author Taqi Rahmani has spent a total of 16 years in prison, where he is currently incarcerated. (Bill Samii)
HUNGER-STRIKING JOURNALIST HOSPITALIZED. On 17 July, the 36th day of his hunger strike, imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji was transferred to Tehran's Milad Hospital, Radio Farda reported. Initially, physicians would not give access to journalists and Ganji's wife, Masumeh Shafii. Dr. Fatahi, the head of Milad Hospital, said on 18 July that Ganji resumed eating a special diet provided by the hospital, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He added, "Ganji's condition is by no means critical. I categorically deny his being critically ill."
Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi said on 18 July that Ganji must return to jail after his treatment concludes, Radio Farda reported. Tehran Judiciary chief Abbas Alizadeh said Ganji will not be released until he completes his sentence, Radio Farda reported, and he said the country will not be able to run its prisons if everyone who behaves this way is released.
Ganji's family visited him in the hospital late on 18 July, former Deputy Minister for Islamic Culture and Guidance Issa Saharkhiz told IRNA on 19 July. Saharkhiz, who now heads a press freedom association, said the family saw that Ganji is receiving nutrition and medicine intravenously.
Ganji's legal representative, Abdul Fattah Soltani, told Radio Farda on 19 July that the Milad Hospital is complying with prosecutor Said Mortazavi's unlawful order to deny Ganji access to his lawyer. Soltani said that so far he has no information on Ganji's health. Although lawyers have the right to see their clients upon request, Soltani said, he has not been able to see Ganji in prison. Soltani said that at this stage there is little he can do other than complain to the Tehran judicial chief, and that is unlikely to help. He criticized the competence of the judicial official and questioned such officials' merit for holding their positions. (Bill Samii)
IRAN'S DRUG PROBLEMS APPEAR TO BE WORSENING. The use of narcotics, particularly opium, has always been a problem in Iran. Tehran eventually eradicated opium crops in the country; but having Afghanistan, the world's biggest opium producer, as a neighbor means that the problem not only persists but is getting worse. Opiates are not the only issue, as Iranians' use of cannabis and synthetic drugs is increasing.
The most recent "World Drug Report" from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which was released in late June, notes that continuing increases in Afghan opium production are resulting in higher seizure rates in neighboring countries. In 2004, some 500 tons of morphine and heroin and 1,000 tons of opium were exported from Afghanistan. Of that amount, Iran's seizure rate (26 metric tons) is second only to Pakistan's (35 metric tons). In fact, according to the report, Iran is responsible for 24 percent of global opiate seizures. Iran accounted for 73 percent of global opium seizures in 2003, according to the report, and 17 percent of heroin and morphine seizures in the same year.
Tehran is trying to address the supply side of the narcotics problem by cooperating with Afghanistan. General Mohammad Davood, deputy chief of the Afghan Interior Ministry's Drug Control Headquarters, said at a 6 July news conference in Kabul that Iran has been of great assistance, IRNA reported. He said Iranian efforts have been particularly helpful for residents of Farah and Nimruz provinces. Davood made his comments after a meeting of counternarcotics officials from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali thanked Iran for its help in the war on drugs on 26 June, IRNA reported. Jalali referred to Iran's creation of border-control checkpoints.
The global community marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June, and at a ceremony in Tehran that day 64 tons of drugs were destroyed in a bonfire. Speaking at the day's event, Ali Hashemi, secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, said that proximity to the biggest opium producer is the main problem confronting Iran, IRNA reported. He predicted that it would take a full 10 years to destroy drug-production facilities there.
Speaking at the same event, Hojatoleslam Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, the state prosecutor-general, said that the country is threatened by a tidal wave of drugs that is even more dangerous than the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia six months earlier, Mehr News Agency reported. Dori-Najafabadi called on the UNODC to provide Iran with greater financial assistance.
Drug Control Headquarters chief Hashemi discussed the country's counternarcotics campaign in late May. He said that in the space of one year, nearly 300 tons of drugs were seized, "Iran" reported on 23 May. This included 11 tons of morphine, five tons of heroin, and 182 tons of opium. Nearly 200,000 people were arrested for drug-related offenses.
Hashemi went on to say that Iran is bearing the main expense for protecting Europe from drugs. He added that during a recent trip he told his European counterparts that Iran needs night-vision equipment for helicopters, electronic eavesdropping devices, X-ray equipment, and similar tools, but it has not gotten them yet.
The head of the UNODC office in Tehran, Roberto Arbitro, noted the level of violence. "You have drug groups like guerrilla forces," he said in the 16 June issue of "The Times" of London. "They shoot heavily with rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, and Kalashnikovs."
It is not unusual, therefore, that the Iranian military has played a big part in confronting traffickers. Brigadier General Hamid Gorizan, who commands the Mersad military base in the southeastern Kerman Province, discussed some of the armed forces' efforts in narcotics interdiction. He said the base was created in 1995 in order to counteract armed bands of traffickers, stop banditry, and in general terms, to restore a sense of security in the eastern part of the country, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 6 March.
Gorizan said the war on drugs exists on two levels. First, there is the erection of concrete barriers along the borders and in mountainous areas, as well as setting up 135 kilometers of barbed-wire obstacles in desert areas. He added that there are 630 kilometers of earthen barriers (berms) and 615 kilometers of canals. Furthermore, the Mersad base has been improved, and smaller bases were established in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, South Khorasan Province, and Kerman Province. "Based on these measures, I think there will be no safe point for traffickers throughout the entire east of the country," he said.
On another level, Gorizan said, the legislature and central government should provide adequate funds for the counternarcotics effort, and the budget should accurately reflect policy requirements. He added that public order and security is dependent on a comprehensive plan that provides people with better social and cultural opportunities. Gorizan said security agencies' input should be part of the policymaking process. Gorizan said the status of people living in rural provinces should be improved, and he referred to "poverty and deprivation, unemployment, and homelessness."
Health Problems The Iranian narcotics-seizure rates are impressive, but UN officials told "RFE/RL Iran Report" that this is only 10-15 percent of the amount that enters the country. They estimated, furthermore, that 40 percent of the narcotics stays in Iran while the remaining 60 percent ends up in Iraq, Turkey, the Caucasus, and eventually Europe.
For years, officials have said some 2 million Iranians are addicts or abuse drugs. But they also acknowledge that this is a baseline figure from a 1999 survey, and some officials estimate that the real number is almost 3 million.
Drug Control Headquarters chief Hashemi rejected lower police estimates on the number of drug addicts. Hashemi said that number of known addicts is 2.5 million-3.35 million, "Iran" reported on 4 July. He noted that the number of addiction-related arrests has increased from 78,000 in 1987 to 431,430 in 2004. The amount of seizures during the same period is 10 times higher. He therefore asked, "Do these figures not point to an increase in demand?" He also noted the rise in prices for opium and heroin.
The prevalence of intravenous drug use by addicts has contributed to a climbing rate of HIV/AIDS. The UNODC report estimates that some 15,000 Iranians are infected with HIV/AIDS, and 65-75 percent of them got it by sharing needles.
Iran has been fairly progressive in trying to deal with this problem, with AIDS-awareness programs, needle-exchange programs, and methadone treatment for addicts. The UNODC's Arbitro said, "I have to pay tribute to Iran on this," according to "The Washington Post" on 5 July.
Not Just Opiates Opiates are not the only drugs that Iran must confront. According to the UNODC report, 8 percent of 90 countries it surveyed said cannabis originating in Iran is a problem. After Morocco, however, Afghanistan and Pakistan were cited as the top sources. Iran seized 77 tons of resin in 2003.
Drug Control Headquarters chief Hashemi said in the 23 May "Iran" that 82 tons of hashish and nearly 16 tons of other drugs were seized in the past year.
Iranians also are abusing synthetic drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine (known as "sisheh") and ecstasy ("qorsha-yi shadi-avar"). These drugs are becoming a serious problem, according to a mid-June report by Radio Farda. Tehran Medical Sciences University's Dr. Azarkhash Makari reminded Radio Farda's listeners that just because the drugs come in the form of pills they are not made in a real pharmaceutical factory. He said the use of ecstasy is more common in Iran than the use of crystal methamphetamine but that the latter drug is more addictive and more dangerous.
Fariba Soltani, a physiologist and drug-control specialist based in Vienna, told Radio Farda that there is still insufficient data on the health problems associated with ecstasy abuse. However, she added, any substance that impedes an individual's ability to make decisions will contribute to that person's engaging in dangerous activities. (Bill Samii)
INTELLIGENCE MINISTER DESCRIBES AL-QAEDA ARRESTS... Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 16 July in Tehran that 1,000 Al-Qaeda members have been arrested in Iran since the Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell apart, ISNA reported, and 200 are in jail. In the first stage, the government tried to immediately expel the thousands of Afghans and other foreigners who entered Iran. Then, Al-Qaeda members who tried to stay in Iran were arrested. The third stage consisted of arresting and imprisoning members of Ansar al-Islam and other Al-Qaeda supporters in western Iran. The fourth stage looked eastward, as individuals connected with drug traffickers and violent incidents across the country were arrested. One of their leaders, Abdul Malek, is at large. The fifth stage concluded last week, Yunesi said, when Al-Qaeda members approached local Sunni leaders and unsuccessfully tried to enlist their support. Yunesi said some elements with the Al-Qaeda network have been infiltrated by the United States and "Leaders of some networks, knowingly or unknowingly, are at the service of intelligence services in the region, or are working for America and Israel." (Bill Samii)
...AND CLAIMS TO HAVE DECEIVED U.S. Yunesi said Iran has fed inaccurate information on its nuclear program to the United States by using double agents and taking advantage of inexperienced U.S. agents, ISNA reported. Yunesi said information on the nuclear program that is provided by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an opposition group based in Iraq, is unclassified. On the basis of information secured through these sources, Yunesi said, the United States urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect locations where it suspected uranium enrichment was taking place. The inspections, however, failed to find anything, he said. Yunesi also warned that the United States and Israel are approaching Iranians who work in physics, biology, and other sciences, and some people have been identified. "These individuals were our national asset, but unfortunately they were unwillingly trapped by the enemies' espionage services. Today, we intend both to save their lives and prevent any harm to the country." He added that scientists should not become too friendly with strangers when they are traveling overseas, and when they attend conferences they should only go to prearranged events. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN ACCUSATIONS UPSET LONDON. The British Foreign Office has lodged a protest with the Iran ambassador to London over a Friday-prayer leader's comments regarding the 7 July terrorist attacks in the British capital, AFP reported on 19 July. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati claimed in his 15 July sermon that the U.K. profited from the attacks (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2005). "These allegations are insulting and ridiculous," an unidentified Foreign Office spokesman said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi responded on 23 July by saying that the English did not understand Jannati's words, IRNA reported. Assefi added, "If Britons are anxious about certain issues, they should take care of the literature their officials are using so as to prevent them from arousing other people's concerns." Assefi went on to say that a country's official stance is usually stated by its Foreign Ministry. (Bill Samii)
TOGOLESE PRESIDENT WRAPS UP IRANIAN TRIP. The president of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe, arrived in Tehran on 18 July for a three-day visit, IRNA reported. Gnassingbe met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami at Saadabad Palace, and the host told his guest that cooperation between the two countries will contribute to stability and security in both. Khatami said that Tehran-Lome relations will be based on respect and democratic principles. He also discussed expanded cooperation in research and education.
Gnassingbe concluded his trip to Iran on 20 July, IRNA reported. Before leaving, Gnassingbe met with speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, who expressed Iran's determination to improve its relations with African states. Haddad-Adel expressed hope for greater cooperation in the energy, health, and transport sectors, and also within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the UN.
On 19 July, Gnassingbe met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, IRNA reported. Kharrazi described the establishment of the Africa Headquarters, which is supervised by First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Aref-Yazdi. Later that day, Gnassingbe and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami signed memorandums of understanding pertaining to cultural, economic, and technical cooperation, as well as a join communique on the preservation of mutual interests. Gnassingbe met with President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 18 July. (Bill Samii)
RUSSIA PLANS TO LAUNCH IRAN'S FIRST SATELLITE. Russia plans to launch Mesbah, the first Iranian communications satellite, by the end of this summer, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 July. The Mesbah satellite should be used to control power-supply systems and pipelines, as well as collect data on ground and water resources, RIA-Novosti reported, quoting a source in Iran's presidential administration. According to an agreement signed in January, Russia will launch a second satellite for Iran in 2007. (Victor Yassman)
MOSCOW INVESTIGATES BUSHEHR PROJECT. An anonymous "high-ranking diplomat" said on 18 July in Moscow that Russia's Audit Chamber is investigating the level of compliance with the Bushehr nuclear reactor contract, ITAR-TASS reported. The request for the investigation came from the Russian Embassy in Tehran, and it will focus on the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, the joint stock company Atomstroiexport, and its office in Iran. "But an additional examination is needed. We are interested in commissioning the plant on time, without further delays," the diplomat said. Atomstroiexport is accused of misusing 665 million rubles ($23.1 million). (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN LOSING PATIENCE WITH EUROPEANS. Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said on 19 July -- on the eve of a meeting in London between Iranian and European nuclear officials -- that Tehran must correct misperceptions about the incoming administration's intentions, ISNA reported. "We will try to present a realistic and suitable picture of the Islamic Republic of Iran's next government and its future policies," Aqamohammadi said. He went on to say that Iran's general foreign-policy principles do not change on the basis of the presidential administration, and they are set by the Expediency Council. "The nuclear policy is one of the country's major policies and governments don't have any influence over it," Aqamohammadi said. "They are only involved in following up, implementing, and speeding up the work." Aqamohammadi said that, if there is no progress, Tehran may forsake the requirement to provide guarantees it has suspended uranium enrichment.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said at a 19 July meeting in the capital that Iran will not forsake the right to produce nuclear fuel and the enrichment suspension will not be permanent, state television reported.
Speaking in Tehran on 19 July, legislator Hamid Reza Haji-Babai described the resumption of activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility as the correct response to European delays in offering Iran incentives, Mehr News Agency reported. He warned that although Europe promised a proposal by 6 August, it intends to wait for the formation of a new Iranian cabinet. Haji-Babai said there will be no changes in the Iranian negotiating team.
Parliamentarian Manuchehr Mottaki also said that activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility will resume soon, Mehr News Agency reported. He said the production of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) would demonstrate Iran's resolve to master the nuclear fuel cycle. UF6 is a gas that is used in centrifuges to make enriched uranium. (Bill Samii)
IRAN-IRAQ OIL PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION GETS UNDER WAY. Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said on 18 July that the construction of an oil pipeline from Iran to Iraq is already under way and should be completed within a year, IRNA reported. The pipeline will go from Abadan to Al-Basrah. The Iranian official also described the training of Iraqi personnel, and he predicted the creation of a joint working group and the signing of several agreements. (Bill Samii)
IRAN-IRAQ DEALS SIGNAL INCREASED COOPERATION. At the end of his three-day visit, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said his country needs the help of its �Iranian brothers � in reconstructing Iraq and building a free and independent country. Al-Ja'fari also told journalists that his visit resulted in the establishment of joint councils in the areas of antiterrorism, trade, and the economy.
"We created five councils -- one political -- the others were border council, council for construction, council for services, and council to combat terrorism," al-Ja'fari said. "They were created because these five issues are important to both countries."
Al-Ja'fari held talks with several top Iranian officials, including President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
President Khatami said yesterday that al-Ja'fari's visit would help heal the wounds caused by Saddam Hussein through joint cooperation.
Khatami vowed after his talks that the Islamic Republic of Iran will do everything it can to ensure the reconstruction, security, and stability of Iraq.
Al-Ja'fari, who spent several years in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein, said he realized the evil wrought by the former Iraqi leader in the region but said Hussein did not represent the Iraqi people.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said today that both countries will embark on joint oil project within a year. The project includes the construction of an oil pipeline between the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah and the southwestern Iranian city of Abadan.
Representatives of the two countries yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at expanding trade relations, including the export of Iranian technical and engineering services, as well as other goods to Iraq. The sides also signed a memorandum on expanding rail, road, air, and sea transportation between the two countries. Iranian state news agency IRNA today reported that several documents on bilateral cooperation were scheduled to be signed on 20 July.
Mahmud Othman, a former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told RFE/RL from the Iraqi capital that cooperation between Iran and Iraq could help solve some of Iraq�s current problems, including securing the borders.
�I think the visit is important because Iran and Iraq had a lot of problems in between and Iran has a lot of border with Iraq," Othman said. "For the time being, Iraq is suffering from many issues like security, [a lack of access to] services, and lack of electricity and other things, so maybe that would be helpful in solving some of these problems.�
Agencies report that during Al-Ja'fari�s visit to Iran, both sides vowed to prevent terrorist groups from crossing borders.
Iran and Iraq have embarked on the path of reconciliation in recent months. Senior officials from both countries have exchanged visits that both sides have hailed as "a new chapter" in their relations.
Anoush Ehteshami, a professor of international relations at the U.K.'s Durham University who directs the university's Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Middle East and Central Asia, told RFE/RL that Iran and Iraq could enjoy good relations in the future if the two countries manage to resolve outstanding issues including those related to their 1980-88 war.
"If the two countries manage [to demonstrate] that the reemergence of Shiites is not a threat -- especially to other Persian gulf countries and also in Lebanon -- then they can make a big investment in their current relations and they can increase their influence in the Persian Gulf region," Ehteshami said. "The two countries can also help each other regarding economic issues. Currently Iraq has a big need for Iran�s industry, for example in the energy sector."
Ehteshami added that the continuing hostility between Iran and the United States could prevent further rapprochement between Iran and Iraq.
U.S. officials have said that they favor good ties between the two neighbors but have warned Iran not to abuse its improving ties with Iraq or interfere in the country�s affairs.
Despite the ongoing enmity between Tehran and Washington, Othman said he believes Iran has a golden opportunity for expanding ties with Iraq.
"The only problem Iran has is maybe the presence of America here," Othman said. "But still I think as long as those responsible are friendly to Iran -- and they were friendly when they were in the opposition -- so I think it�s a golden opportunity for Iran to make good relations [with Iraq]. The U.S. maybe...[doesn't] like very much the ties between Iran and Iraq, but still they are not preventing anybody from doing it because in the end they want the situation in Iraq to succeed. And they think the relation between Iran and Iraq is important in this, so that�s why they are not interfering but they want some limits."
Al-Ja'fari's visit to Iran has been hailed by Iranian newspapers as a new era in ties between Tehran and Baghdad.
Othman said there have been mixed reactions in Iraq to the visit.
�Inside Iraq people are busy with their daily problems: explosions, killings, lack of electricity, water, services. Anything else comes second," Othman said. "Sunnis in general are looking at it with reservation because they are afraid that this will strengthen the Shi�as and it may have negative impact on them. The Shi'as, of course, they support it. But the reactions in Iraq are not as enthusiastic as that of the Iranian side.�
Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi today urged Iraq to ensure that former Iraqi leader Hussein answers for his war crimes against Iran. (Golnaz Esfandiari)
TURKEY, IRAN VOICE SUPPORT FOR SECURING BORDERS. At a meeting of interior ministers from Iraq's neighbors in Istanbul on 18 July, the Turkish and Iranian representatives said they supported securing Iraq's borders, IRNA reported the same day. "Tehran is against all kinds of instability and insecurity in the region and all our efforts are geared to forging security in our neighboring states because we also regard it as our own security," Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said. The two countries have said they are taking steps to secure their borders with Iraq to prevent insurgent infiltration. Musavi-Lari met with his Turkish counterpart, Abdulkadir Asku, on 18 July. At a closed session the same day, officials and experts discussed counterterrorism, border control, illegal immigration, and pilgrimage traffic. (Kathleen Ridolfo, Bill Samii)
IRAN FACES AGITATED KURDISH POPULATION. Unrest among Kurds living in western Iran, which has been continuing for several weeks, has prompted a government investigation that began on 20 July. This comes on the heels of low levels of Kurdish participation in the June presidential election, which may be indicative of their sense of exclusion from the country's politics. The Kurds are not promoting separatism, and the central government may find that meeting their demands will be more effective than arrests and violence in settling the unrest.
The most recent incident occurred when Kurds living in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province, clashed with police after a local activist was reported killed by state security agents, Radio Farda reported on 12 July, quoting local journalist Masud Kurdpur. Kurdpur told Radio Farda that "security agents" killed activist Seyyed Kamal Seyyed Qader (known as Shavaneh and identified elsewhere as Seyyed Kamal Astam), whose death provoked clashes on 11 July between police and Mahabad residents.
Kurdpur told Radio Farda that Qader was arrested for unspecified political activities and the violent police response to the subsequent protest shows that the Iranian government is hardening its attitude to protests. "Unfortunately, now that the elections are over and [President Hojatoleslam Mohammad] Khatami's government is coming to an end, this is a new type of approach that has led to deaths," Kurdpur said. "Most gatherings so far were tolerated."
Kurdishmedia.com reported on 15 July that Shavaneh was a member of the Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan (Yeketi Shorishgerani Kurdistan).
Kurdpur told Radio Farda on 14 July that local Kurds' angry reaction to the killing of Shavaneh is continuing. Kurdpur said that the authorities asked storekeepers to reopen their businesses, but they have yet to comply with this request. Kurdpur said this is a particularly sensitive time because it coincides with the anniversary of the assassination of Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Qassemlu (13 July 1989) by Iranian agents.
Kurdishmedia.com reported on 15 July that the unrest was continuing and the authorities arrested two people, Hussein Amanullah and Kamal Perwyiziyane (Parvizian), in the city of Bukan. A total of about 15 arrests were made. The authorities in Marivan reportedly instructed local telephone call centers, from which people make international calls, to provide them with names of everyone who calls overseas.
Seyyed Maruf Samadi, the governor of Mahabad, said the problems there began when the man known as Shavaneh resisted police, "Iran" reported on 19 July. They therefore shot him. Samadi said people who protested this incident were arrested, but he has no information on them. A police officer was stabbed to death, according to Samadi. Government offices, banks, and some homes were damaged, too.
Samadi acknowledged that these incidents have upset locals, and he said the Interior Ministry has agreed to his request to send a team to look into these events.
Federalism in Iraq has had an effect on Iran's Kurdish population, particularly the election of Masud Barzani as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the election of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's president.
The unrest in Mahabad is the latest in a string of incidents focused on local Kurds' ethnic identity. In mid-June, security forces in Mahabad clashed with Kurds who were celebrating the election of Masud Barzani. On 6 June, joyful young Kurds in Mahabad and Piranshahr celebrated the election of Talabani as Iraq's president by setting off fireworks and displaying Kurdish flags. Fifteen police officers were injured in resulting clashes, and 40 demonstrators were arrested. According to unconfirmed reports from exile opposition groups, demonstrations and clashes also occurred in Baneh, Marivan, Saqez, and Sanandaj.
Kurds make up some 7 percent of Iran's population of 68 million, and have militated for greater attention from the central government, citing provincial underdevelopment, inadequate political representation, and inattention to their cultural needs. Before the June presidential election, Kurdish political activists' demands prompted threats from the Guardians Council. During the campaign, reformist candidates paid particular attention to the demands of Kurds and other minorities.
Tehran University's Professor Hamid Ahmadi accused the reformists of using ethnic issues as a campaign device, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 7 July. He warned that doing this would not work.
Nevertheless, Kurds' dissatisfaction with and alienation from the central government was apparent in the Iranian presidential election. Second-round turnout in the predominantly Kurdish cities of West Azerbaijan was very low: Bukan (12 percent), Mahabad (15 percent), Piranshahr (15 percent), and Sardasht (16 percent). Turnout in Kurdistan Province was quite low -- about 25 percent -- compared to the national average of almost 60 percent. Turnout in some municipalities was remarkably bad: Baneh (17 percent), Divandareh (20 percent), Sarvabad (17 percent), Saqez (16 percent), and Sanandaj (20 percent).
Iran is not the only country dealing with a restive Kurdish population. Recent terrorist incidents in Turkey have been attributed to offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK or Kongra-Gel), and the Turkish military is active in the eastern parts of the country. Turkey even proposed at a 19 July meeting in Istanbul of foreign ministers from Iran, Syria, and Iraq that they join forces against the PKK. For the most part, the Kurds in Iran are not promoting separatism. Tehran might well find that meeting the Kurdish minority's demands -- which are based on its constitutional rights -- will have greater long-term success than repression. (Bill Samii)