17 August 2004, Volume 7, Number 27
PROTESTS MARK JOURNALISTS DAY. Iranian reporters staged a 24-hour sit-in and hunger strike on 7 August to mark Journalists Day, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.
The same day, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami stressed the importance of freedom of expression in a speech marking the day, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. According to Khatami's statement, which was read out by Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, "Press freedom will be available if the press community enjoys political immunity and the journalists are provided with job security." Khatami said the low level of legal support for the press has retarded cultural development.
President Khatami discussed freedom of expression on 9 August in a lengthy speech on the state news agency's 70th anniversary. Khatami said that journalists must have security, state television reported, and he stressed the importance of freedom of expression. At the same time, Khatami said, there are boundaries and democracies have rules and regulations, too. "The interests of society should be the yardstick in all economic, cultural, and news-distribution spheres," he said.
Khatami added that the information explosion of recent years has had many benefits, but it is dangerous, too. Its danger is no less than that of censorship. He warned that people are overloaded with information and "the powers-that-be" try to take advantage of this situation. Khatami said Iran is threatened by "propaganda and cultural plots." He hinted vaguely that powerful states take advantage of their military, economic, political, and cultural might to further their own interests.
Reformist journalist Emadedin Baqi apparently crossed the boundaries mentioned by Khatami. Baqi and attorney Saleh Nikbakht appeared in court on 6 August because of a complaint filed by the Intelligence and Security Ministry, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 August. The complaint relates to Baqi's banned book "Tragedy of Democracy in Iran." Baqi told the judge that the information in the book was published previously in newspaper articles, and he was tried for those articles two times.
The "Nasim-i Saba" daily apparently went too far also. Managing director Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia said on 9 August that the Press Court has banned publication of his newspaper, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 10 August. Montajabnia said news of the ban came via an unsigned and undated letter citing the orders of a "Judge Husseinian." The ban is on the basis of a complaint from the daily's former managing director, Majid Qasemi-Feyzabadi. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN BARS BAHAI STUDENTS FROM UNIVERSITY STUDIES. Diane Alai, the Bahai community's representative to the United Nations, told Radio Farda on 11 August that Bahai high-school students who pass the university entrance exam are not being allowed to enter institutions of higher learning in Iran. In previous years, she explained, applicants had to declare their religious affiliation when registering for the exam. The question on religion was omitted on the applications this year, however, while the exam results identified the individuals as Muslims. Students who corrected the mistake were denied admission. Bani Dugal, a Bahai representative, said, "The Iranian government is, in effect, attempting to force Bahai youth to recant their faith if they want to go to university," according to a press release from the Bahai International Community (http://www.wfn.org/2004/08/msg00057.html). By taking the exam at all, according to reports from Iran described in the press release, "officials are saying that their action amounts to a de facto declaration of faith in Islam." (Bill Samii)
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION BANNED. Abbas Sheibani, a member of Iran's Parties House, said on 10 August that the Freedom Movement is not allowed to join the organization, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 August. He noted that it cannot become a member because it does not have a permit from the Article 10 Commission. Article 10 of the law on parties specifies that a commission -- the Article 10 Commission -- of one Interior Ministry official, two parliamentarians, and two judiciary representatives will issue party permits and dissolve parties acting illegally. Sheibani added that because the Freedom Movement is a banned group, statements by its leaders are against the constitution and the Islamic system. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN STATE ENTERPRISES AUDITED. Radio Farda economic commentator Fereidun Khavand reported on 5 August that the national accounting office has audited the 2003-04 books of 1,705 state enterprises. It found that 1,006 were profitable, 583 were losing money, and 116 showed neither profit nor loss, Khavand said. Moreover, according to press reports cited by Radio Farda, more of those enterprises would have shown losses had the accounting office not used the statements they provided. Details on the profits and losses were not provided, but state enterprises consume 65 percent of the government's budget, according to Radio Farda. (Bill Samii)
NEW PROVINCE GETS A GOVERNOR. Ebrahim Rezai-Babadi, formerly the Tehran governor-general's assistant for political-security affairs, was sworn in on 12 August as the governor-general of Southern Khorasan Province, IRNA reported. The creation of Southern Khorasan Province, as well as Razavi Khorasan and Northern Khorasan provinces, came about through the division of northwestern Khorasan Province in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May and 14 June 2004). (Bill Samii)
GUARDIANS COUNCIL WANTS CLEAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the Guardians Council, the conservative-led body that supervises elections and confirms voting results, said in Tehran on 4 August that proper supervision of the 2005 presidential elections is "very important" and authorities must ensure "there are no violations," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 5 August. "People must be sure that the vote they drop in is the one that comes out," Jannati told a gathering of election inspectors. The Guardians Council's supervision of February's legislative elections was "more successful than past rounds," he said. The council publicly clashed with the reformist-led government and Interior Ministry, which organized the voting, after the Guardians Council banned thousands of candidates, and many sitting legislators, from running in the election. It will be easier to supervise the next election, Jannati said, because "the hopefuls are better known," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
STUDENT ORGANIZATION FACES FOUR-MONTH SUSPENSION. A Yazd University student association has been banned for permitting the reading of a message from the banned Freedom Movement's leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, and for arranging a speech by Office for Strengthening Unity central-council member Mehdi Aminzadeh, "Iran Daily" reported on 10 August. (The report did not say when the offense occurred.) The ban lasts four months and began on 18 July. Three members of the student association reportedly face charges of provoking student unrest and participating in the July 1999 demonstrations in Tehran. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT WANTS NUCLEAR PURSUITS TO CONTINUE. The parliamentary presiding board received a draft plan addressing Iranian nuclear activities from 238 out of 290 members of the legislature on 11 August, IRNA reported. The draft plan obliges Iran to pursue all possible means to gain access to nuclear technology. The draft plan also obliges the government to comply with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments.
The previous day, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi answered legislators' questions about the status of Iran's nuclear affairs, IRNA and state television reported on 10 August.
Tabriz representative Akbar Alami asked why Iran submitted to pressure from the EU and the West instead of raising the issue at international forums. Isfahan's Ali Ahmadi asked why the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was implemented prior to legislative ratification.
Kharrazi responded that the nuclear account was handled legally and added that Iran successfully overcame U.S. pressure and propaganda. He said implementation of the Additional Protocol was meant to fend off anti-Iranian propaganda and to alleviate a tense atmosphere, and he explained that Tehran never officially confirmed that it would implement the protocol before its ratification. "We have rather said that Iran will cooperate with the IAEA within the framework of the Additional Protocol," he said.
Tehran's Mohammad-Reza Bahonar said that Kharrazi's answers did not satisfy the legislators.
Kharrazi told reporters afterwards that Iran will resume uranium enrichment when it sees fit, Fars News Agency reported, and it suspended this activity as a confidence-building measure. Parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee head Alaedin Borujerdi later told reporters that unlike the previous parliament, this one will support Iran's right to nuclear technology, IRNA reported on 10 August.
The legislators are not alone in their desire for a nuclear capacity. Ali Akbar Velayati, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's adviser on scientific affairs, said in the 10 August issue of "Kayhan" newspaper that Iran has a right to use nuclear technology, not least because of its many scientific applications.
President Khatami said on 11 August that Iran has the right to develop and use nuclear technology, state television reported. He said: "Yes to the peaceful use of nuclear technology! This is our national interest. This is our national honor. Our future development depends on it." "We are not going to ask for anyone's permission," he added. "This is allowed by the international covenants to which we are a signatory." Khatami went on to say that Iran voluntarily suspended enrichment of uranium but this does not mean it will abandon the enrichment process. His comments come as the legislature and the leadership stress Iran's perceived right to a nuclear capacity, and as the international community watches developments with concern. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN VOWS RESPONSE IN EVENT OF 'U.S. OR NON-U.S. AGGRESSION.' Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 9 August that there is little the United States can do to Iran beyond the imposition of sanctions and the leveling of accusations, Al-Jazeera television reported. Shamkhani was reacting to U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's comments of 8 August, when she said Iran's nuclear ambitions concern the international community and Washington does not intend to let Iran produce an atomic weapon, AP reported. Rice also accused Iran of trying to hide a weapons program. "We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition." Shamkhani said the U.S. statements are inaccurate and relate to the election campaign. "I say clearly that we shall respond to any U.S. or non-U.S. aggression against our nuclear installations or any other site in Iran," he added. He said the U.S. presence in Iraq could be used to Iran's advantage.
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told commanders of IRGC ground forces' divisions and battalions on 11 August that Iran will retaliate if Israel attacks, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said, "If Israel is mad enough to attack Iran's national interests, we will come down on them like a hammer and crush their bones." Rahim-Safavi accused the United States and Israel of spreading "sedition, evil, and Muslim-killing" across the region. He described his view of the U.S. aim in attacking Iraq: "Gaining mastery over the energy resources of the Persian Gulf, Caucasus, and Central Asia, assisting the Zionist regime's security, changing the region's political systems and creating a Greater Middle East are among America's aims in the region."
Iran test-fired the Shihab-3 missile on 11 August, Mehr News Agency reported. According to the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, this was a test of the latest modifications to the missile, although it did not disclose the nature of those modifications. Defense Minister Shamkhani had said on 7 August that there would be upgrades to the missile's range, ISNA reported. The Shihab-3 reportedly has a range of 1,300 kilometers. Shamkhani said this step is in response to Israeli efforts to increase the range of their missiles.
Shamkhani also denied that Iran is developing a longer-range Shihab-4 missile, saying, "Israel is scared of Iran's defense capability and, therefore, alleges that Iran's defense capability is a threat to Europe; however, I announce explicitly that we threaten no European country and that the Islamic Republic of Iran poses no threat to Europe."
Asked about the missile test during an 11 August press conference, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "The United States has serious concerns about Iran's missile programs and views Iran's efforts to further develop its missile capabilities as a threat to the region and to United States interests," according to the department's Bureau of International Information Programs website (http://usinfo.state.gov). Ereli added, "We will continue to take steps to address Iran's missile efforts, and to work closely with other like-minded countries in doing so."
IRGC political-bureau chief Yadollah Javani said on 14 August that the United States is unable to take military action against Iran, and he also threatened Israel, Fars News Agency reported. Referring to U.S. concern about the Iranian nuclear program, he said: "Such threats are issued as part of psychological operations and they are not real or serious threats. Regional and international circumstances do not permit military action against Iran." He added in a reference to Iraq, "Given the circumstances, it is highly unlikely that America will have the wherewithal to open another front."
Javani also dismissed the danger of Israeli action against Iran. He said: "At present, all the areas under the sovereignty of the Zionist regime, including the nuclear installations and the atomic arsenal of that regime, are within range of Iran's advanced missiles. Therefore, neither the Zionist regime nor America will carry out its threats because such actions are not cost-effective." (Bill Samii)
PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TEHRAN. Speaking at a 9 August news conference in Tehran, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said the two countries enjoy friendly political and economic relations, Islamabad's PTV World reported. In a later telephone interview with PTV World, Kasuri said he and Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi talked about Kharrazi's recent trip to India. Kasuri told Kharrazi that Pakistan has taken all the steps necessary to guarantee the security of the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline. Kasuri added that the two sides said there should be more private-sector involvement in bilateral trade.
Iranian President Khatami told Kasuri on 9 August that their respective countries should contribute to peace and security in Afghanistan by investing there and in Central Asia, IRNA reported. When he arrived in Tehran on 8 August, Kasuri said Islamabad wants to see progress on the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, PTV World reported.
Kasuri left Tehran for Islamabad on 10 August, IRNA reported, telling reporters at the airport that the trip was successful. He said Islamabad would like to see an increase in bilateral trade. Foreign Minister Kharrazi, who saw Kasuri off, referred to their discussions about trade issues, elimination of tariff barriers, and the transportation of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan.
Prior to his departure, Kasuri met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and briefed him on New Delhi-Islamabad relations, PTV reported.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency has determined that particles of enriched uranium that it found on Iranian equipment originated in Pakistan, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 10 August, citing "Jane's Defence Weekly." (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI CALLS FOR CLOSER TIES ON AZERBAIJAN VISIT... Azerbaijan and Iran share a border, but this has not been enough to foster close relations between the two. Iranian President Khatami visited Azerbaijan in the first week of August, the first official trip to the neighboring country by an Iranian leader in more than 10 years.
The three-day trip began on 5 August and featured talks between Khatami and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Speaking after the meeting, Khatami called for closer bilateral ties. He said history and geography have brought the fates of the two countries together. "The border between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan is a border of peace, friendship, and brotherhood," Khatami said.
Khatami said an Azerbaijani consular office will open in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz, the center of an Iranian province where millions of ethnic Azeris live. The sides also signed an agreement to improve road and rail links and to fund the building of a power line between Imisli in southern Azerbaijan and Astara at the Iranian border.
Azerbaijani leader Aliyev expressed satisfaction about the agreements, saying he believes relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are developing successfully. "The implementation of the agreements signed will create thousands of jobs in Azerbaijan," he said. "And agreements on energy and gas swaps will allow us to provide [the Autonomous Republic of] Nakhichevan, which is integral part of Azerbaijan, with electricity and gas."
On the political front, Aliyev praised Iran for what he called its "support" for Azerbaijan in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. "We have always felt Iran's support in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh," he said. "And we are still feeling that today."
Khatami said Iran is ready to contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict. He added that Iran considers Nagorno-Karabakh part of Azerbaijan and that the use of force in settling international problems is "unacceptable."
However, talks did not produce any breakthrough on the issue of the maritime borders of the Caspian Sea, which touches both countries. The legal status of the Caspian, which contains large reserves of oil and gas, has been in dispute since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Davood Hermidas Bavand, who teaches international law in Tehran, said the visit was important nevertheless. "The significance of the visit is [the] development of good neighborly relationships with Azerbaijan, bearing in mind that we have certain difficulties with that state in connection with the Caspian Sea," he said. "The very objective of this visit is to [come to terms with] existing problems. When the two parties accept this kind of communication, it's an indication that there is a certain intention for improvement of the existing problems."
Experts in Baku suggested the two sides would also discuss the growing U.S. military presence in Azerbaijan, which has contributed to the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. But neither side was ready to comment.
Khatami addressed Azerbaijan's parliament and met with the parliamentary speaker. He is expected to visit Ganca, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, before returning to Iran. (Antoine Blua, with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)
...AND SIGNS AGREEMENTS. During his trip to Baku, Khatami said Iran wants "a stable, strong, and progressive" Azerbaijan, separated from Iran by a frontier "of peace and friendship," IRNA reported on 5 August. Officials from both countries signed 10 cooperation agreements, IRNA also reported, including agreements on border trade, terrorism, drug trafficking, and police training. Iran's Development and Export Bank will provide $75 million for electricity projects in Azerbaijan and the two countries will also increase road and rail links.
In Tehran, Hassan Noi-Muqaddam, a lawmaker for Ardabil, told Fars News Agency on 5 August that Azerbaijani officials owe Iran an apology for recent remarks made by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, who said Azeri speakers in Iran are "guests." Azeris form Iran's second-largest ethnic group, and Iran is sensitive to any talk of links between Iranian Azeris and Azerbaijan. "These comments are influenced by the policies of the CIA and global Zionism, which aim to divert healthy relations between Islamic states to meet their own interests," Muqaddam said. (Vahid Sepehrii)
IRAN ALLOCATES CREDIT FOR AZERBAIJANI ENERGY PROJECT. Baku's Bilik Dunyasi news agency reported on 9 August that the Export Development Bank of Iran has allocated a $75 million credit for a power line and substations between the towns of Imisli, Ali Bayramli, and Astara. The project is intended to improve the quality of electricity transmission from Iran to Azerbaijan, and it will require reconstruction of three major substations. These are the 330-kilovolt substation in Imisli, the 330-kilovolt substation in Ali Bayramli, and the 220-kilovolt substation in Masalli. The report adds that a new 200-kilovolt substation will have to be built in Salyan. The project, which is expected to take 20-24 months, reportedly will roughly double the amount of electricity Iran supplies to the Nakhichevan exclave. (Bill Samii)
SUPREME LEADER'S ADVISER MEETS LEBANESE HIZBALLAH. Ali Akbar Velayati, a former Iranian foreign minister and current adviser on foreign affairs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, met with Lebanese Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut on 26 July, "Kayhan" reported on 27 July. Velayati later told IRNA in Beirut that Iraq's occupation by the U.S.-led coalition was designed to loot the country's oil and is a "plot against Middle Eastern countries," "Kayhan" added. He said that Iraq's "complicated" problems could only be resolved if Iraqi officials consult Iraq's neighbors, and he urged Iran, Syria, and Lebanon to confront Washington's "plans" for regime changes in the Middle East, "Kayhan" reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN ENCOURAGES NORWEGIAN INVESTMENT. Iranian Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri said during his visit to Oslo that Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, is active in the South Pars oil field, "Aftenposten" reported on 11 August. He continued, "We have also asked the company to play a part in other regions and envisage Statoil being an active cooperation partner in the future."
Jahangiri said that a recent scandal in which Statoil officials were dismissed and fined for the payment of money to win influence in Iran would not undermine Statoil's involvement there (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 September, 6, 13, and 27 October, 10 November 2003, and 5 July 2004). Jahangiri did warn the Norwegians against corruption and influence buying, however. "There is always a danger that some people could abuse their positions in connection with major projects. The companies which become involved in Iran must not make such abuses possible," he said.
In Tehran, meanwhile, Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh told the legislature that there is no evidence connecting Statoil with any Iranian official in the aforementioned scandal, and he promised that his ministry would continue to monitor developments, IRNA reported on 11 August. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS SEE CONSPIRACY BEHIND DIPLOMAT'S KIDNAPPING IN IRAQ. Iranian consular official Fereidun Jahani disappeared on the highway from Baghdad to Karbala on 8 August, IRNA and international news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi initially refused to confirm whether or not Jahani had been kidnapped. He did say, however, that "an armed group in Iraq has released information about him and there is speculation about his kidnapping, but we do not have sufficient information in this respect yet."
According to iht.com on 9 August, a video shown on Al-Arabiyah television suggests Jahani was kidnapped by a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq. They reportedly accuse Jahani of provoking sectarian conflict in Iraq and warn Iran against interference in Iraqi affairs.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said during a 9 August news conference in Tehran that Jahani is "in good health," state television reported. Kharrazi said Tehran has no other information on Jahani's status, adding, "We must find out which group has kidnapped him and how we can arrange his release."
Al-Jazeera television and Al-Alam television reported on 15 August that the Islamic Army of Iraq released a statement on 13 August announcing that unless Iran released 500 Iraqis held since the Iran-Iraq War, it would take action against Jahani. Al-Alam added, "Jahani was abducted by elements of the Mujahedin Khalq terrorist organization," and "the group planned the abduction in the corridors of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied that there are any Iraqi prisoners of war in Iran, IRNA reported. He said the identity of the kidnappers and the nature of their demands are "suspicious."
"Kayhan" newspaper Managing Director Hussein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, said on 9 August that only the United States has a motive for the Jahani kidnapping, Mehr News Agency reported. That motive, he claimed, is that Iran is blocking unspecified U.S. regional ambitions and it opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Shariatmadari claimed that the kidnappers' call on Iran not to interfere in Iraqi affairs is identical to calls from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, adding that this confirms the kidnappers' U.S. connection.
An anonymous "informed security official in Iraq" claimed on 9 August that U.S. intelligence agents had direct knowledge of the kidnapping, Fars News Agency reported. This individual reportedly went on to say that the United States has created "fake assassination groups and [is] abducting non-native forces in Iraq," and that Washington is using Ba'athist groups to carry out abductions and assassinations. The anonymous official also referred to the involvement of "Israeli agents."
Tehran-based journalist and filmmaker Mohammad-Hussein Jafararian has traveled to Iraq several times in recent months, and he told Radio Farda correspondent Siavash Ardalan on 9 August that the kidnapping is part of a plot by some Iraqis to revive Iran-Iraq hostility as way of limiting Iranian influence in their country. "There are elements in Iraq who are against Iran's successful and influential presence in Iraq, and would like to revive hostilities between the two countries," he said.
Jafararian linked the kidnapping to a 2003 bombing in Karbala that killed scores of participants. "The Polish Army investigated that bombing and it is still not known who was responsible for attacking the mourners and shedding the blood of so many," he said. The kidnapping, he added, is an anti-Iranian act, as was the Karbala bombing. "Last year's Karbala bombers and the kidnappers of the diplomat appear to be following the same goal, which is to prevent Iranians from going to Iraq's Shi'ite holy cities of Karbala and Al-Najaf, because they believe that the Iranians' pilgrimage is a guise for Iran's interference in Iraq's domestic affairs," he explained.
Jafararian went on to tell Radio Farda's Ardalan that the diplomat's kidnapping and the bombing of the Karbala mourners could have been the work of some Iraqi Shi'a groups who oppose pro-Iran Shi'a groups. He added that in a recent trip to Al-Najaf he did not feel safe, and the main threat was from the militiamen following radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"It appears that Tehran is determined to continue its diplomatic efforts in Iraq, despite the heavy price it is paying for it. This diplomacy may be dangerous and hazardous to some in Iraq, but this does not mean that Iran should back out," Jafararian concluded. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN SAYS IRAQI POLICE HOLDING CORRESPONDENTS AND BUSINESSMEN. Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, the Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad, confirmed on 11 August that two days earlier Iraqi police arrested the head of the local Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) office, Mustafa Darban, and several Iraqi reporters, ISNA reported. Reporters Without Borders identified the correspondents on 12 August as Mohammad Khafaji, Mohsen Madani, and Abu Ali.
Mohammad-Reza Ramezani, chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Cooperatives, said on 11 August that U.S. troops arrested four Iranian businessmen on 18 July and handed them over to Iraqi police on 27 July, IRNA reported. The four were identified as Mohammad-Mehdi Teimouri, Masoud Zareh, Yusef Muhseni, and Qasem Salehi. Ramezani said the four were taken to an undisclosed location.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Mohammad Sadr said on 15 August that Tehran is "almost" convinced that Iraqi police have detained the IRNA personnel, but Tehran still cannot confirm this, IRNA reported. He added that his ministry is constant touch with Iraqi officials in an effort to secure the release of the IRNA personnel. Amir Mohebbian, an editor of Iran's "Resalat" newspaper, said on 14 August that the IRNA personnel were arrested in a calculated move to sever communication links between Iraq and the outside world. (Bill Samii)
IRAQI PREMIER GETS OFFICIAL INVITATION TO TEHRAN. Radio Farda reported on 10 August that Tehran has invited Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to visit Iran. The invitation comes at a tense time in the two neighbors' relations, as Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i continues to accuse Iran of interfering in his country's affairs (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2004).
In his most recent outburst, al-Khuza'i said on 9 August, "Weapons manufactured in Iran were found in Al-Najaf in the hands of those criminals, who received these weapons from the Iranian border," Al-Arabiyah television reported. He accused Iran of being Iraq's "first enemy." Al-Khuza'i went on to say that Allawi will provide details on this situation during his visit to Iran, and he said information in Iraqi possession indicates official Iranian involvement.
Iranian officials are unhappy with the Iraqi's accusations, with Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari saying on 10 August that such anti-Iranian comments are meant to appease the United States, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
AN IRANIAN CALL TO ARMS IN IRAQ. Tehran is speaking out against the continuing violence in the Iraqi city of Al-Najaf, but large numbers of Iranians are participating in the fighting there. Both Iranian officials and the hard-line Iranian press are encouraging their compatriots to play a more active role in Iraq.
"Jomhuri-yi Islami," one of Iran's more hard-line newspapers, is calling for Iranians to act in defense of the holy sites in Al-Najaf. An editorial in its 8 August issue said that occupying Iraq and establishing a "servile government" there is not enough for the United States. "They want to own Iraq for good and forever," the editorial said. It accused the United States of waging "vicious and extensive psychological warfare against Muqtada al-Sadr," and it described the interim government as "a cast of hand-picked actors." The editorial said people are waiting for their leaders to embark on "real action." "Everything now indicates that the time for such a decision and call is fast approaching," it concluded.
The next day, another "Jomhuri-yi Islami" editorial referred to a "premeditated conspiracy to eliminate the forces of resistance" in Iraq. It said that only the action of Shi'a religious leaders and the masses could save the holy shrines. Cooperation between the sources of emulation and officials in Iran to "end the crisis the Americans have fomented" is important. Iraq has been turned over to "foreign agents and alien lackeys," and this is dangerous for Iran and Islam. It concluded, "Has the time come for us to get up and go after the crown of Islam, the very existence of the Shi'a, and the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran?"
The newspaper's urgings have not appeared in a vacuum, and in light of official statements, they may elicit action. Earlier this year, Tehran was encouraging volunteers for martyrdom operations (suicide bombings) in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2004).
It is not yet clear if the volunteers have headed for Iraq. Iranians, however, are making their presence felt there. Police in Al-Najaf arrested an Iranian, an Egyptian, and a Jordanian who had weapons of Iranian origin in their possession, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 14 August. An Iraqi Interior Ministry source said the weapons included RPGs, "Kalashnikovs" (it did not specify if they were AK-47s, AK-74s, or AKMs), and machine guns. Earlier media reports described more extensive Iranian involvement in Iraq unrest (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 August 2004). Iraqi police arrested 28 Iranians and three Afghans in Karbala on 8 August, and they deported about 1,000 Iranians from the city on 7 August. The governor of Al-Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi, said on 8 August: "There is Iranian support for al-Sadr's group, and this is no secret. We have information and evidence that they are supplying the [Imam] Al-Mahdi Army with weapons and have found such weapons in their possession," Al-Sharqiyah reported.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign-policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, said on 8 August that U.S. military activities in the holy city of Al-Najaf will encourage resistance, IRNA reported. "The Americans, by affronting holy sites across Iraq, have now sown the seeds of combat and resistance, whose sibling will be irrigated with the blood of martyrs and grow up stronger," Khamenei said. He also accused the United States of attacking Iraq in order to control its oil resources.
The previous day, Khamenei said the United States is stuck in Iraq, state radio reported. "If they go forward, they will be hit. If they back up, they will still be hit. If they continue, they will be hit; and if they withdraw, they will still be hit. They are mired down there and a wolf which is caught in a trap might frighten some people by screaming," Khamenei told a group of theologians. Other officials who have criticized events in Al-Najaf include Ayatollah Nuri-Hamedani, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, and President Khatami.
Khamenei said in an 11 August speech to officials from the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization, "The crime committed by America in Iraq today, in Al-Najaf in particular, which is one of the most holy sites of the Shi'a or perhaps one of the holiest centers of all Muslims, is a black dot and a blot which arrogant America can never erase from its face, never," state television reported. (Bill Samii)