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Iran Report: August 31, 2004

31 August 2004, Volume 7, Number 29

HAS ANYBODY REALLY THREATENED IRAN? Iranian officials are continuing to make defiant and threatening statements about the possibility of retaliation if their country's nuclear facilities are attacked (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 and 23 August 2004). But the basis on which these statements are made is, at best, vague.

In Iran, Brigadier General Shamshiri, deputy chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed alleged Israeli threats against Iran's nuclear facilities, "Kayhan" reported on 23 August. He said: "The country's officials examine such threats expertly and analyze them with full awareness before making the appropriate decisions. Therefore we are certain that the country is ready to respond to any kind of threat -- no matter how serious it may be."

Hojatoleslam Gholamreza Shafii, who heads the politico-ideological department of the Iranian armed forces headquarters, said that anybody who attacks Iran militarily will come to regret it, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 22 August. He explained, "The Iranian nation is a revolutionary nation, and it will make sure that any country who commits an aggression against Iran or oversteps its boundaries is going to regret its aggression."

But it is not clear what threat the Iranians are reacting to. The annual intelligence assessment presented to Israel's Knesset on 21 July noted that Iran's nuclear program is the biggest threat facing Israel, "Maariv" and "Yediot Aharonot" reported on 22 July. Some Likud and Labor Knesset members subsequently called for a preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facility. Former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh (Labor) said, "If the international community's helplessness in the face of the Iranian threat persists, Israel will have to weigh its steps -- and soon." Ehud Yatom (Likud) said, "The Iranian nuclear facilities must be destroyed, just as we did the Iraqi reactor. We must strive to attain the ability to damage and destroy any nuclear capability that might be directed against Israel."

The statements of a few Israeli legislators cannot be considered an official policy statement of the Israeli government.

Nevertheless, this was enough to get Iranian military officials on the bandwagon of defiance. IRGC deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr said on 23 July, "[The] enemy's threat to attack Iran's nuclear power plant is a psychological war waged by [the] Zionist media," Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. IRGC public relations chief Masud Jazayeri said on 26 July, "America is showing off by threatening to use its wild dog, Israel," ISNA reported.

Hamedan parliamentarian Hamid Reza Haji-Babai did not seem to take the issue very seriously. He said on 25 July, "Israel is far too pathetic to attack Iran's nuclear installations," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. (Bill Samii)

IRAN CLAIMS TO PRODUCE NUCLEAR DEFENSE EQUIPMENT. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 24 August that Iran is producing equipment to protect Iranian citizens in case of an attack on the country's nuclear facilities in Bushehr, Radio Farda reported, citing the official "Iran" newspaper and AP ( 21bb388a-9cfb-4799-b279-cb4cdbfefaa4.html). Shamkhani added that some of Iran's neighbors have nuclear facilities and Iran must be ready in case accidents take place. India and Pakistan have tested nuclear weapons, and Israel is believed to have a nuclear weapons stockpile. Shamkhani did not specify the type of protective equipment Iran has made, but he said this development reflects Iran's being forced to achieve self-sufficiency due to international sanctions.

Hussein Musavian, an official in the Supreme National Security Council, said on 2 August that Iran began making such equipment after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, IRNA reported. He added that the Defense Ministry has the lead in this policy. (Bill Samii)

BUSHEHR NUCLEAR PLANT HAS COST MORE THAN $1 BILLION. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization official Assadollah Saburi said on 22 August that to date Iran has spent more than $1 billion on the Bushehr nuclear power plant, IRNA reported, and it will spend another $3 billion or $4 billion to bring the facility on-line. He said Iran will receive all needed equipment by March 2005 and installation could take another year. Saburi predicted that the facility will become operational in October 2006.

This is a year later than scheduled, and Saburi ascribed the delay to the continuing disagreement with Russia over the financial aspect of the transfer of spent fuel back to Russia. He said the transfer will take place eight or nine years from now, so it is difficult to project what the costs will be. Saburi added that delays are also caused by Iranian insistence that the nuclear power plant meets strict security and environmental safety standards. Disputing Saburi's claims about delays in the plant's completion, Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) spokesman Nikolai Shingarev said on 26 August that the facility's first generating set will be completed in 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. Shingarev explained, "The date for deliveries of nuclear fuel is in no way linked to the progress of construction of the generating set." For technical reasons, Shingarev said, the fuel must be delivered six months before the reactor is physically launched.

Shingarev also said that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has instructed Rosatom chief Aleksandr Rumyantsev to sign a protocol with Iran on the return of spent fuel only after all issues are addressed, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholamreza Shafei said on 26 August that the price for this exchange has not been agreed upon, and "negotiations are currently under way to reach a mutually acceptable decision on the price," ITAR-TASS reported.

"Yediot Aharonot" newspaper reported on 23 August that Israeli officials are skeptical about Iranian claims that the completion of the Bushehr nuclear reactor will be delayed by one year. Israeli and U.S. satellite imagery, according to the Israeli daily, shows that the water pipes needed to cool the reactor were installed in 2002, and "according to Israeli experts, that is proof that the reactor has reached the point where it is being prepared for operation." An anonymous "Israeli expert" claimed, "The Iranians are conducting a massive cover-up about the reactor."

Iranian officials are dismissive of critical comments about their country's nuclear ambitions. The Iranian ambassador to Tokyo, Ali Majidi, told Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on 23 August that Iran remains committed to cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), IRNA reported. Meanwhile, in Wellington, New Zealand, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters on 23 August that the peaceful use of nuclear technology is a matter of a "national pride" for Iran, IRNA and ISNA reported. Kharrazi said that the United States is using pretexts to pressure Iran, but in fact IAEA inspections "show our activity is peaceful." Israel is adding pressure as well, according to Kharrazi, who described remaining questions about the Iranian nuclear program as "peripheral." (Bill Samii)

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT, DEPUTY PREMIER VISIT IRAN. Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and other Iranian officials in the northeastern city of Mashhad on 24 August, Iranian state television and AFP reported. Al-Ja'fari said afterwards that the two sides hold similar views on many issues. He added, "The two sides stress the importance of establishing peace and stability in Iraq and expanding relations between the two countries." Al-Ja'fari said he and his hosts want to see the crisis in Al-Najaf settled peacefully through diplomatic means, and they agree that after Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army is disarmed it can become active in the Iraqi political arena.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Ahmad Salih arrived five days later, saying that he carries a message of "friendship," IRNA reported on 29 August. Salih was accompanied by Interior Minister Fallah Hassan al-Naqib and Transportation Minister Bahnam Zayya Bulis. IRNA suggested that Salih's visit is connected with preparations for a future visit by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATORS MAKE CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON AL-SADR. A reformist parliamentarian from Ardakan, Mohammad Reza Tabesh, said in the 24 August "Aftab-i Yazd," "The policy of the country's senior officials is by no means support for Muqtada al-Sadr." Tabesh said Iran's senior officials opposed al-Sadr's visiting Iran. In fact, al-Sadr visited Iran in June 2003 and met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003).

Mahmud Mohammadi, a conservative parliamentarian from Abadeh, said in the 23 August "Aftab-i Yazd," "The Islamic Republic of Iran must support Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a figure against the forces of occupation." Mohammadi said Iran has the ability and the right to wield influence in Iraq. He added: "Iran must have a more active presence in the Iraqi crisis. We must not be afraid of the fact that our actions may be regarded as interference." (Bill Samii)

QUESTIONS PERSIST OVER IRANIAN OFFICIAL'S KIDNAPPERS IN IRAQ. Responding to allegations that an Iranian official in Iraq was kidnapped by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 23 August, "The people who have detained him are not Iranian hypocrites [monafeqin, a pejorative term for the MKO]; they are other hypocrites," ILNA reported. Iranian consular official Fereidun Jahani disappeared on the highway from Baghdad to Karbala on 8 August, and the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed it was holding him (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004).

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 21 August that a delegation has been sent to Baghdad to pursue the release of Jahani, as well as several IRNA correspondents who were arrested by Iraqi police on 9 August, ILNA reported. The delegation, which included personnel from the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, left Tehran for Baghdad on 17 August, IRNA reported.

Iraqi police released Mustafa Darban, head of IRNA's Baghdad bureau, on 27 August, IRNA reported. Darban said the police also released the Iraqi colleagues who were arrested at the same time. Back in Tehran, according to the IRNA report, Darban said he is still not sure why the police arrested him. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI SECURITY FORCES ARREST IRANIAN SABOTEURS. An Iraqi military spokesman announced on 26 August that a joint National Guard/police unit arrested male and female saboteurs from Iran, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The Iraqi unit raided a house in Al-Najaf that was the source of gunfire targeting Iraqi personnel. The Iranians were arrested and machine guns and other weapons were seized. The two Iranians entered Iraq three months ago, Al-Sharqiyah reported.

Some 250 Iranian university student registered in Mashhad to defend Iraq's holy sites, "Kayhan" reported on 26 August. The students reportedly gathered at the Goharshad Mosque of the Imam Reza Shrine to protest events in Al-Najaf and to chant "Death to America." (Bill Samii)

BAGHDAD REJECTS IRAN'S CALL FOR OIC INVOLVEMENT IN AL-NAJAF. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on 24 August rejected the idea of neighboring countries meeting to discuss the crisis in the holy city of Al-Najaf, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 August. He described the conflict there as an internal issue between the government and illegal groups that challenge the state and threaten security. "Therefore, we will not support any attempt to internationalize the issue by participating in a meeting for the countries neighboring Iraq or tolerating the interference of regional organizations, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC], or the international organizations."

President Mohammad Khatami said in a phone call to OIC Secretary-General Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the OIC should hold a special meeting on Iraq, Radio Farda reported on 20 August, citing IRNA. Khatami repeated this sentiment on 23 August, state television reported. "I believe that, apart from the Shi'a aspect, apart from the Islamic aspect, in terms of the humanitarian aspect and in view of the destiny of Iraq itself, there must be greater activity. Islamic countries and other countries have not been as active as appropriate."

While voicing concern about events in Iraq, Khatami continued to deny that Iran is interfering there. "We have always wanted stability and security in Iraq," he told Al-Arabiyah television on 23 August. He continued, "We have strong relations with the Iraqi people and stress that Iran did not carry out any act of incitement in Iraq and seeks to bring about an atmosphere of calm and unity among all forces."

Khatami is not the only Iranian official expressing concern about events in Iraq. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a Government Week meeting on 25 August that the United States is using force and suppression in Iraq, state television reported. Khamenei warned that in the long run this would backfire. He said, "The surprising thing is that the immature, intoxicated, and mindless policy makers of America and their supporters today don't realize the great mistake that they are making." Khamenei went on to say, "They continue to pursue a wrong policy that will not only bring crushing blows on the American system, it will create a deep valley of hate between the Americans, the occupiers, and the Islamic world, and this will last for decades."

Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, the Iraqi-born head of the judiciary, described occupation activities in Al-Najaf as a "brutal massacre" of Iraqis, IRNA reported on 23 August. He compared present-day Iraq to the period under Saddam Hussein, and he added that the occupation is discriminating against the Shi'a majority. He predicted that the "continued massacre of Iraqi people will lead to popular uprising, which will force the occupying troops to become bogged down in Iraq." Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 23 August that the United States is attacking Al-Najaf because it recognizes the power of mosques, state television reported. Saddam Hussein's war machine collapsed in the face of the U.S. military, he said, "but the holy city of Al-Najaf is still standing with the resistance of a number of youngsters."

Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani addressed events in Al-Najaf during the 20 August Friday prayer sermon in Tehran. Emami-Kashani described the shrine of Imam Ali in Al-Najaf as being "sacred to the world...even sacred to the Christians, let alone to the Muslims and the Shi'a sect in particular." He heaped scorn upon U.S. President George W. Bush. He added: "Shame on the American government. Cursed be the Americans who are happy with the crimes of their government. Curses upon you!" Worshippers later demonstrated on the streets leading to the British Embassy and chanted slogans against Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States, IRNA reported. Police did not let the demonstrators reach the embassy.

"The Iranian role in Iraq is the most confusing subject as far as the Islamic and Shi'a circles are concerned," Qasim Qasir wrote in Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" on 12 August. Iranian officials deny interfering there, but the Iranian presence in Iraq grows every day. The more precise question, Qasir wrote, focuses on Iran's relationship with Muqtada al-Sadr and the possibility that Iran is providing military and financial assistance to those fighting the United States. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN WELCOMES CALM IN IRAQI HOLY CITY. Having had their desire to be involved diplomatically rejected, Iranian officials are welcoming Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's restoration of calm to the embattled Iraqi city of Al-Najaf when he returned there on 26 August from his sick bed in London. Under an agreement brokered by al-Sistani, coalition military personnel will withdraw from Al-Najaf, while forces linked with the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will withdraw from the Imam Ali shrine. All armed groups must withdraw from Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah, and then security will be turned over to Iraqi police. The Iraqi interim government is to compensate victims of the fighting.

"We want a stable and secure Iraq," President Khatami said on 28 August, state television reported. He said al-Sistani is "the one who defends democracy in Iraq," whereas "those who have entered [Iraq] claiming to bring democracy are busy suppressing the people."

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani was more outspoken in the 27 August Tehran Friday prayers sermon. He compared al-Sistani's return to Al-Najaf to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's return to Tehran in 1979, adding, "The imam's maneuver on that day broke the back of the shah's regime." Rafsanjani contrasted the power of Islamic values and the clergy with the performance of the U.S. military and the Iraqi national forces (national guard and police). Despite all its intelligence assessments and feasibility studies, he said, the United States is "still incapable of understanding the realities of the Islamic world." "Today Al-Najaf is prouder than Stalingrad."

A 27 August Iranian state radio commentary noted: "The signing of the peace agreement in Al-Najaf well demonstrated the major power role that the Shi'a clergy can play to establish peace and security in Iraq.... The signing of the peace agreement was the manifestation of unity between the Shi'a groups and the people of Iraq." The commentary added that the signing of the peace agreement is "a major defeat and frustration for America." It accused the United States of wanting to remove the Shi'a from the political scene. (Bill Samii)

IRAN WANTS TO EXCLUDE FOREIGNERS FROM REGION. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholamreza Shafei told ITAR-TASS on 27 August that Iran is worried about the presence of what he termed "extra-regional powers" in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Shafei said the only reason outsiders are in the region is for economic gain. Shafei said Iran and Russia recognize that the only way to resolve issues is through the cooperation of regional neighbors. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS TOP ASYLUM SEEKERS IN U.K. The British Home Office announced, in its most recent report on asylum applications, that Iran has surpassed Somalia as the top application nationality ( In the second quarter of 2004 (April, May, and June), 685 Iranians applied for asylum. In the same period, 95 unsuccessful Iranian asylum seekers were removed from the United Kingdom, while another 820 Iranians applied for accommodation and subsistence support (aka National Asylum Support Service), according to the Home Office.

In the United States, meanwhile, the Board of Immigration Appeals has ruled that the four Mirmehdi brothers -- Mohammad, Mustafa, Mohsen, and Mujtaba -- who have been imprisoned since October 2001, are not a danger to national security and cannot be deported to Iran, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 26 August. The federal government said the brothers were a national security threat because of their support for the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. The board said the four would be in danger of being tortured if deported to Iran, but they are not eligible for political asylum in the United States because they lied on their applications. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will try to find a third country that will accept the four brothers. (Bill Samii)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH REPORTS ON JOB CREATION. During a Government Week meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on 25 August, President Khatami reported on the country's unemployment rate. Khatami said the government has created 590,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate dropped from 15 percent to 13 percent, IRNA reported. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said in Tabriz on 24 August that under the Third Five-Year Development Plan (March 2000-05), the government created 650,000 jobs, IRNA reported. Ramezanzadeh noted that this is about 100,000 fewer jobs than the government wanted to create, and he hopes the number will reach 1 million. (Bill Samii)

UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES BELIE MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS. "It is wrong to belittle the problem of unemployment or to think that sacking immigrant workers is going to solve the problem," Supreme Center of the Islamic Association of Labor head Hassan Sadeqi said on 21 August, according to ILNA. Sadeqi said the unemployment rate exceeds 16 percent, whereas immigrants make up only 3 percent of the workforce and mainly take demanding and poorly paid jobs that other people do not want. Unemployment is the result of bad state planning, Sadeqi said, adding, "The situation is particularly agitated by wrong unemployment figures announced for the sake of political gangs."

The unemployment rate is rising by 5 percent a year, "Iran Daily" reported on 23 May, and currently stands at 16-20 percent. Some 3 million people are jobless in Iran, a number that increases by half a million each year. The government, however, claims that unemployment is falling -- 14 percent in 2000, 14.2 percent in 2001, and 12.8 percent in 2002.

An analysis of the "Nightmare of Unemployment" that appeared in "Vaqa-yi Ittifaqiyeh" on 29 April said that the prediction of a 20 percent unemployment figure comes from the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. The only way to reduce unemployment to less than 10 percent is to create 750,000-800,000 jobs a year, but only 440,000 jobs were created in 2000-01 and 470,000 jobs were created the next year. The Management and Planning Office estimates that 580,000 jobs were created in 2002-03 and, in the most optimistic view, 690,000 jobs will be created this year. These numbers, furthermore, fall below what was demanded in the Third Five-Year Plan: 499,000, 685,000, and 709,000.

Iran does not have independent unions that defend workers. State-affiliated labor councils are supposed to fulfill this function. Gholamreza Tavakoli, an official of the House of Labor, a state-affiliated workers' organization, said on 22 August that the labor law might be reformed soon, ILNA reported. He added, "Any change or reform in the labor law must guard and support workers' formations, and also respect the spirit of the law in its support for workers.

Workers have other representatives as well. The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry announced on 18 August that Friday prayer leaders from the factories are scheduled to meet with Labor Minister Seyyed Nasser Khaliqi on 19 August, ILNA reported.

Recent reports emphasize the difficulties workers are having. Kermanshah House of Labor official Javad Akbari said on 21 August that the Kermanshah municipality owed 20 billion rials ($2,288,853) to the provincial Social Security Department for workers' bonuses, ILNA reported. The municipality paid this money only after appeals were filed with various institutions, including the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Yet the workers still have not received the money they are owed, Akbari said. Ilam House of Labor official Ali Ghiasi said on 21 August that workers at the Fajr Company, which makes car springs, have not been paid in three months, ILNA reported. The Ministry of Industry and Mines has not allocated raw materials to the factory, so its cash flow has decreased. Even when there is no work the factory has refused to fire workers, Ghiasi noted approvingly.

Abbas Salari, executive secretary of the House of Labor in Pakdasht, south of Tehran, said on 18 August that, so far this year, 20 factories that make construction materials have closed down, ILNA reported. The factories, which make bricks and plaster and process sand and soil, have closed due to low demand, and all the workers were laid off. Ali Shakerian, deputy head of the House of Labor in Isfahan, said on 18 August that more young people are entering the job market every year, ILNA reported. Yet unemployment is increasing because technological progress results in fewer jobs. Salari also said that contract workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Opposition websites have noted the difficulties workers are having. Two hundred workers lost their jobs due to the closure of the Azmayesh Factory in Tehran, reported on 18 August. The website added that all the workers lost their jobs when the metal-bar factory at Ilna Gharb was closed. Workers at the Khorasan Metal Parts Factory have not been paid in four months, despite the owners' receipt of a 30 billion-rial ($3,433,279) government loan, reported on 16 August. The Kafsh Ganjeh coal mine at Sangrud, Gilan Province, has been closed. Workers and security personnel at the Nargessi Center Oil Company have not been paid in four months, the website reported.

Iran marks Labor Day on 1 May, as a nod to the country's leftist tendencies. This year, workers staged a protest on 30 April to express unhappiness with their living standards and employment conditions. Workers from around the country gathered at Tehran's Baharistan Square and protested against temporary contracts and the failure to implement an early retirement law for hazardous jobs, IRNA reported. Parliamentarians made speeches on the labor law, privatization, and the Third Five-Year Plan.

The authorities in Kurdistan Province refused to authorize a Labor Day march in Sanadaj, local House of Labor official Iran Bahraminejad told the 26 April "Mardom Salari." Bahraminejad said local grievances include bakers having to work three shifts and the mass firings of workers. Hormozgan House of Labor official Mohammad Darianus said that local authorities did not authorize a march there, either, "Mardom Salari" reported. (Bill Samii)

SUBSIDIES BECOMING COSTLY. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on 24 August that a failure to control generous public spending could contribute to economic instability and low growth in Iran, Reuters reported (for the IMF consultation mission's preliminary conclusions, see The IMF noted the extensive provision of subsidies and said Iran should phase out fuel subsides, on which it spends 10 percent of its gross domestic product. Gasoline costs 800 rials (about $.10) per liter in Iran. Cheap gasoline is used to excess and, as a result, Iran must import gasoline to cover the shortfall.

National Iranian Oil Company official Hojatollah Ghanimifard said on 25 August that Iran has already spent $1.5 billion on gasoline imports and must ask parliament for another $1.1 billion, AFP reported, citing IRNA. Ghanimifard blamed increases in oil prices.

Deputy Petroleum Minister Mohammad Ali Aqai said that the cost of a liter of domestically produced gasoline is 2,500 rials and imported gasoline is 2,800 rials, IRNA reported on 28 July. The Petroleum Ministry has called for the gasoline subsidy's elimination, but the legislature is reluctant to do so. Legislator Hassan Sobhani said gasoline only costs 350 rials per liter, so the consumer price of 800 rials per liter is more than twice the production cost.

In his 25 August meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Khatami also touched on the adverse impact of subsidies and the need to rein them in, state radio reported on 26 August. He said: "One of our problems is that subsidy payment is distributed to everyone in our society. In other words, the rich and the poor both benefit from these subsidies. We have tried to target such payments to reach the needy. It must not be wasted on the people who do not need it." Khatami acknowledged the difficulty of subsidizing only the needy, but said the fear of missing a needy person has led to waste. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CRITICIZES VIGILANTISM AND CORRUPTION. President Khatami discussed the problem of vigilante groups in a 25 August meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei, state radio reported on 26 August. Khatami said that people should pay attention to morality, but also noted that interaction with the public, especially the youth, must improve. "While confronting the root causes of moral corruption, we call on our friends [fundamentalist vigilante groups] to observe the necessary caution in their interaction with the people and in trying to intrude into the people's private matters." Khatami said the police have received the proper training, but "I believe that more recommendations should be made."

Khatami went on to say in his 25 August comments, "The main corruption which creates problem is economic corruption." He said the judiciary and the executive branch have each taken steps to deal with this problem, and that the legislature's efforts to confront the problem have not been announced publicly. Suggesting that anticorruption measures will cause discomfort for those with vested interests, Khatami said, "These steps may not please you and our society 100 percent, but I would like to point out that work has been done in this field." Khatami thanked the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the judiciary for their anticorruption efforts. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE TO QUESTION EDUCATION MINISTER. Hamedan parliamentary representative Hamid-Reza Haji-Babai said on 23 August that more than 100 members of the legislature have signed a motion proposing a no-confidence vote on Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem, IRNA reported. One reason for the motion is the minister's alleged failure to fulfill Article 30 of the constitution, which states that the government must provide all citizens with a free education up to secondary-school level. Other reasons, Haji-Babai said, are the discrepancy between the teachers' salaries and those of other state employees.

The salary issue has been the cause of frequent teacher protests (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 January, 22 March, 21 June, and 19 July 2004). An editorial in the 12 August "Resalat" about the problems of the education sector mentioned the salary issue. The editorial added that school directors are demanding fees from parents when students are registered, and these demands are coordinated with district and regional managers. (Bill Samii)

SENIOR CLERIC'S PASSING IGNORED. One of Shi'a Islam's senior clerics and an opponent of Iran's theocratic system (Vilayat-i Faqih; rule of the supreme jurisconsult), 84-year old Ayatollah Seyyed Ismail Marashi, died last week in Tehran, Radio Farda reported on 25 August. The cleric's passing went unnoticed in the Iranian media, and Iran's security forces prevented his interment at the Hazrat-i Masumeh Mosque in Qom, the cleric's relatives told Radio Farda (for a similar example of state interference with the funeral of a dissident religious figure, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 December 2001). Ayatollah Seyyed Abolqasem Dibachi told Radio Farda's Mehdi Khalaji that many in Iran are saddened by Marashi's death, and Dibachi said he wonders why the cleric's death went unnoticed. (Bill Samii)

RIGHTS WATCHDOG PROTESTS EXECUTION OF TEENAGE GIRL. Radio Farda reported on 24 August that Amnesty International is protesting the execution of a teenage girl in the town of Neka in Mazandaran Province. Ateqeh Rajabi reportedly was hanged in public on 15 August for "acts incompatible with chastity" (amal-i manafe-yi ofat). According to Amnesty International, Rajabi was not mentally competent and she never had access to a lawyer. Amnesty International asserts that this is the 10th execution of a child offender in Iran since 1990, and the human right organization urged the Iranian judiciary to stop executing people younger than 18.

Amnesty International cited a report in "Peyk-i Iran" that said the death sentence was imposed about three months ago. During the trial, the Amnesty report continues, the judge severely criticized Rajabi's dress ( The Mazandaran judiciary said that Rajabi was 22 years old at the time of execution, but her national identification card said her age was 16. Rajabi's co-defendant, an unnamed man, received 100 lashes and was released.

A man known as Parviz Karkas was hanged in Hesarak in the city of Karaj on 25 August, state television reported. He was the leader of a gang known as the Vultures of Karaj (Karkasha-yi Karaj) that kidnapped and robbed women after offering them a ride in their car. According to a report in "Iran" newspaper on 25 August, two other gang members -- Qasem and Hussein -- will be hanged in 10-day intervals. A fourth gang member will be flogged and then exiled to "a hardship location with extreme weather conditions." A fifth gang member will be flogged and imprisoned. (Bill Samii)

STUDENT ACTIVIST EATS DURING 'HUNGER STRIKE.' Sohrab Suleimani, director-general of Tehran Province prisons, said on 7 August that the so-called hunger strike of a veteran student activist is not very serious, ISNA reported. He explained that the 43-year-old Heshmatollah Tabarzadi is not eating prison food, but he is drinking water and tea and he is eating his own canned food. Therefore, said Suleimani, "his action is not considered to be a hunger strike, although that is what he is calling it."

Tabarzadi was jailed in June 2003 and was supposed to be released on bail in late July 2004, "Etemad" reported on 4 August. Tabarzadi began his hunger strike on 28 July to protest the handling of his case and the delay in his release. In June 2003 Tabarzadi made an unsuccessful call for millions to protest against the regime (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). (Bill Samii)

TABRIZ TO GET AZERBAIJANI CONSULATE SOON. East Azerbaijan Province Governor Mohammad Ali Sobhanollahi said on 25 August that an Azerbaijani consulate will open in the city of Tabriz soon, IRNA reported. Subsequent to that, efforts will be made to have direct Baku-Tabriz flights, he said. The opening of a consulate is one of the issues addressed during President Khatami's early-August visit to Baku. (Bill Samii)

IRAN GETS ANOTHER NEWS AGENCY. The Shabestan News Agency ( was launched on 21 August, "Tehran Times" reported on 22 August. The agency was described in the report as the country's first mosque news agency and receives support from the Supreme Headquarters of Cultural Centers of Mosques. Shabestan will report on religious news in Iran and the rest of the world. (On the recent proliferation of news agencies in Iran, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2004.) (Bill Samii)