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Iran Report: March 17, 2003

17 March 2003, Volume 6, Number 11

IRAN WOULD REDUCE WHEAT IMPORTS REGARDLESS OF ARGENTINIAN JUDICIARY. An Argentinian judge's signing of international arrest warrants for four Iranian officials has prompted the Iranian government to threaten to reduce its imports of Argentinian wheat. The threat loses much of its meaning, however, in light of expectations that Iran will reduce its wheat imports by more than 3 million tons in 2002-03 due to "a sharp increase in production," according to the 13 February 2003 "Wheat Outlook" from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Federal Judge Juan Jose Galeano on 5 March signed arrest warrants for former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani and three Iranian diplomats (former cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy in Argentina Mohsen Rabbani, diplomat Ali Balesh-Abadi, and former Iranian official Ali Akbar Parvaresh) in connection with the July 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires's Telam news agency reported on 7 March. In February Argentinian prosecutors issued arrest warrants for some 22 people in connection with the case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 March 2003).

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 9 March, "There is no proof to indicate Iran's involvement in the event and we have always declared that the Zionist circles spread such rumors and news," IRNA reported. Assefi said that "Iran will definitely take proper action" if the Argentinian government does not rectify these actions by the judiciary.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on 10 March summoned Argentinian Charge d'Affaires Ernesto Carlos Alvarez to hear an Iranian protest regarding the international arrest warrants, Tehran radio reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi told Alvarez that Tehran had previously offered to clarify the issue and the Argentinian failure to respond is "clear evidence that the court is politically motivated."

Argentinian Foreign Minister Carlos Federico Ruckauf said on 10 March that the Iranian charge d'affaires would be summoned to explain Assefi's comment about "proper action," Telam reported. Ruckauf explained that the court case and the warrants are not a political issue. "This is not a decision by the Argentinian government. This is a judicial proceeding in which a very intensive investigation has been conducted for nine years. The judge handling the case has therefore decided to call individuals to testify, not governments," he said. Ruckauf indicated his irritation with the tone of comments coming from Tehran: "We want to have those remarks explained to us, along with a number of other remarks to the effect that Argentina will have to apologize for this."

The Argentinian Foreign Ministry on 10 March summoned Iranian Charge d'Affaires Mohammad Tabatabai to convey its interest in having Iran shed light on the 1994 bombing, Telam reported. Foreign Ministry Secretary Fernando Petrella said, "We are very interested in getting the government of Iran to cooperate with Argentina." The next day, 11 March, Tehran recalled Tabatabai for consultations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said, according to IRNA.

An anonymous Iranian government source, meanwhile, said that Tehran is exploring a range of ways to retaliate against Buenos Aires, Reuters reported on 11 March. The source said that Iran has already taken steps to divert its orders for wheat to suppliers other than Argentina. In light of projected reductions in Iranian wheat imports, the threat seems more like an attempt to gain political benefit from already-planned actions. (Bill Samii)

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REASSURES TEHRAN DURING VISIT. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Tehran from 10-12 March before heading for Kabul, ITAR-TASS and IRNA reported. Ivanov met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi, and the of the Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani.

One of the subjects of discussion was the continuing threat to Afghan stability from Taliban and Al-Qaeda supporters, and the two sides' mutual agreement on the need to support the Afghan Transitional Administration of President Hamid Karzai.

The two sides also discussed the Iraq crisis. Ivanov said at an 11 March news conference that Russia would veto the draft Security Council resolution co-sponsored by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain, IRNA reported. "Russia will not succumb to American pressure and will veto the new UN Security Council resolution," he said.

Moscow's stance on Iraq will be reassuring for Tehran, where, according to Moscow State Institute of International Relations' professor Aleksei Malashenko, leading officials fear they will be next. Malashenko told RFE/RL: "There are fears in Iran about the fact that they could be next on the target list. So, from this point of view, Ivanov's visit is meant to underscore the special relationship between Moscow and Tehran, [and] is meant to underscore the fact that Moscow will continue to maintain very good relations with Iran and cooperation in all spheres -- including military cooperation and the building of civilian atomic-energy projects." (Bill Samii)

CONTINUING IRAN-RUSSIA NUCLEAR COOPERATION. Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov in a news conference on 11 March said Moscow would continue its nuclear-energy cooperation with Iran within the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), according to IRNA. The two countries main overt area of nuclear cooperation is the nuclear power station in Bushehr.

The Bushehr nuclear power plant is to come on line during the "latter part" of the next Iranian year that begins on 21 March, its manager Nasser Shariflu told the Persian daily "Iran" on 11 March. Shariflu said Iran and Russia have begun talks on building a second such plant in Bushehr. He said most of the construction work of the first plant is complete and that Iranian experts and more than 1,000 Russian technicians are now installing "peripheral" equipment. He said that 750 Iranian technicians who were trained in Russia will take over the operations of the plant, which Shariflu says will produce 1,000 megawatts of power during its first phase.

ITAR-TASS reported that the Russian-Iranian coordination committee met in Novovoronezh on 11 March to discuss the training of Iranian personnel to work at the Bushehr nuclear reactor. By the time Bushehr becomes operational in 2004, more than 700 Iranians will have been trained in more than 30 nuclear specialties. More than 400 Iranians already have been trained. Training center Director Aleksandr Ivanchenko said, "They are good professionals with university degrees, also from European universities, who have been carefully selected for training." (Stephen C. Fairbanks, Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DEFENDS ITS NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES. Journalists on 11 March toured the Iranian nuclear facility in the southern city of Bushehr in an event "meant to demonstrate Iran's openness about its nuclear program," "The New York Times" reported the next day. Criticism of Tehran's nuclear pursuits has picked up recently, with the revelation of Iran's previously unreported pursuit of uranium-enriching technologies (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 February 2003).

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher during a 10 March press briefing rejected Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, according to the official State Department website ( Boucher said that Iranian nuclear-research activities are being used as a cover for a program that can produce weapons. "I would say there is no economic justification for a state that is so rich in oil and gas, like Iran, to build these hugely expensive nuclear-fuel-cycle facilities," Boucher said. "Iran flares off more gas every year than they would ever get from these reactors that they're talking about building," he added.

On 9 March, furthermore, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell commented on the Iranian nuclear program. They accused the IAEA of missing the Iraqi nuclear program in the 1990s and drew parallels between the Iraqi and Iranian nuclear projects, the "Financial Times" reported on 11 March.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi appeared to respond to these statements on 10 March. Assefi said that the U.S. is trying to obstruct Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, IRNA reported, and he added that the peaceful use of atomic energy is a legitimate Iranian right in its quest for economic development.

For all their protestations of innocence, Iranian officials are not cooperating with all of IAEA's demands. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Deputy Director Assadollah Saburi said on 11 March that Iran has not agreed to sign the additional protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows unannounced inspections of nuclear facilities, because it would impose new limits, according to "The New York Times." Saburi explained, "We do not want to increase our commitments in the face of sanctions that are currently imposed on us for obtaining nuclear technology." Saburi said, however, that Iran has agreed to notify the IAEA before it begins any other nuclear facility.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Qolamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi added in the 12 March issue of Paris's "Le Monde" that Western countries must drop sanctions against Iran before its signs the additional protocol. (Bill Samii)

VISITING TURKMEN PRESIDENT SIGNS SEVERAL AGREEMENTS. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and his accompanying delegation signed several agreements during a 10-11 March visit to Tehran, the Turkmen State News Service reported on 11 March. Niyazov and President Khatami signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the energy sector, on constructing the Friendship Dam on the River Tejen, and on maritime search-and-rescue operations. The two sides signed other documents dealing with cooperation in science, education, culture, and judicial matters. In total, according to ITAR-TASS on 11 March, some nine bilateral documents were signed during Niyazov's visit.

According to the 11 March ITAR-TASS report, Niyazov said that the two sides have "identical views" regarding the Caspian Sea. Iran would like each bordering state -- Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan -- to have a 20 percent share of the Caspian seabed and waters, even though only 14 percent of the coastline is Iranian.

Niyazov met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 10 March, according to Tehran radio. Khamenei called for greater cooperation among Islamic states and described the two countries' commonalities. Khamenei added, "We oppose an American attack against Iraq in the same way we oppose the brutal actions of the Zionist regime against the Palestinian nation." (Bill Samii)

GASOLINE PRICE HIKE COULD RAISE INFLATION ABOVE 20 PERCENT. The Iranian government has proposed a 30 percent increase in gasoline prices, from 500 rials ($0.06 at the market exchange rate) a liter to 650 ($0.08) rials a liter, IRNA reported on 9 March.

Neishabur parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad said on 9 March that the increase in gasoline prices that will take effect after 21 March would affect prices of other goods and service, IRNA reported. Parliamentarian Mohammad Rashidian said that such a steep price hike is unreasonable and the prices for basic commodities and fuel should only increase 10 percent. Parliamentarian Reza Abdullahi said the only way to deal with excessive gasoline consumption is to get dilapidated gas-guzzlers off the road and to encourage use of public transportation. Iran currently imports gasoline, while smugglers in Iran buy subsidized gasoline and sell it in neighboring countries for a healthy profit.

Sanandaj parliamentary representative Bahaedin Adab said that in the coming year the inflation rate will surpass 20 percent because of the budget deficit and increases in the price of fuel and other commodities, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 11 March. Adab warned that increasing prices of goods and services without identifying the consequences and impact of such a step would increase the government's problems, and he encouraged the government to submit a plan for targeted subsidies to the legislature. (Bill Samii)

RESTRICTIONS ON MONTAZERI CONTINUE. Ahmad Montazeri, son of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, has issued a statement explaining that his father's house arrest has not been lifted completely, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 10 March. He said that recent remarks by Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi were incorrect in announcing the total lifting of the ayatollah's house arrest. The son's statement, ISNA reported, indicated that Montazeri is still prohibited from entering the mosque where he taught, a number of his bank accounts remain frozen, and he is banned from entering his house and office in Mashhad. (Stephen C. Fairbanks)

STUDENT OUTRAGE INCREASING. Students' dismay with the political system and with political leaders' ineffectiveness was highlighted when deputy parliament speaker and Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization leader Mohsen Armin met with students in Hamedan on 11 March, who subjected him to tough questioning.

Armin rejected suggestions that the reformists should quit the system, saying that this would only be a last step agreed to by the majority, ISNA reported. He added: "As long as there are legal potentials which we can use, we must stay and use them. When we see that we have used all the potentials but to no effect, then, we must accept that we have no other option [but to leave office]." Reacting to complaints about the reformists' weakness and compromises, Armin said, "Reform and the reformists have paid the highest costs and these kinds of recriminations and remonstrations...will produce nothing other than despair, hopelessness, and passivity in the people and, ultimately, their departure from the [political] arena." "Instead of recriminations," he advised, "we must suggest options and solutions to one another."

Armin also rejected suggestions about the incompatibility of religion and democracy, and he compared this with hard-liners' suggestions about the incompatibility of Islam and republicanism.

The students' irritation is understandable. Ten reformist student activists remain in jail on political charges, the Tehran municipality's daily "Hamshahri," quoting unnamed student sources, reported on 9 March. The paper the same day also reported remarks by Deputy Higher Education Minister Gholam-Reza Zarifian who said there are no student political prisoners. He dismissed charges that students were being exiled for political reasons, but said that there were two recent cases of university students who were feeling "insecure" in the towns where they were studying, and so the authorities helped them to move elsewhere. (Bill Samii, Stephen C. Fairbanks)

PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS FOR CABINET SHUFFLE. Kermanshah parliamentary representative Ismail Tatari on 8 March said that the Iranian people want a reshuffle of the cabinet, and the legislature will be forced to interpellate cabinet ministers if the reshuffle is not forthcoming, ISNA reported. Tatari said that the factional affiliation of ministers has affected their performance, whereas they should be politically neutral and should have national motivations. The government should focus on solving people's problems, especially economic ones, rather than being the reason for unemployment and high prices. Tatari added: "At the current sensitive juncture, national unity is the most important and necessary issue. The attention of all factions and groups should be focused on protecting [the country's] territorial integrity and avoiding factionalism." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN COUNCIL ELECTION LEAVES POLITICALLY SIGNIFICANT ISSUES UNRESOLVED. The council elections are over, but it remains to be seen who is chosen as the mayor of Tehran, the country's capital and largest city. This is a significant issue because Tehran serves as a benchmark for the rest of the nation's politics, appealing to its residents is relevant for office seekers, and because many foreign journalists see little else of the country. For similar reasons, control of "Hamshahri," the municipality's daily, is very important -- and also, since the elections, very much in question.

Right-wing newspapers already have begun propagandizing in favor of candidates to be chosen by the Tehran municipal council as the city's new mayor, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 4 March. The conservative daily warned that politicizing the process could result in the disbanding of the new council, which is exactly what happened with the last Tehran municipal council (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January 2003), and it called for selecting somebody with no political affiliations.

Members of the conservative Islamic Iran Developers Party (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), who hold 14 of the 15 Tehran council seats, have begun discussing their preferred candidates, "Toseh" reported on 3 March, and have not ruled out the choice of a relative unknown as mayor. There are reports of discussions between the Developers and the technocratic, reformist Executives of Construction Party of former Tehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi, "Toseh" reported, but some Developers members reject making a deal with the Executives.

The pro-Khatami Interior Ministry is trying to take control of "Hamshahri," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily reported on 4 March. ""Hamshahri" is the country's widest-circulation newspaper, and the Interior Ministry's actions may reflect an effort to keep the newspaper from becoming a mouthpiece for the conservatives who won the majority of the Tehran municipal-council seats.

Leaders of the main pro-Khatami political organization in Iran, the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), are still confused about the drubbing they received in the 28 February municipal-council elections and are trying to blame other political organizations, according to a report in the 11 March "Siyasat-i Ruz." IIPP leader Said Hajjarian said at a party meeting that if the Executives of Construction Party had formed a coalition with the IIPP, together they could have won at least nine seats on the Tehran council. Another official said at an earlier IIPP meeting that controversies over Islamic Solidarity (Hambastegi) Party leader Ebrahim Asqarzadeh were to blame. The 2nd of Khordad front's coordinating council had decided not to back Asqarzadeh's candidacy, leading the party to threaten to leave the front (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). In the end, the IIPP, the Executives, and the Solidarity Party were unable to unite behind a joint reformist slate of candidates and each presented its own candidate lists. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALISTS APPEAR IN COURT. Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced journalist and political activist Nargis Mohammadi to one year in prison on charges of harming national security, propaganda against the regime, and insulting authorities, AFP reported. Mohammadi's husband, Taqi Rahmani, has been in jail for about two years, and Mohammadi's lawyer, Mohammad Sharif, said his client was sentenced for interviews with local press and international radio stations in which she protested her husband's imprisonment.

Journalist Emadedin Baqi also appeared before the Revolutionary Court on 8 March, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Baqi said that he is charged with acting against national security and insulting Supreme Leader and Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and are based on some of his writings. Baqi said that he was instructed to provide the court with his controversial writings. Baqi was imprisoned from May 2000 until 6 February 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 February 2003). (Bill Samii)

JOURNALIST'S LAWYER CANNOT DEFEND HIM IN CARTOON CASE. Attorney Shirzad Heydari-Shahbaz, who is representing journalist Alireza Eshraqi, said on 10 March that the Special Court for the Clergy will not allow him to defend his client because Heydari-Shahbaz is not a cleric, IRNA reported. Eshraqi is not a cleric either, for that matter, but he was arrested on 12 January after "Hayat-i No" published a cartoon deemed insulting to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January 2003). Eshraqi was released on 250 million rials ($31,400) bail on 9 March after spending the entire time since his arrest in solitary confinement in Evin Prison's Block 209. (Bill Samii)

DON'T GO IN THE WATER. A shark weighing more than 2,000 kilograms was netted on 11 March in the Persian Gulf, according to Musa Bolqar, head of the fisheries department in Dayyer city in Bushehr Province, IRNA reported on 12 March. Bolqar said that the 7-meter-long shark is of a species normally seen in the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Oman, although he did not identify the species. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN NAVAL FORCES IN THE NEWS. Two Iranian warships, the fleet replenishment tanker "Bandar Abbas," and amphibious operations logistics support ship "Lavan," have arrived in Mumbai, Mumbai's "The Times of India" reported on 8 March. On 10 March the two ships began their participation in joint exercises with ships of the Indian Western Naval Fleet.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 11 March visited the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy's Ashura exhibition in Tehran, state television reported. Khamenei was told that the three main axes of the IRGC Navy are its vessels, shore-to-sea missiles, and its marines. The exhibit itself featured Ashura-, Tariq-, Zulfaqar-, and Zuljenah-class vessels and various types of missiles with ranges up to 300 kilometers.

During Khamenei's visit, furthermore, a direct television link was established with the naval bases in Bandar Abbas and Bushehr so he could give the order for the launching of 313 new vessels. IRGC Navy commander Rear Admiral Morteza Safari said that the vessels are armed with different types of missile and torpedo launchers and have increased the IRGC Navy's combat capabilities in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, state radio reported on 12 March. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER TELLS IRGC NAVY OF AMERICA'S PENDING QUAGMIRE. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a 12 March speech to IRGC Navy personnel said, "The Americans, with their 21st-century equipment and with today's slogans, intend to do what the colonialists of the 18th and 19th century did...under the pretext of democracy, under the pretext of human rights, under the pretext of campaign against terrorism," state television reported. People are now aware of their own power and are alert to the American threat, however, so "there is no doubt that the aggressor will get caught in the swamp and this [attack against Iraq] will speed up its collapse." Khamenei warned, "There is no end to the expansionist policies of the aggressor, America, which is today, with the temptation of the Zionists, entering into a situation that is dreadful for mankind." He told the IRGC naval personnel that they must make an extra effort at self-improvement because of the importance of the sea, the coastline, and the islands to Iran's defense. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN ARMED FORCES READY. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani on 12 March described Iran's defenses as "impregnable" and said that the armed forces are ready to respond to "any likely threat," state television reported. Shamkhani said that the military has the necessary "hardware, religious values, and experience." (Bill Samii)

IRAN-IRAQ POW AND MIA COMMITTEE RESUMES MEETINGS. The joint Iraqi-Iranian committee for prisoners of war and missing in action met on 11 March at the Khosravi border crossing. Describing the talks afterwards, Iran's POW and MIA Commission head Brigadier General Abdullah Najafi said that the Iraqi delegation demonstrated greater flexibility than in the past, Iranian state radio reported on 12 March.

Abd-al-Mun'im al-Qadi, head of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's Legal Department and head of the Iraqi delegation to the bilateral talks with Iran, said on 13 March that on the previous day the two sides signed an agreement under which Iran would release all the Iraqi POWs and Baghdad would release "Iranian prisoners held in Iraq who stood trial for ordinary offenses," Baghdad radio reported. Al-Qadi said that under this agreement Iraq would release 349 prisoners on 17 and 18 March, and Iran would release 941 Iraqi POWs.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 13 March announced that on 17 March Tehran would release the last 1,241 Iraqi prisoners of war in its custody, and Baghdad would release 349 Iranian POWs, ISNA reported. Assefi added that the Foreign Ministry would continue to investigate the fate of missing-in-action personnel.

A 2 March statement from the Iranian side had announced a halt in the search for Iranian MIAs in Iraq because of the possibility of a war, IRNA reported on 3 March. "Following an agreement between the Iranian and Iraqi committees for those missing in action, the search operations for pure bodies of [Iranian] martyrs at five locations on the Iraqi soil have stopped until further notice," according to the statement. The statement added that the search for MIAs on Iranian territory would continue. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIAN: AMERICAN ATTACK ON IRAQ WILL BE SHAMEFUL. Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur -- a founder of Lebanese Hizballah, secretary of Iran's "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference series, and now President Khatami's special envoy -- said on 12 March at a Tasua ceremony at the Imam Khomeini mosque that attacking Iraq would bring "shame and dishonor" to Americans, IRNA reported. "In like manner that the Lebanese Islamic forces with their resistance forced the U.S. and Israel to yield, the Muslim nation of Iraq will bring down the U.S. in shame if it attacks Iraq with the help of its loyal ally, Britain," he added. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN HUMAN SHIELD HOPEFULS. A group of Iranian poets and artists have asked Iranian officials for permission to cross into Iraq to act as human shields, IRNA reported on 10 March, citing the new reformist daily "Nasim-i Saba." They intend to leave Iran on 25 March and hope to protect Shia shrines in Karbala from a U.S.-led attack. The report did not indicate the response of Iranian officials. Last month, Iran, citing security concerns, announced that its border with Iraq would be closed to pilgrims hoping to visit Iraq's Shia sites. (Stephen C. Fairbanks)

CONTRADICTORY REPORTS ON TEHRAN-WASHINGTON DEAL OVER IRAQ. An anonymous source said that Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, who was in Iran to attend a conference of Iraqi Shia opposition groups, has convinced Tehran to cooperate with any possible U.S. campaign against the Iraqi regime, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 9 March. Chalabi did not have a specific message from the White House for his Iranian hosts, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported, but somehow he conveyed guarantees that Iran would not be threatened during or after any war and he also said that Iran would receive assistance in establishing camps for Iraqis displaced by any war.

What really persuaded the Iranians, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported, was a guarantee that the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) would have a role in Iraq's future government. Iran agreed to help U.S. troops who wander across the border and to allow American search-and-rescue teams to help downed aviators and to recover their aircraft, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 11 March appeared to contradict this report, Fars News Agency reported. "There has been no agreement regarding the use of Iranian airspace by America in the event of an attack on Iraq," he said. According to Fars, London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper had reported an Iranian pledge to cooperate with the U.S. in a war against Iraq by not attacking American aircraft that might enter Iranian airspace and by not permitting Saddam Hussein to enter Iranian territory. (Bill Samii)

SCIRI UNENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT U.S. PLANS FOR IRAQ. SCIRI leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim said on 8 March that if the Iraqi people and opposition groups fail to select a post-Saddam Hussein ruler for their country, "we would inevitably have a military ruler appointed by America imposed on us in Iraq," "Aftab-i Yazd" daily newspaper reported on 8 March. Al-Hakim said that the post-Saddam government should be created on the bases of Islam, democracy, unity and territorial integrity, and respect for human rights.

Al-Hakim said in a 7 March interview with Iranian state television that the objective of the Shia opposition conference that had just concluded was to show united opposition to the appointment of an American governor. Another aim was to demonstrate Iraqi Shia unity. Al-Hakim said that the opposition groups are suspicious of U.S. objectives and do not believe that the U.S. cares about the Iraqi people. American objectives in Iraq are disarmament, controlling Iraqi oil and world energy markets, and elimination of a dictatorship, according to al-Hakim.

Zayd al-Husseini, commander of the SCIRI's armed wing known as the Badr Corps, promised to resist the appointment by Washington of a military governor for Iraq, London's "Al-Hayah" reported on 10 March. If Washington "insists on installing a military ruler, then the Iraqi people will resist it with all their power, even with war," he said. For the time being, the Badr Corps has suspended its military operations so it can avoid the appearance of cooperating with the U.S. Al-Husseini said: "Our principled stand is not to cooperate at all with the U.S. forces. This is our vision of the present and coming stages." "We have our own plan," al-Husseini said. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIAL DETAILS DIVISION OF IRAQ. Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said that "America has determined the officials of various parts of Iraq," the "Siyasat-i Ruz" daily reported on 11 March. According to Rezai, Abd-al-Majid Khoi, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Khoi, has arrived recently in Kuwait and he will be in charge of the southern part of Iraq.

Rezai was presumably referring to a U.S. plan to divide a postwar Iraq into three zones; Pentagon officials had said on 7 March that Iraq would be divided into northern, southern, and central sectors for administrative purposes, and Shia would dominate the southern sector, UPI reported. Civilians answering to retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who heads the Pentagon Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, reportedly would run these sectors. U.S. officials said that the Pentagon hopes to have Iraqis or expatriate Iraqis running things as quickly as possible, UPI reported.

Khoi does not appear to be very popular in Iran; when he discussed cooperation with the U.S. during a speech in Qom he was booed off the stage and had to be escorted out of the building (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003).

Iranian officials are not happy with the idea of an American "viceroy" in Iraq, either. When such a plan was reported in "The New York Times" on 10 October, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani dismissed it as "cowboyism," IRNA reported on 23 October. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani expressed a similar opinion on 13 October, IRNA reported. "This is another psychological war of its type and America wants to say that 'I can go ahead to the extent of occupying Iraq and choosing a governor for that country,'" he said. (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN REFUGEES RESUME REPATRIATION. Thousands of Afghan refugees have started heading home this week, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on 11 March, which indicates the start of the "spring repatriation season" ( "Over the last two days" (presumably 9-10 March), 1,117 refugees have headed home from Iran and 1,000 refugees registered at the Katcha Garhi refugee camp in Pakistan. Under what is termed "the facilitated return initiative," Afghan refugees who are going home get between $3 and $30 depending on the distance back to their homes, and inside Afghanistan they can get some food and other forms of assistance.

UNHCR plans to help up to 1.2 million Afghans repatriate from Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asia, and 300,000 internally displaced persons return to their homes in Afghanistan. Some Afghan refugees remain concerned about the lack of security, jobs, and shelter in their country, while others may consider returning due to alleviation of the country's drought. UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers discussed Afghan repatriation efforts with Iranian officials during his visit to Tehran in the first week of March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 March 2003). (Bill Samii)