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Iran Report: April 7, 2003

7 April 2003, Volume 6, Number 15

KHATAMI DENOUNCES U.S.-LED WAR ON IRAQ. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, on Iran's Persian Gulf island of Kish on 3 April to inaugurate a new luxury hotel, said the war in Iraq put "the interests of mankind at risk," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). He expressed sadness over the deaths on both sides of the war, but in particular those of "the oppressed Iraqi people whose youth are being sacrificed for some people who are sitting in their safe palaces." He called for an international effort to stop the war which he said was driven by "Zionist lobbies," and warned that it would give "a green light to extremist movements and violence-seekers to answer back your violence with violence." Apparently reflecting Tehran's wariness of the installation of a U.S.-backed government in neighboring Iraq, he demanded that the Iraqi people choose their own, democratic government. According to IRNA, he equated America and Britain with terrorists "who would seek to achieve their own objectives and impose their will on others in defiance of the dictates of the human conscience." (Steve Fairbanks)

IRANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS WAR COULD BENEFIT IRAN. Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai, a former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said recently that Iran should receive at least $3 billion in reparations for losses it has incurred because of the current war in Iraq, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 March. Other possible benefits Rezai foresees include reparations from Iraq (presumably relating to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War), elimination of the Iraqi-armed and -hosted Mujahedin Khalq Organization opposition group, and confirmation of the 1975 Algiers Accords that Saddam Hussein renounced when he attacked Iran in 1980.

Rezai said that Turkey's refusal to cooperate with the coalition and the resulting delay in allied military plans provide Iran with its "best opportunity" to have an "independent and effective" regional presence, confirm its role as "the most powerful country in the Middle East," safeguard Iran's interests, and defend the tights of the Iraqi people. The Iraqis' absence of anti-Israeli rhetoric and their failure to attack Israel, Rezai said, suggests that some behind-the-scenes arrangements took place. Rezai said that Israel will make the biggest gains from the current war. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN STANCE DISAPPOINTS IRAQI OFFICIAL. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in an interview broadcast by Lebanese satellite television (LBC) on 1 April that he is somewhat disappointed by the Iranian stance towards current events while at the same time he seemed to acknowledge that there might be some residual hostility from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Aziz said, "I do not consider the position of Iran [to be] as positive as it should be, given that Iran is, firstly, an Islamic state, irrespective of the history of differences between us." Aziz added, "Iran is a target too." Aziz indicated that things could be worse, saying, "We never thought that Iran would be with us in this struggle, and Iraq is quite happy with a positive neutrality on the part of Iran." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN BLAMES COALITION FOR IRANIAN JOURNALIST'S DEATH. Iranian freelance cameraman Kaveh Golestan was killed in northern Iraq on 2 April when he stepped on a landmine, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. Golestan was working for the BBC and accidentally set off the mine as he stepped out of his vehicle near the town of Kifri. Golestan's three companions received minor injuries that were treated by U.S. Army medics. CPJ acting Director Joel Simon said, "We are deeply saddened by the loss of Kaveh Golestan and send our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and colleagues." Golestan is the third journalist killed since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance for Press and Promotional Affairs Seyyed Mohammad Sohofi blamed the coalition for Golestan's death. "The atrocious U.S., U.K.-led war currently under way in Iraq has not only victimized hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians, but has taken the lives of several reporters including Kaveh Golestan," IRNA reported on 3 April. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN AYATOLLAHS CONDEMN WAR ON IRAQ. Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri asked in a 30 March statement, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported, "If the undemocratic nature of Saddam's regime is a crime, then who do you know among the American and British allies in the Middle East whose government is 100 percent democratic, and its people free?" Montazeri said the United States and United Kingdom are seeking to protect Israel and gain greater control of Middle East oil. He also said the United States and United Kingdom have the greatest number of weapons of mass destruction.

Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi on 24 March issued a statement that this would be one of the most brutal wars in history, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Makarem described the war as unjustified, and he accused the U.S. of violating all international regulations. "This catastrophic war has disclosed the deceitful face of those who claim to be advocates of human rights and democracy," according to the statement. "This is a lesson for the simpletons who are fascinated with the West and its promises."

The Association of Qom Seminary Lecturers and Researchers on 5 April called for an immediate end to the war in Iraq in order to protect its population and the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, IRNA reported. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the clerical organization asked what has been done to enforce UN resolutions in the face of the superpowers' resistance since the organization's creation. The letter said that nothing has been done about Israeli actions against the Palestinian people, and the superpowers were silent when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacked Iran and used chemical weapons in Halabjah, so the UN's inaction results in questions about its status. "It is not [too] late yet.... [The UN] should take the necessary measures before the number of civilian casualties would further rise and historical, as well as cultural and scientific monuments of religious centers of hundreds of world Muslims, are destroyed," the letter added. (Bill Samii)

CONFUSION OVER IRAQI AYATOLLAH'S POSSIBLE FATWA. Central Command (CENTCOM) deputy director of operations Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said during a 3 April press briefing in Qatar that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a Shia source of emulation based in Najaf, has issued a fatwa "instructing the population to remain calm and to not interfere with coalition actions," according to the State Department's Office of International Information Programs website ( Brooks also described "evidence of other religious leaders that have had enough of this regime, and in due time they will speak out." Brooks' statement was followed by contradictory ones, as well as comments about the confusion that reigns in Najaf.

Sistani's office issued a statement denying that the cleric has issued a fatwa calling on Iraqis not to resist coalition forces, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on 3 April. Lebanese Hizballah's Al-Manar television also reported on 3 April that it could not confirm "the truth about the aforementioned [fatwa]," citing "parties [contacted] through our own channels."

Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a spokesman for the London-based Al-Khoi Foundation, said in a 3 April interview with Al-Jazeera that "our sources say that complete confusion prevails in Najaf...[w]e have no one who could go to Ayatollah Sistani to ask him for a religious ruling." Al-Ulum added that "what we have heard" is that the ayatollah wants the Iraqi people not to resist coalition forces.

The Khoi Foundation on 4 April announced that it still had not confirmed the fatwa, IRNA reported, and added that it is in touch with Abd-al-Majid al-Khoi in Najaf to clarify the situation. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on the same day that U.S. forces facilitated the return to Najaf of Abd-al-Majid al-Khoi and other Iraqi exiles in order to win the religious community's support.

If anyone is inclined to believe Iraqi state media, then it too contributed to the confusion. Iraqi satellite television reported on 3 April: "The religious scholars in Al-Najaf al-Ashraf represented by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, Ayatollah Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi, and Ayatollah Shaykh Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, and the religious scholar in Al-Kazimiyah, Ayatollah Seyyed Hussein Seyyed Ismail al-Sadr, have issued a fatwa in which they appealed to the Islamic nation everywhere to unite and support the Muslim and mujahid Iraq with all their might. They also called upon the Iraqi people to defend their homeland, honor, religion, and holy shrines and expel the infidel invaders from the land of Islam." (Bill Samii)

OFFICIAL IRANIAN WAR COVERAGE EXPOSES BIAS. The hard-line and anti-American biases of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) are a matter of record and most informed Iranians are aware of this situation. The plethora of newspapers in the major cities gives interested Iranians the opportunity to get their news from a variety of sources. Currently, however, most Iranians are dependent on national news media for information, because most newspapers were not published from 20 March to 5 April, due to the Noruz (Iranian new year) holiday. The few exceptions to this were the websites of the conservative "Entekhab" daily, the official "Iran" daily, and the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Yas-i No" dailies, which produced a few issues each. Reformist coverage on war-related topics was less negative, and in some cases could be interpreted as critiques of domestic politics.

For example, an analyst identified only as "Mr. Kazemzadeh" claimed on 2 April that coalition forces appear to be intentionally killing Iraqi civilians, state radio reported. He claimed that cluster bombs being used by coalition forces are banned weapons, and that U.S. cruise missiles are not very accurate. Kazemzadeh also claimed that "aerial and missile attacks on urban areas" have increased, in order to force civilians out of Baghdad, Basra, and other cities. Following the 29 March suicide bombing at a vehicle checkpoint, Kazemzadeh said, U.S. troops "open fire on Iraqi civilians every time they see a suspicious move." He described the subsequent shooting of individuals in an automobile that refused to halt as a massacre. "This reveals that there have been changes in the American and British military plans regarding Iraq. That is because prior to that, the two countries claimed that massacring civilians was not on their agenda."

U.S. forces bombarded a maternity hospital in Nasiriyah on 2 April, IRNA reported the next day, in the belief that it was used by the military. Iranian television reported on 3 April that Karbala was "the target of lengthy aerial bombings," and Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf was another coalition target. On 3 April, IRNA carried a report that British forces advancing on Basra were forced to retreat.

These are just a few examples. Yet this kind of bias has not met with universal approval in Iran, and some observers have suggested that it could be harmful.

Fuad Sadeqi, managing editor of the Baztab website (, said in a 2 April interview with Fars news agency that Iran's official news outlets are portraying the U.S. and U.K. as aggressors and invaders, and their coverage is not balanced. The official news agencies carried "dozens" of reports about the water shortage in Basra, Sadeqi said, but they did not file even one report about the Americans' restoration of the water supply. He added that there are "hundreds" of reports about coalition killings of civilians, but there are very few reports about the Ba'athist regime's killings of civilians and dissidents.

Tehran University professor Sadeq Zibakalam warned in a 2 April interview with Fars news agency that such biased reporting could be harmful to Iran's national interests and expressed the hope that no Iranian official would believe this reporting. "Reports such as 'America is being defeated,' 'all their plans have failed,' 'America has been bogged down on the battlefield,' 'the Iraqis have been successful,' and suchlike, which one can deduce from the news reports and analyses of the Voice and Vision, are unreal," Zibakalam said.

Iranian newspapers resume publication on 5 April. It remains to be seen what tone they take as the inevitable allied victory approaches. (Bill Samii)

ALL ROADS LEAD TO BAGHDAD -- EXCEPT THOSE OF IRANIAN VOLUNTEERS. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Major General Victor Renuart told reporters on 29 March that a suicide bomber killed four 3rd Infantry Division soldiers manning a road checkpoint in Najaf, according to the American Forces Press Service ( A Ba'ath Party official in Basra, meanwhile, warned that there will be more suicide bombers. "We all look forward to detonating ourselves with an explosives belt or in attacks on the positions of the Americans, the Zionists, and the English," Abd al-Muhsin Sadun said, according to Al-Jazeera on 29 March.

This incident may serve as the impetus for more suicide bombings against coalition forces. Iraqi Armed Forces General Command military spokesman Major General Hazim al-Rawi's 30 March statement on Al-Jazeera television that some 4,000 volunteers from all Arab countries have come to Iraq to fight the coalition forces suggests that others are ready to commit similar acts. But it appears that there will not be any Iranians among those volunteers.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan during a 29 March press conference identified the suicide bomber as a noncommissioned officer named Ali Jafar Musa Hammadi al-Numani and claimed that he "killed five Americans and destroyed a number of tanks and vehicles," Al-Jazeera reported. A spokesman for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein claimed on 30 March that the suicide bomber killed "11 villains from the United States and wound[ed] a large number of others. He also destroyed two armored personnel carriers and damaged two tanks," Al-Jazeera reported. In recognition of his actions, the Iraqi president has awarded al-Numani two medals posthumously -- the Rafidayn medal of the first order and the Umm al-Maarik (Mother of Battles) medal of the first order.

Israeli media warned that volunteers from Syria are heading to the conflict. Most of the volunteers who go to Iraq to combat coalition forces are arriving in Mosul and Kirkuk in the northern part of the country via routes that are relatively free of U.S. air activity, Tel Aviv's "Ha'aretz" newspaper reported on 1 April.

Colonel Munir Maqdah, a Fatah commander in the Ayn al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, was cited in the "The Jerusalem Post" on 30 March as saying that hundreds of Palestinians living in Lebanon have been sent to Iraq to conduct suicide attacks against coalition forces. In an interview that appeared in Beirut's "The Daily Star" on 31 March, Maqdah denied that he sent suicide bombers to Iraq, although he acknowledged that "hundreds" of volunteers from Palestinian camps in Lebanon and other Arab countries went there before Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Maqdah said there was a notice in the camp calling for volunteers before the war began, and he admitted to encouraging Arabs to go to Iraq. "We wish we were all in Iraq fighting the Americans," he said.

Some 250 Lebanese volunteers from Baalbek have headed for Iraq to fight U.S. and U.K. forces, Baalbek parliamentary representative Asim Qansu said on 30 March, according to "The Daily Star" on 31 March. Thirty-six volunteers -- Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, and a Sudanese -- on 31 March boarded a bus in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Lebanon and headed for Iraq, "The Daily Star" reported on 1 April. Some of them reportedly said that they want to engage in suicide bombings against coalition personnel. Khalid Jafar Shoueish, Iraq�s deputy ambassador in Beirut, said on 1 April that dozens of Arabs, including women, were registering daily at the embassy in Hazmieh as volunteers to fight in Iraq, "The Daily Star" reported on 2 April. "We take their names and contact numbers, and we call them when a group of the right size is ready," Shoueish said.

The Palestine Ulama Association on 31 March called on the Arab people to mobilize and declare a jihad against the U.S. and U.K., according to the Izz-al-Din al-Qasem Brigades website ( The statement referred to Operation Iraqi Freedom as "an aggression against the whole Islamic nation." Iraqi Ambassador to Egypt Muhsin Khalil urged the Egyptian people to organize "convoys of volunteers," Cairo's "Al-Wafd" newspaper reported on 1 April. About 2,500 Somali teenagers have registered at mosques and other locations in Mogadishu to indicate their willingness to fight alongside Iraqi forces, Mogadishu's "Ayaamaha" newspaper reported on 1 April.

"Arab Afghans," the volunteers who flocked from North Africa and the Arab world to Afghanistan in the 1980s to participate in the anti-Soviet jihad, are heading for Iraq to fight against U.S. and British forces, former Pakistani Army chief General Aslam Beg said on 1 April, according to Kyodo news agency. Beg claimed that "busloads of mujahedin" had left Pakistan for Iraq in response to a fatwa from leaders of religious groups.

Meanwhile, Maulana Mohammad Zaman, a religious leader of the Shakot tribal region bordering Afghanistan, told a crowd of some 500 people that the government should arrange for 10,000 local volunteers to participate in "jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq," AFP reported on 1 April. The Pakistani government reportedly has refused to fulfill this request. The Jamiyat Ahl-Sunnat party said that it would organize a convoy of protestors to go from Rawalpindi to Karachi, and 3,000 people participated in a rally in Peshawar organized by the Awami National Party.

Not all of the individuals who have volunteered to go to Iraq are from Southwest Asia, however. "The New York Times" on 2 April mentioned a Canadian Muslim, a "smattering of Europeans," and North Africans. On 31 March and 1 April, furthermore, Italian police arrested an Egyptian, two Iraqi Kurds, and two Tunisians who were involved with recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq, Turin's "La Stampa" reported on 2 April.

Iran, however, is preventing volunteers from going to Iraq, according to a 1 April AP report. Iranian military officials say that are under orders not to let anybody through: "we have prevented and will prevent anybody seeking to cross the border without authorization," an anonymous official said. Some Iranian Arabs in southwestern Khuzestan Province have expressed an interest in fighting against the coalition. (Bill Samii)

SYRIA DISMISSES U.S. ACCUSATIONS OF INTERFERENCE IN IRAQ. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld charged during the 28 March Pentagon briefing that military supplies are being sent to Iraq from Syria and said the coalition would like for this to stop, according to the State Department's Office of International Information Programs website ( "We have information that shipments of military supplies are crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles," Rumsfeld said, adding that deliveries of such equipment threaten the lives of allied personnel. Rumsfeld warned that the United States views this as a hostile act and it "will hold the government of Syria accountable for such shipments."

Syrian Information Minister Adnan Umran rejected in a 29 March statement Rumsfeld's accusation and said it stemmed from the difficulties coalition forces are encountering in Iraq and from criticism of the Defense Department, Syrian state radio reported. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf rejected Rumsfeld's accusation during a 29 March press conference, adding, "They are part of the blackmail operation by the international community and an attempt to attack other countries," Al-Jazeera reported. (Bill Samii)

PALESTINIAN RADICALS DEDICATE TERRORIST ACTS TO IRAQ. A member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) injured 30 Israelis in a 30 March suicide bombing meant as "a present" to the Iraqi people, as well as an anti-Israel act, according to a pamphlet carried by the bomber, dpa reported. The pamphlet revealed the existence of a new suicide-bomber unit named after Ali al-Numani, the Iraqi national who killed four U.S. soldiers in a 29 March suicide bombing in Najaf (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 March 2003).

PIJ's Al-Qods Brigade took credit for the 29 March shooting of an Israeli soldier and the firing of four rockets west of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, and it said the operation took place in the context of a general mobilization in solidarity with the Iraqi people, according to the PIJ website ( "Iraq is not the only target of this crusade.... The target is the entire nation."

"If Palestinians are given a chance to travel to Iraq," Palestinian Islamic Jihad representative in Lebanon Abu-Imad al-Rifa'i said, "tens of thousands of volunteers will go there," Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" daily reported on 2 April. Al-Rifa'i explained that the PIJ does not see the war with Iraq as distinct from the Palestinian cause. "This aggression is part of the American plan to dominate the region, impose Israel as a fait accompli, and loot the wealth of the region," he claimed. The official from the PIJ, which the U.S. State Department considers a foreign terrorist organization, said that participation in the Iraq conflict would not affect PIJ's role in Palestine. He said the Palestinians' spirit of resistance has had a positive regional impact. (Bill Samii)

LEBANESE SHIA DISCUSS U.S. INTEREST IN IRAQ AND REGION. Haj Mahmud Qamati, deputy chairman of Lebanese Hizballah's Political Council, said in the 30 March issue of Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" daily newspaper that his organization only has offered "political and media" support to the "Iraqi resistance" so far, but he added, "We have a relationship with some factions with which we hope to develop a working plan in the future to confront the American plan, now that Iraq has become the staging point for the American plan to dominate the region." Qamati emphasized that his organization is against aggression and is not in favor of the Iraqi regime. He added that Hizballah warned that if the United States were not confronted in Afghanistan, the entire region would have to deal with it later. Qamati praised the religious leaders in the Iraqi city of Najaf who have called for resistance.

Lebanese Shia spiritual leader Shaykh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah said in a 28 March sermon at the Imam Hassan Mosque in southern Beirut that the Iraqi people's resistance against U.S. and U.K. forces does not indicate their support for the regime, Hizballah's Al-Manar television reported. Rather, he said, it indicates their defense of the nation. Fadlallah inaccurately accused the United States of carrying out massacres in several Iraqi cities. He also accused the United States of promoting sectarian strife. "In their political rhetoric, the Americans want to incite strife among the Muslims in Iraq by insinuating that the Shia stand behind the occupation and that the Sunnis are those who are mounting resistance," he said. Fadlallah said the Shia always have opposed occupation and will never be at peace with the occupier. He called for Muslim unity, and said, "Let us have one voice and one position against the occupation."

Earlier in March Fadlallah described regional events as part of a campaign to turn Muslims into "lackeys" of the U.S., "The Daily Star" reported on 5 March. Fadlallah said that the U.S. created Saddam Hussein and now it was trying to get rid of him. "America creates oppressors and then dispenses with them for its own interests and to bring in new oppressors under the guise of democracy, as it claims."

Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a 4 March speech commemorating Ashura and Muharram that the U.S. is coming to the region to secure its grip on oil and this is the biggest threat to Islam, Hizballah's Al-Manar television reported. Nasrallah said that most of the Arab regimes have come to power thanks through U.S. protection. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETS AS SADDAM ISSUES WARNING. Two meetings of Iraqi opposition groups took place in Dukan, northern Iraq, on 2 April. The joint Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Higher Command Committee met first under the chairmanship of PUK leader Jalal Talabani and KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani, KurdSat television reported on the same day. They discussed regional changes that have come about since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In a letter read out by Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf on Iraqi satellite television on the same day, Saddam Hussein warned the PUK's Talabani against cooperation with coalition forces. According to al-Sahhaf, the letter is intended as documentation so that nobody can say after the defeat of the United States and United Kingdom that Hussein did not warn those who are "standing at the brink of the abyss." The letter noted that the "flirtation" between Talabani and the United States has transformed into "welcoming U.S. forces" and working with them on a northern front "against the Iraqi Army and people." The letter warned Talabani that he is playing a dangerous game and that "America and Zionism are attempting through their tactics to drive a wedge between the joints of the lively relationship among the united peoples." Talabani might later regret throwing himself into this "quagmire," according to the letter.

The opposition's Leadership Council -- consisting of Talabani, Barzani, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, and Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Jihad Bureau chief Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim -- also met on 2 April. SCIRI associate Muhsin al-Hakim told IRNA on 2 April that they discussed political and military strategies, postwar urban management, and the postwar interim government.

Seyyed Anwar al-Hakim, another SCIRI associate, charged in a 31 March interview with ISNA that the United States does not want to give the Iraqi people a role in overthrowing the country's regime or in shaping any possible post-Saddam government. Al-Hakim said that trying to do so without the involvement of the SCIRI militia, known as the Badr Brigade (or Badr Corps) would be very difficult.

Presumably referring to U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's characterization of the Badr Corps as an extension of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 March 2003), al-Hakim said: "The Iraqi opposition forces are a symbol of the Iraqi nation and represent the silenced voice of the people. Forces of the Badr are all Iraqis and have always stood with the Iraqi people. We regret to hear of the allegations made against Iran on the composition of the Badr Corps." (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS KHATAMI'S ELECTION LAW. The Guardians Council in the evening of 1 April rejected an amendment to the election law on the grounds that it violated the constitution and Islamic law, IRNA reported on 2 April -- as predicted in the 20 September 2002 "RFE/RL Iran Report." The bill to reform the election law was introduced on 1 September 2002 with the objective of eliminating or at least reducing the Guardians Council's power of "approbatory supervision" (nizarat-i estisvabi) through which the council vets, and rejects, candidates for elected office. The legislation had widespread support amongst reformist parliamentarians, according to IRNA, and the rejected bill has been sent back to them for revision. If the Guardians Council and parliament cannot reach a compromise, the bill will go to the Expediency Council. (Bill Samii)

PENTAGON TO BLACKLIST COMPANIES INVESTING IN IRAN'S ENERGY SECTOR... The Pentagon is drawing up a blacklist of non-U.S. companies investing in Iran's energy sector, the "Financial Times" reported on 28 March, citing "private-sector sources close to the U.S. Defense Department." Companies on the list would be barred from U.S.-awarded contracts in the reconstruction of Iraq. The blacklisted companies would be those deemed to be in violation of the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which bars non-U.S. companies from investing more than $20 million per year in Iran's energy sector. So far, ILSA has not been enforced on any company. The Pentagon has declined to comment on the blacklist, which could include companies from "coalition of the willing" countries such as Britain's Shell and Italy's Eni. (Steve Fairbanks)

...WHILE BRITAIN RELAXES SCRUTINY OF EXPORTS. Britain has ended mandatory ministerial scrutiny of applications for export of strategically controlled goods to Iran, the "Financial Times" reported on 26 March. Officials in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defense, and the Foreign Office will review the applications without need to submit them to the ministers of their departments. A Foreign Office spokesman claimed that the new procedure was just a "streamlining" change and that there would be no let-up in scrutiny, particularly in cases relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But critics, the "Financial Times" points out, charge that the move would enable ministers to avoid criticism if an application is approved that later causes "embarrassment." (Steve Fairbanks)

STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN. The U.S. State Department on 31 March released its annual report on the human rights situation in Iran, and elsewhere in the world ( The report notes, "The [Iranian] Government's human rights record remained poor, and deteriorated substantially during the year, despite continuing efforts within society to make the Government accountable for its human rights policies." The government executed people after trials in which there was a lack of due process, sentences at times called for stoning and flogging, and the security forces sometimes employed excessive force. Although banned by the constitution, there were "numerous credible reports" of the use of torture by security forces and prison personnel.

There are an unknown number of political prisoners in Iran, and the government frequently imprisons people on criminal charges for political offenses. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are restricted, the government monopolizes broadcast media, and all programming as a result reflects government views.

There is an absence of academic freedom in Iran, according to the State Department report. Among the transgressions noted in the report: "academic censorship...government informers who monitored classroom material and activities...admission to universities was politicized...professors had to cooperate with government authorities over a period of years."

All religious minorities in Iran encounter some difficulties in freely practicing their beliefs, yet the nearly 350,000 adherents of the Bahai faith suffer the most, according to the State Department report. They face arbitrary arrest and jailing, and the government always keeps a "small number" of them in detention. The government does not recognize Bahais as a legitimate religious community, seeing them instead as "heretics belonging to an outlawed political organization." Since 1983 the Bahais have not had the right to assembly officially or to maintain administrative institutions, and the restrictions on them apparently are geared to destroying their community.

The State Department report states that the situation of the Bahais has improved somewhat recently. The February 2000 approval of a "Right of Citizenship" bill resulted in a judicial notification that all couples can be registered as husband and wife without stating their religious affiliation, which effectively permits the registration of Bahai marriages. Moreover, Bahais can now obtain ration books and send their children to public elementary and secondary schools.

Judaism is recognized but its practice is "restricted and interfered with," according to the State Department report. Teachers are discouraged from distributing Hebrew texts, which makes teaching the language difficult.

Senior Shia leaders who question the official theocratic system face house arrest. Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Tabatabai-Qomi has been under house arrest in Mashhad for more than 15 years, according to the report, and Ayatollah Yasub al-Din Rastgari has been under house arrest in Qom since late 1996. The report also notes the detention of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, who was released in late January 2003 after spending five years under house arrest (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). (Bill Samii)