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Iran Report: April 14, 2003

14 April 2003, Volume 6, Number 16

KHAMENEI ACCUSES COALITION OF COLONIALISM... Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave both sermons at the Tehran Friday prayers of 11 April, and his main topic was the current state of affairs in Iraq, according to a live broadcast by state radio. Khamenei said that the United States wants to place a military officer, "who may be a Zionist or a person who is totally attached to Zionist circles," as the "head of an Islamic country and a brave Arab nation." "The British like the scent of oil," so in the U.S.-U.K. division of the country, "Basra is for the British." "Baghdad is the center for the Americans' power," Khamenei said, because the U.S. likes a show of power. "They seem to have agreed on this kind of arrangement," Khamenei said. "This is a return to the very first era of colonialism."

Khamenei said that straightforward colonial occupation has failed in the past, which is why local allies are selected. He said that control of the educational system is another method by which the U.S. hopes to change Iraqi culture.

Coalition statements about wanting to liberate the Iraqi people are a lie, Khamenei said. He also accused the coalition of committing atrocities and, with its bombing campaign, creating a "reign of terror." Khamenei said that frisking veiled Arab women to make sure that they are not carrying bombs is disrespectful and a violation of human rights. The U.S. is a rogue state, Khamenei said. It has proven that it is "the Great Satan," according to Iran's highest-ranking political official. "The British have also made a big mistake. They have followed America so that they can get a share of the spoils."

Khamenei concluded by saying that "the Zionists had the biggest role" in encouraging Washington to go to war. "The Zionists played a very big role." Throughout the sermon the congregation repeatedly chanted slogans such as "God is great, Khamenei is our leader," "death to opponents of Vilayat-i Faqih," "death to America," "death to Britain," "death to Israel," and "death to Monafeqin and Saddam."

Khamenei's comments so inspired the congregation that a "spontaneous demonstration" took place immediately after the Friday prayers. The small group of demonstrators condemned what state television termed "the military aggression of America and Britain against Iraq and the occupation of that country." Demonstrators also gathered in front of the British Embassy to declare their "contempt." (Bill Samii)

...AND ENCOURAGES IRAQI RESISTANCE. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered the second sermon of 11 February in Arabic, and state radio provided a live broadcast. He said that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime should be joyful, but Washington's and London's schemes leave a bitter taste and sadden the world's Muslims.

The invaders' "war crimes" surpass those committed by Saddam Hussein over many years, Khamenei said. He described "massacres committed against an unarmed people...the groaning of bereaved women and the injured...cries of hungry, injured children...demolition of people's homes...arrest and imprisonment of passersby...disparaging of the sanctity of families...spreading of widespread terror and fear...humiliation of proud men and the shameful acts committed against them in front of their children and womenfolk...destruction of the vital infrastructure of the country...dropping of thousands of bombs and missiles and the cannon shelling of cities...."

Khamenei continued, "There is nothing more hurtful and more bitter for a people than to see foreign soldiers, victory-drunk, enter their homes and land, unhindered, and take over the control of their fate.

"The claim made by America and England that they are offering freedom to the Iraqi people is one of the biggest farces," according to Khamenei, who asserted that the U.S. and U.K. just want to control Iraq, oil, and the Middle East, suppress the Palestinian uprising, and bury the Islamic revival. Khamenei said that the appointment of a foreign ruler humiliates Iraqi national sovereignty and is part of scheme to obliterate Iraqi nationalism. From the British and American perspective, the best Iraqis are those who help them.

Khamenei said, "Any service offered to America that would help it achieve its vile colonial objectives is a treason vis-a-vis Iraq, its people and its history." American and British dreams will not come true because of the resistance that will emerge. If they want to avoid a confrontation with the Iraqi people, coalition armed forces should leave Iraq immediately.

Although Iran had a neutral stance during the war, it will not be neutral in any struggle between the Iraqi people and occupiers. "The occupant is an aggressor and it should be condemned, and the aggressed people is right and it is wronged. Our political help goes to every wronged and aggressed people, and this is our line from which we will not deviate," Khamenei said. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES U.S. PLANS FOR IRAQ. Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 5 April met with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio to discuss regional developments, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported, and during their meeting he repeated some of the criticisms of the United States that he uttered on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 April 2003). Khatami said the U.S. military presence in the region in the name of bringing democracy is hypocritical. "Democracy is not a gift to come from overseas. It should be fostered within the core of the nations," Khatami said. "Unfortunately, the presence and interference of foreign forces in the region in the past several centuries has driven the process of democracy to a dead end."

Khatami said the Iraqi people do not see the coalition as a savior, and the war in Iraq will spawn "extremism and violence." In what IRNA said is a reference to the U.S. plan to have retired U.S. Army General Jay Garner administer Iraq, Khatami said that the "Iraqi government should represent the Iraqi people emanating from the will of every Iraqi individual, so only the Iraqi people have the right to decide their own fate." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS OBJECT TO DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAQ. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told a 9 April meeting of Health Ministry officials that U.S. objectives in Iraq are to control its oil resources and safeguard Israeli interests, IRNA reported. He said that nobody will agree to a retired U.S. general's governing Iraq, and he added, "History will never forgive Americans."

Parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told reporters on 9 April that if the U.S. does not let the Iraqi people run their own affairs problems will arise, IRNA reported. He denigrated U.S. accomplishments, saying, "U.S. success on the ground is not something big given its edge over Iraq in high-tech military hardware and the propaganda machine it enjoyed." Karrubi said at the beginning of the 6 April legislative session that the United States and United Kingdom attacked Iraq in an effort to dominate the region, control its oil resources, and guarantee Israel's security, state radio reported. Karrubi accused the U.S. of censoring the news and added, "Our country and the world can observe that American democracy, as well as that of other countries, is a sham." Karrubi also accused the U.S. of, in IRNA's words, "waging atomic warfare."

Vice President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said that the forces invading Iraq intend to extend their influence throughout the region, so other countries should be prepared, IRNA reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Ankara on 6 April to discuss war-related developments with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul. After meeting with Gul he told reporters that both countries oppose the division of Iraq or the creation of a separate state in its north, dpa reported. Kharrazi seemed to issue a threat about what would happen if Iraq's neighbors were not considered in its reconstruction, saying, "There will be no stability in Iraq without the support of its neighbors." According to a Reuters report, furthermore, Gul said he will travel to Syria in a week to discuss common concerns relating to northern Iraq, and Kharrazi added that Iran supports a meeting of all three countries. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN REFORMISTS CRITICIZE ANTI-U.S. RHETORIC. Veteran journalist and political commentator Said Leylaz warned that confrontational, anti-U.S. rhetoric by some political groups in Iran only serves the interests of the "most violent generals in the Pentagon," Tehran's "Iran Daily" reported on 10 April. He said that the efforts of, presumably, the conservative faction to harm its political rivals and "settle political scores" by appearing to take a harder line against the United States only expose the country to foreign threats.

An editorial in the reformist newspaper "Aftab-e Yazd" on 10 April assailed the credibility of the hard-liners for railing against the United States at a time of growing public indifference to events in Iraq. The hard-liners, the paper said, care little for the country's national interests, but only aim to denounce their reformist rivals as American stooges. In reality, wrote "Aftab-e Yazd," the hard-line faction not only has "no basic opposition to America" but it wants to gain "the credits they imagine will go to those who restore ties with America." The result, according to the newspaper, is increasing skepticism among the public regarding the "authenticity of the position of certain groups and media."

Reformist politician and former Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh, in an interview given to IRNA on 8 April and carried the following day in "Aftab-e Yazd," said that the anti-U.S. sloganeering of some political groups in the context of the Iraq war only served the interests of U.S. "warmongers." "It is not important how many anti-American slogans this group comes up with...their behavior, as in the case of the behaviors of Saddam and bin Laden, provides America with the best pretext and opportunity for carrying out its adventurist actions."

Repeating a theme increasingly common among reformists lately, he said that the only way to safeguard Iran against a U.S. attack is to allow free, democratic elections. That is because, he reasoned, the countries Washington threatens the most are those "ruled by closed political systems in which there are no free elections." Whether this is an effective argument against the unelected conservatives' grip on power is open to question.

President Khatami, in a joint session of the cabinet and the Iranian parliament on 9 April, warned political groups against using the current U.S.-led war in Iraq to their own factional advantage, Iran's state television reported. (Steve Fairbanks)

BIASED IRANIAN WAR COVERAGE DISCUSSED. Lanjan parliamentary representative Ali Mohammad Namazi complained on 6 April that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's (IRIB) analyses of the war in Iraq depict events in such a way that viewers are likely to believe that the Iraqi regime will win the war, IRNA reported on 7 April. Tehran parliamentary representative Elaheh Kulyai concurred, saying that IRIB's coverage of the war in Iraq is so biased that it violates the country's stated policy of neutrality. Such a position is potentially harmful, she said. "Although we understand what a suffering the Iraqi people are going through, we must prioritize defending the rights of the Iranians."

Ezatollah Zarghami, an IRIB official responsible for parliamentary affairs, rejected the complaints in a 6 April letter, "Tehran Times" reported on 7 April. He said that IRIB coverage complies with Supreme National Security Council guidelines and does not favor the Iraqi regime. Zarghami said that the broadcast media always mentions Iraqi actions against Iranians during their 1980-88 war.

Parliament speaker Karrubi's comments seem to back these claims. He said on 6 April: "On the whole, the Voice and Vision has had good programs. It has been impartial," state radio reported. Karrubi suggested that this reflects official government policy: "...because the director of the Voice and Vision is a member of the [Supreme] National Security Council, emphasis has been placed on the necessity of paying attention to the policies of the [SNSC]. Besides, I know for a fact that [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and others have reminded the Voice and Vision of the importance of this issue." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN TELEVISION BROADCASTING TO IRAQ. Iran's new 24-hour Arabic-language news television channel, Al-Alam (, began regular broadcasts to Iraq in March, "Iran News" reported on 6 April. According to "Iran News," Al-Alam opposes Operation Iraqi Freedom and Iraq's Ba'athist regime, shows extensive footage of dead Iraqi civilians, and refers to a "war of occupation." Iranian reformists have been quite critical of state media's one-sided war coverage (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 April 2003 and above). Iran's Sahar television network also broadcasts in Arabic, and a visit to the website ( reveals a similar approach to Iraq war coverage. (Bill Samii)

CHARNEL HOUSE NEAR BASRA CONTAINS IRANIAN REMAINS. British forces on 5 April found approximately 200 boxes containing human remains in a warehouse near Zubayr, which is about 10 miles southwest of Basra, and British military spokesman Major Mike Edwards said, "Who they belonged to or how they got there is under investigation," AP reported. The British soldiers also discovered a catalog of photographs of dead people; the faces were burned, mutilated, or grotesquely wounded, and apparently some were shot in the head, according to a reporter for Britain's Press Association news agency. A wall near the warehouse was dotted with bullet holes, mostly at head height, and there were tiny concrete cells nearby, according to Reuters.

An anonymous "official Iraqi source in Basra" claimed that the remains in the warehouse are of Iraqi soldiers killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, Al-Jazeera television reported on the day of the discovery. The source added that Iran had recently returned the bodies, and the current conflict prevented the Iraqi authorities from getting the remains to the next of kin.

Iran's Brigadier General Mir Feisal Baqerzadeh, who heads his country's Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) Committee, said that about half of the bodies are of Iranians soldiers whose remains were unearthed near Shalamcheh, Zubayr, and Faw, Tehran television reported on 5 April. "We have asked the Red Cross to take delivery of these corpses from the invading forces and to return them to the Islamic Republic of Iran as soon as possible," he added.

Although a cease-fire brought the two countries' war to an end 15 years ago, the search for MIAs continues and both countries still hold POWs. The most recent prisoner exchange took place on 17-18 March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 and 24 March 2003). (Bill Samii)

IRAQI REFUGEES DANCE IN THE STREETS OF TEHRAN. Some 3,000 Iraqi refugees poured into the streets of Tehran on 9 April to celebrate the advances by U.S. troops into the heart of Baghdad, Reuters reported. Gathering mainly in the poorer districts of south Tehran, they shouted anti-Saddam slogans but apparently were careful not to appear to praise America. Some in the crowd carried posters of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim, the Iraqi who heads the Tehran-supported Iraqi Shia opposition group known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

Approximately 60 Iraqis who were chanting "Death to America," "Death to Saddam," and "No to Colonialism, No to Ba'ath Party" on 11 April forced open the gates of the Iraqi Embassy in Tehran and entered the compound, IRNA and Reuters reported (AP reported that about 200 Iraqis stormed the embassy). The protestors tore up photos of Saddam Hussein, destroyed furniture, and broke windows, as police tried to disperse people outside the embassy. They also made off with embassy documents. The protestors displayed photos of SCIRI leader Al-Hakim. (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)

IRAQI SHIA AND A POST-SADDAM IRAQ. The Shia Hizballah-Iraq organization, led by Abu-Hatim al-Muhammadawi, claimed on 5 April that it battled and defeated elements of the Iraqi Army and Saddam Fedayeen in Al-Amarah Governorate. It added that this was the first military action by a Shia opposition group since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on 20 March, Kuwait's "Al-Ray al-Amm" reported on 6 April. This assertion by a little-known group represents an effort to speak on behalf of Iraq's 14.4-15.6 million Shia Muslims (according to the "CIA World Factbook," 60-65 percent of Iraq's population of approximately 24 million is Shia Muslim).

Several opposition organizations are dominated by Shia Muslims. The oldest Shia opposition group is the Islamic Call (Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah), which was founded in Najaf in the late 1950s or early 1960s according to Hanna Batatu's chapter in "Shi'ism and Social Protest" (Juan Cole and Nikkie Keddie, eds.; New Haven, 1986). Da'wah's first antiregime act took place in 1974. Saddam Hussein subsequently engaged in many acts of anti-Shia repression, including mass expulsions of Shia Muslims.

Da'wah and other Shia groups came together in Tehran in 1982 to create the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Within two years, Da'wah began to distance itself from SCIRI, rejecting the leadership of Islamic revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult).

Since that time, Da'wah has split into rival factions. One group remained in Iran and maintained an affiliation with SCIRI, the other went its own way, and is headquartered in London. Tehran-affiliated Da'wah official Abu Bilal al-Adib frequently has questioned Western intentions in Iraq. Other London-based Da'wah representatives met with U.S. government officials as recently as January.

The best-known Shia group is SCIRI, which won the exclusive right to appoint Shia representatives to the 65-member council created at the Iraqi opposition meeting in London in December. SCIRI was created in November 1982, is led by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim and a collective leadership, and is headquartered in Tehran. SCIRI's armed wing, the Badr Corps, is estimated to number about 10,000 and fought on the Iranian side in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. The Badr Corps has been linked with the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

These close ties with Tehran have resulted in Iraqi perceptions of the SCIRI as an Iranian mercenary force. Moreover, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has turned many Tehran-based Iraqi opposition figures into "Iranian government apparatchiks," according to "The Daily Star" on 24 March. The Iraqi oppositionists have been in Iran so long that they are "more Iranian than Iraqi," according to the Beirut newspaper.

SCIRI's post-Saddam plans are unclear. Although the Badr Corps was present in northern Iraq, it did not participate in any fighting and its leadership announced that it would not act on behalf of the coalition or of the regime. Al-Hakim said of the postwar period, "We have said from the beginning that we reject any American bid for a post-Saddam order because it will simply be an occupation force," according to the 3-9 April issue of Egypt's "Al-Ahram Weekly Online." Al-Hakim's nephew, Muhsin al-Hakim, said on 6 April that his uncle would return to Iraq soon to support the Iraqi nation and to teach in Najaf, IRNA reported.

Another Shia opposition group is the Tehran-based Islamic Action Organization, which is headed by Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi. It is linked with SCIRI, and the two groups have similar views. Islamic Action Organization Secretary-General Jawad al-Attar said: "The current battle is between Saddam and the Americans; it is not the battle of the Iraqi people. It is known that the United States does not want any change in Iraq achieved through the independent will of our people," according to the 21-27 July 2002 issue of London's "Al-Majallah."

The Al-Khoi Foundation, created mainly as a religious body in Najaf in the 1970s, has recently become politically prominent. During a January speech in the Iranian holy city of Qom, foundation Secretary-General Abd al-Majid al-Khoi stated that the United States has its own reasons for wanting to depose the Iraqi regime, but because this coincides with the Iraqi peoples' interests they should take advantage of the situation, IRNA reported on 9 January. This suggestion did not go down well, and Tehran has since claimed that al-Khoi is the U.S. choice to head the predominantly Shia southern part of Iraq. Al-Khoi dismissed such speculation, but it is noteworthy that U.S. forces facilitated his early-April arrival in Najaf, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 4 April.

Al-Khoi also tried to put to rest allegations spread by Ba'athist officials, as well as Iranian religious and political leaders, that coalition forces had damaged holy sites in the cities of Najaf and Karbala. "Believe me, not a single bullet has hit the wall of the shrine [of Imam Ali in Najaf]," he said, according to IRNA on 8 April. Al-Khoi died in mysterious circumstances on 10 April (see below).

Iraq's Shia community is represented in more organizations than just Hizballah-Iraq, Al-Da'wah, SCIRI, or the Al-Khoi Foundation. Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, for example, is a Shia Muslim, as is Iraqi National Accord leader Ayad Alawi. A meeting of all Iraqi opposition leaders might take place as soon as 15 April, and the role of the Shia opposition in Iraq's future will become clearer then. (Bill Samii)

MURDER IN THE MOSQUE. Al-Khoi Foundation Secretary-General Abd al-Majid al-Khoi returned to Iraq in early April in an effort to encourage Shia locals to cooperate with coalition forces. He was killed during a 10 April visit to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, according to numerous sources. The exact circumstances of al-Khoi's death are unclear.

Jawad al-Khoi, Abd al-Majid's nephew, said that according to people who were with his uncle at the time, "he was martyred by treacherous hands," Reuters reported, and Jawad told Al-Jazeera television that a mob attacked his uncle. Fadil al-Milani of the Khoi Foundation said Abd al-Majid was killed when he tried to protect mosque manager Heidar al-Kelidar, who was hated for his association with the Ba'athist regime's Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, from an angry mob, the French government-affiliated Radio Monte Carlo reported. In the ensuing tumult, al-Khoi was "hacked to death by a mob armed with swords," "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 11 April. According to the Al-Khoi Foundation website (, he was attacked by remnants of Hussein's regime, and according to IRNA on 11 April, unknown assailants dragged the cleric out of the mosque while he was praying, shot him, and then stabbed him to death. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN-SCIRI RELATIONSHIP DYNAMIC. Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 9 April expressed the belief that SCIRI should have "a significant role in Iraq," Reuters reported, citing IRNA. SCIRI has been based in Iran since 1982 and is viewed by some Iraqis as an extension of the Iranian government. Kharrazi also questioned Washington's motives in liberating the Iraqi people. "America has not come to the region to rid Iraq of Saddam. There are other goals beyond this attack," he said.

Two days earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi declared that SCIRI and its armed component, the Badr Corps, are "Iraqi bodies and have nothing to do with the Islamic Republic of Iran," IRNA reported on 7 April. He said that both institutions "perform according to their decisions" and that Iran does not "interfere in their attitudes and policies." Assefi's remarks appear to reflect Tehran's concerns over U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent warning to Iran to keep the Iran-based Badr Corps away from the battlefields in Iraq.

SCIRI does not appear to be making any efforts to endear itself with Washington. Regarding the U.S. plan to have retired army General Jay Garner serve as a postwar administrator for Iraq, SCIRI Chief Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim said that SCIRI would confront the leadership of a U.S. military officer, IRNA reported, citing the 10 April "Jomhuri-yi Islami."

"Iraqis perceive the United States as an occupying rather than a liberating force," al-Hakim responded when asked why southern Iraqi Shia had not risen up against the Ba'athist regime, according to an interview that appeared in the 3-9 April issue of Egypt's "Al-Ahram Weekly Online." Al-Hakim added that he has received messages from Iraqis who claim that coalition forces have been instructed to quell any civilian protests or uprisings, and he added that coalition troops are killing innocent civilians. For these reasons, he said, he has instructed Iraqis not to get involved in the fighting or to side with either the coalition or with the regime. (Bill Samii)

DA'WAH DESCRIBES ITS ROLE AGAINST SADDAM AND IN THE FUTURE. Iraq's oldest Shia opposition group, Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call), in a 9 April statement congratulated the Iraqi people on the downfall of the Ba'athist regime, Hizballah's Al-Manar television reported. Da'wah noted that this coincides with the anniversary of the Ba'athist regime's execution in 1980 of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Sadr and his sister, Bint al-Huda.

Meanwhile, Da'wah representative Adnan Ali explained his organization's role in Iraq's future during a London press conference with other oppositionists. He said that Da'wah would not join a "local administration imposed by the coalition forces," London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 9 April. "The Iraqi people contributed to the process of overthrowing Saddam's regime by not joining the resistance against the American and British troops," he added. (Bill Samii)

IRAN REOPENS KHORRAMSHAHR PORT. Iran's Khorramshahr port, located on the Arvand River (Shatt al-Arab) that forms part of Iran's border with Iraq, resumed operations on 5 April after a 17-day suspension of services since the outset of war in Iraq, IRNA reported. During the suspension of operations, traders from Abadan and Khorramshahr exported their goods via the ports of Bushehr and Bandar Abbas. (Steve Fairbanks)

MKO RETURNING TO IRAN AS COALITION BOMBS ITS IRAQI POSITIONS. Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi on 5 April said that some 100 members of the Iraq-based Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) have returned to Iran in recent months, IRNA reported. He said that if MKO members do not have "private complaints" outstanding against them, they can have a "normal life" in Iran. He urged other MKO members to give themselves up and "live in tranquility" in Iran, but denied that Iran had made a deal with the MKO. Yunesi said that "due to some considerations" Iran does not intend to go into Iraq to clash with MKO members reportedly stationed close to the Iranian border.

Those "considerations" might reflect coalition actions against the MKO's Iraqi bases at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 March 2003). These anti-MKO actions appear to be continuing. IRNA on 8 April cited Kurdish television as reporting that U.S. aircraft "severely pounded" MKO barracks near the towns of Khanaqin and Al-Amara in the previous 24 hours.

Referring to the MKO's revelations about Iranian facilities in Natanz that could bolster Iran's program to develop nuclear weapons, Yunesi added that "the MKO terrorist group has been making false allegations about Iran's use of nuclear energy for generating electricity, fortunately with unsuccessful results." (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)

AGHAJARI ON HOME LEAVE. Hashem Aghajari, the outspoken university professor whose calls for a modernized Islam and a government without clerical rule earned him a death sentence last August for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad, was released from prison on 6 April for temporary home leave after posting a 1.2 billion-rial ($150,000) bond, IRNA reported. His death sentence sparked several days of student-led riots last fall. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered that the verdict be reviewed, and Aghajari is expected to stand trial again at the same court in the western Iranian city of Hamedan that issued the death verdict. His release is possibly one of a series of recent gestures -- including the release from house arrest of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri and the release from prison of prominent reformist Abdullah Nuri -- that are meant to defuse factional tensions. (Steve Fairbanks)

CLASHES IN SOUTHERN TEHRAN. Clashes between mobs and policemen in the working-class district of Shahr-i Rey in southern Tehran on 6 April led to two policemen being taken hostage, "Iran Daily" reported on 10 April. No details were given as to what led to the clashes, but the hostages were freed with the intervention of Basij militia, As a result, an official of the Tehran governor-general's office told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) on 8 April that henceforth, "All meetings and public gatherings must have official permission from the security authorities." (Steve Fairbanks)

JOURNALISTS IN COURT... With the three-week Noruz holidays finally over, Iranian authorities are able to get back to cracking down on journalists. The editor in chief of the reformist daily "Yas-i No," Mohammad Naimipur, was summoned on 7 April, according to IRNA. Naimipur said that the complaints against him were for printing reports on the trial of the editor in chief of another reformist daily, "Noruz," and for interviewing the president's brother, Mohammad-Reza Khatami. Also, an editor of the Persian daily "Toseh," Seyyed Hussein Sajjadi, was summoned to judge Said Mortazavi's press court on 7 April for unspecified reasons, according to IRNA.

IRNA also reported on 7 April that former Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani is expected to appear in court on 9 April to explain why he allowed the daily women's newspaper "Zan" to continue publishing in 1999 despite a ban by the Revolutionary Court. "Zan" managing editor Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, is to appear in court the same day. IRNA, describing Mohajerani as a "man of the pen," revealed its partiality to him by expressing gratitude for his "meritorious service promoting freedom of expression and respect for journalists." (Steve Fairbanks)

...WHILE ANOTHER FILES APPEAL. Journalist and political activist Nargis Mohammadi, who on 8 March was sentenced by Iran's Revolutionary Court to one year in prison on charges of harming national security, propaganda against the regime, and insulting authorities, has filed an appeal. Mohammadi's lawyer, Mohammad Sharif, said that the Revolutionary Court on 5 April registered receipt of the appeal, IRNA reported on 6 April, citing "Mardomsalari." Sharif said previously that his client was sentenced for giving interviews to local press and international radio stations in which she protested the imprisonment of her husband, political activist Taqi Rahmani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 March 2003). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN GROWS UNCOMFORTABLE FOR BRITISH. The situation for the British community in Tehran appears to have become rather uncomfortable since the 28 March demonstration in front of Her Majesty's Embassy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 31 March 2003), and a group of the expatriates recently left Tehran. But not all Iranians support actions against diplomatic institutions.

"Dozens" attended a rally outside the British Embassy to protest the war in Iraq and to demand the expulsion of British diplomats from Iran, Fars News Agency reported on 7 April. ISNA, however, claimed that some 350-400 people attended, mainly to chant slogans to protest recent arrests of students, though it was unclear why they did so at the British Embassy.

IRNA on 7 April reported the event as a half-hour sit-in by 50 clerics, which reached a dramatic high point when they set fire to a paper British flag. They protested the "sacrilegious invasions of holy sites in Iraq by coalition forces," but IRNA in the same report said that the holiest cities, Najaf and Karbala, are calm and people there lead a normal life and are able to visit the holy sites. Similar rallies were staged elsewhere in the country, IRNA reported, apparently the response to calls over the weekend that the country's seminaries close down for a day of protest on 7 April.

These events were preceded by a more ominous one a week earlier. At 10:15 p.m. local time on 31 March, a van carrying barrels of gasoline and oil crashed into the wall near the main entrance of the British Embassy, immediately catching fire and killing the driver, and by midnight local time the vehicle was towed away, ISNA reported. The Tehran Governorate-General's director-general for political-security affairs, Ali Talai, described the incident as an accident, ruled out terrorism, and said that the van slid on the wet road, dpa reported on 31 March.

Security at the embassy has been strengthened, Reuters reported on 1 April, and although British diplomats refused to comment on the incident they acknowledged that they are studying the possibility of a deliberate attack. A British diplomat told Reuters on 5 April that the embassy has received a number of bomb threats.

All these incidents appear to have affected British expatriates. Some British Embassy staff and their family members have left Iran in recent days, Reuters reported on 5 April. In a letter to the British community in Iran, British Ambassador Richard Dalton authorized the departure of nonessential staff or dependants but said the embassy will remain open. Britain's Foreign Office has not advised British nationals against traveling to Iran or told its citizens living there to leave. Although Iranian officials insist that the truck crash was an accident, they have placed concrete barriers around the compound to make vehicular access to the embassy more difficult.

Taha Hashemi, who is the managing editor of the "Entekhab" daily, said on 8 April that attacking and occupying embassies is no longer a very good idea and only contributes to Iran's international isolation, IRNA reported. In Hashemi's words, "some people do not understand the realities of the era and do not realize that the age of attacking and occupying foreign embassies is over." He added, "We have paid the price for such extremist measures in the past, and Iran's suffering today is the outcome of similar violent and fanatical actions [that is, the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979]." (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)

IRANIAN STUDENTS PROTEST OUTSIDE U.K. AND SWISS EMBASSIES. A group of students gathered outside the British Embassy in Tehran on the evening of 9 April to protest against Operation Iraqi Freedom and chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Britain," Iranian state radio reported. Members of the Office for Strengthening Unity, the country's main student organization, also held a sit-in outside the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran because the Iranian government refuses to permit a U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. (Bill Samii)

COALITION ROCKET REPORTEDLY KILLS BOY IN KHUZESTAN. Khuzestan Province's deputy governor for political and security affairs, Dr. Afqah, said on 8 April that at approximately 4 p.m. local time a rocket blast in the Khosroabad district outside Abadan killed a local boy, ISNA reported. He speculated that "the rocket has probably been fired by American-British aircraft." IRNA later identified the victim as 13-year-old Hussein Arizi. Iranian officials are following up on the matter, according to IRNA.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on 10 April summoned the Swiss ambassador to give him a written message containing Tehran's "strong protest" regarding the incident two days earlier, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). Foreign Ministry legal affairs chief Danesh Jafari told his Swiss guest, "Tehran considers Washington as responsible for these actions and their consequences." Jafari called for "serious attention to prevent the repetition of such incidents" and respect for Iran's territorial integrity.

Tehran alleged in the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom that missiles -- fired either by Iraqi or by coalition forces -- landed on its territory (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 March 2003). (Bill Samii)

HIZBALLAH AND IRAQ. Author Robert Baer said recently that the Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah serves as the organizational model for those who want to create a long-term oppositional response to the presence of foreign forces in the Middle East, the "Financial Times" reported on 9 April. Reports from Iraq suggest that Hizballah is more than a model for resistance.

U.S. intelligence says that Arab guerrillas, mostly from Hizballah and from Yemen, have made their way to Baghdad to combat coalition forces, "The Washington Post" reported on 9 April. Prisoner interrogations and other intelligence sources show that others have come from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Sudan, and Syria. The motivations of these volunteers are mixed. An anonymous "senior officer" said that some of the volunteers are motivated by anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism, or Arab solidarity. Others, he said, "thought they were going to get a wife.... A lot of these guys, this isn't what they signed up for, and they're pretty upset. They were forced to fight."

Hizballah, however, insists that it is not militarily involved with the Iraqi conflict. The organization's deputy secretary-general, Shaykh Naim Qasim, said on 7 April that not only is Hizballah not active in Iraq but none of its members have gone there, Beirut's Tele-Liban television reported. (Bill Samii)