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Iran Report: April 28, 2003

28 April 2003, Volume 6, Number 18

TEHRAN DENIES COMMUNICATING WITH WASHINGTON. Iran's representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is making repeated trips from New York to Tehran via Paris as part of mission to open a permanent channel of dialog with the United States, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 21 April, citing anonymous "informed Iranian sources." National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad, who is the presidential envoy to Afghanistan and to Iraq, reportedly represents the American side.

Khalilzad met with senior Iranian officials in Geneva on 16 March, UPI reported on 26 March, to finalize agreements that Iran would assist downed American aviators during a war in Iraq and it would not send its military forces into Iraq during or after the war. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker and Zarif, as well as some Islamic Revolution Guards Corps officers, had another meeting in January, according to UPI.

"The Washington Post" reported on 18 April that Khalilzad and Crocker met secretly with Iranian officials in January to "discuss potential cooperation" in a possible Iraq conflict. At that meeting, the Americans asked Iran to seal its borders against escaping Iraqi officials and suggested that the United States would target Iraqi bases of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization terrorist group.

Tehran, however, does not acknowledge any such communications. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 21 March denied that Zarif and Khalilzad met and he also denied that Tehran and Washington reached any agreements on Iraq, IRNA reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 21 April interview that Iran is not ready for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, "because the United States is not ready for the kind of relations based on mutual respect among countries," AP reported, citing Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television.

Washington confirmed that discussions took place but was vague about them. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on 22 April verified the existence of a Washington-Tehran communications channel but did not provide information about a specific Khalilzad-Zarif channel. "I'm not familiar with it in regard to that specific channel," Fleischer said according to the State Department's Office of International Information Programs ( "But clearly we do have channels where we talk to the Iranians. We did it before. We did it, for example, in the rebuilding of Afghanistan through the Bonn Conference." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND WASHINGTON SHARE CONCERNS ABOUT IRAQ. Tehran repeatedly objected to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and since the fall of Baghdad, has objected to what it inaccurately terms an "occupation." One reason for this could be that the coalition presence in Iraq interferes with Iranian activities there.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 21 April interview that "I believe the government led by Americans in Iraq will not be acceptable [to Iran]," AP reported, citing Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television. Kharrazi also said the U.S.-led presence in Iraq is an occupation because the military operations there commenced without UN approval. Also on 21 April, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iraqis should have the right to determine their own destiny and denied that Iran intends to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs, IRNA reported. "The government of Iraq should be an Iraqi government and no non-Iraqi government would be acceptable," he said.

A 20 April report in "The New York Times" probably strengthened the Iranians' pre-existing concerns. That report asserted that "the U.S. is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region." The report, citing anonymous sources, referred to one base at Baghdad's international airport, another near Al-Nasiriyah in the south, the third at the H-1 airstrip in the western desert, and the fourth at Bashur in the north.

American officials have tried to make the point that the U.S. presence in Iraq will not be a permanent or long-term one. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a 21 April press conference said that any suggestion that the United States is planning a permanent military presence in Iraq is "inaccurate and unfortunate," according to the U.S. State Department's Office of International Information Programs (

Moreover, Washington has tried to reassure Tehran through direct meetings that it does not intend to pose a threat to the Islamic Republic (see above). According to a 3 April report from UPI, however, such diplomatic efforts have failed to reassure the Iranians.

Iran, meanwhile, is treading a well-worn path in its efforts to influence events in Iraq. Ten trucks carrying a second shipment of Iranian humanitarian assistance were sent to Karbala on 22 April, Iranian state radio reported. During the mid-1990s Iran hid weapons and other lethal goods in its humanitarian shipments to Bosnian Muslims.

Iranian-trained operatives also are actively promoting friendly Shia clerics and advancing Tehran's interests in Najaf, Karbala, and Basra, "The New York Times" reported on 23 April, citing anonymous U.S. government officials. Some of these operatives reportedly are members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) military wing, the Badr Brigade. Others are described as "irregular members of a special unit" of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). This would probably be the same unit, the special operations-capable Qods Force, that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in January 2002 had joined Afghan fighters in Herat (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 February 2002). Moreover, Tehran sent IRGC personnel and Ministry of Intelligence and Security operatives to Bosnia in the 1990s.

Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the Jihad Bureau of the SCIRI, confirmed in a 23 April interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television that elements of the Badr Brigade are present throughout Iraq. "They are in most villages and areas," he said, "Nobody can drive them out." Al-Hakim referred to the coalition that liberated his country in three weeks as "the occupation forces" and said that Iraqis oppose occupation. Nevertheless, resistance to the occupation would be peaceful, he said. Al-Hakim described SCIRI's first aim as the return of stability and security in the cities, the provision of essential services, and the establishment of an administration. The second aim is the formation of an independent national government that includes all sectors of Iraqi society.

The International Assembly of the Ahl-al-Bayt (IAAB) (House of the Prophet), a worldwide Shia organization based in Iran, issued a statement on 20 April in which it urged Muslim Iraqis to "display their strength and unity in running Iraq's affairs by observing order, solidarity, and obedience to [the] ulama and letting mosques serve as their base," "Entekhab" newspaper reported on 21 April. IAAB Secretary-General Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Asifi used to lead the pro-Iran faction of the Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) party.

In spite of all these indicators, Tehran rejects accusations that it is interfering in Iraqi affairs. "It is interesting that America has occupied Iraq and is accusing Iraq's neighbor of interference in Iraq's internal affairs," Foreign Minister Kharrazi said at a news conference on 24 April, according to state television. "Instead of this, the positive role that Iran could play in Iraq alongside other countries should be welcomed."

U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing the next day, RFE/RL reported, "There is no question but that the government of Iran has encouraged people to go into the country [Iraq] and that they have people in the country attempting to influence the country." (Bill Samii)

IRGC CONDEMNS HOSTAGE RESCUE MISSION. Thousands of people gathered in Tabas, which is near Yazd, on 25 April -- the anniversary of the failed 1980 mission to rescue American hostages -- to take part in an anti-American rally and chant "Death to America," state radio reported. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) in a 23 April communique condemned the hostage-rescue mission, urged U.S. leaders to learn from their past mistakes, and called on them to stop plotting against Iran, IRNA reported.

In that April 1980 incident, code-named Operation Eagle Claw, U.S. forces were trying to rescue 52 Americans held hostage by individuals acting with the connivance and protection of the Iranian government, and the mission was scrubbed when a sandstorm led to the destruction of U.S. aircraft on a desert airstrip in Tabas.

The IRGC communique commemorated the only Iranian to die in connection with the rescue mission, IRGC commander Mohammad Montazer-Qaem. The communique failed to mention that Montazer-Qaem was killed by the Iranian Air Force when it bombed the wreckage one day after the failed mission. The communique also claimed that all the American special operations forces personnel were killed, but in reality eight Americans died in the rescue mission. (Bill Samii)

MERRYMAKING IRANIAN OFFICIALS ANNOY LOCALS. Some 600 "senior officials, lawmakers, and managers" visiting the small town of Mahshahr in southern Iran's Khuzestan Province during last month's Noruz holidays shocked and annoyed the local inhabitants by indulging in extravagant holiday behavior, Tehran's "Iran Daily" reported on 22 April. The town's Friday prayer leader said it was difficult for the impoverished locals to tolerate the luxury and affluence of officials from "high places" who were expected to set better examples. The preacher complained that some of the holidaymakers were "using mineral water to wash their heads and faces. Some ate so much that they had to be hospitalized." (Steve Fairbanks)

GOVERNMENT TAKING ITS TIME TO CHOOSE NEW CENTRAL-BANK HEAD. Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri was quoted by ISNA on 22 April as saying that the government has no need to make decisions "to fit in or meet deadlines." He was being asked when the government would get around to picking a new governor of Iran's central bank to replace longtime Governor Mohsen Nurbakhsh, who died last month, and said that "one cannot set deadlines for government decisions." When asked about the credentials needed for a new central-bank head, Mazaheri said he would "talk about that after the governor is appointed." In view of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's slowness in deciding on who would occupy the key post, Mazaheri's equivocating appears to reflect intense political jockeying behind the scenes. (Steve Fairbanks)

IRAN PLANS 30 NEW TOWNS. The managing director of the New Cities Development Company, Seyyed Mahmud Mirian, announced that 30 new cities would be established throughout Iran by 2020, "Iran Daily" reported on 24 April. He said that construction of 18 new towns has already begun. He said that the new towns are necessitated by the mass migration from rural areas to Iran's big cities. More than 8.7 million people migrated to the cities between 1986 and 1996, 25 percent of them to Tehran, according to Mirian. He said that the cities, which are being constructed with both private and public funds, already have a population of 250,000, a figure that will reach 3.5 million by 2021. (Steve Fairbanks)

EU, WORLD BANK DEMAND IRAN ACT ON MONEY LAUNDERING. The European Union and the World Bank have warned they will place an embargo on Iran's international bank transactions if Tehran fails to fight money laundering effectively, according to Tehran's English-language "Iran Daily" on 21 April. World Bank officials urged the Iranian government to stop delaying ratification of a bill to check money laundering. The bill is currently under study in the Iranian parliament, which has found it contradictory to the Iranian Constitution, making passage unlikely any time soon. (Steve Fairbanks)

WEAK ECONOMY AND HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT WORRY TEHRAN. Government officials in Tehran are publicly pointing to Iran's continuing economic stagnation, IRNA reported on 22 April. IRNA cited an official of the Commerce Ministry's Trade Research Institute as saying that the value of Iran's non-oil exports is now less than it was in 1994. He blamed Iran's unified hard-currency rate and 15 percent annual inflation rate for higher production costs. IRNA also reported that Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance Mehdi Karbassian, blaming monopolies and unspecified hurdles to the promotion of exports, said at a recent seminar in Tehran that "the leap in non-oil exports envisioned in the Third Five-Year Development Plan (March 2000-March 2005) has not happened."

Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh on 19 April predicted a sharp fall in international oil prices as a consequence of the U.S. presence in Iraq, IRNA reported. He blamed "Iraqi military ruler Jay Garner's policy on the supply of 7 million barrels of oil" for decreases in prices that could mean that prices will not excel $25 per barrel this year. He said the Iranian government has adopted unspecified "necessary mechanisms" to cope with the situation.

These economic difficulties indicate that the Iranian government will have major problems addressing the country's high unemployment rate.

Iran's Management and Planning Organization announced that it aims to bring down the national unemployment rate to 12.1 percent by March 2005, IRNA reported on 22 April. The organization's plans, outlined at a session of the High Council of Employment, call for creating 900,000 new jobs annually in the next two years. But just how grave the situation is was apparent in a March report released by Iran's Statistics Center, which said that the unemployment rate among those with a high-school education or higher stood at 41.4 percent, while the unemployment rate of lesser-educated and illiterate groups stands at 23 percent, IRNA reported. The problem is most acute in Iran's burgeoning youth population, where the Statistics Center reports that 60 percent of men and 72 percent of women between 15-24 years old are unemployed.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri, according to IRNA, said that "current economic fundamentals" are insufficient to spur a higher economic growth rate. Tehran radio on 23 April, reporting on the High Council of Employment's meeting, quoted an analyst as saying that unemployment represents the country's most pressing problem. The problem could get a lot worse if Iranian economist Seyyed Jalal Sadatian is correct in predicting that the U.S. involvement in Iraq will adversely affect Iran's economy. Europeans, he said in a 23 April interview with ISNA, will succumb to American pressures and will "stop supporting Iran."

Meanwhile, Marand and Jolfa parliamentary representative Baqer Imami said that the government's emergency employment plan is a waste of money, "Iran Daily" reported on 27 April. Imami said that the government has allocated 30 million rials ($3,750) for creating each job, whereas creating an industrial job costs at least 200-300 million rials ($25,000-$37,500) and an agricultural job would cost at least 100-120 million rials. Imami said that import-export regulations should be reconsidered and brought in line with international standards. The current laws discourage foreign investment and lead to corruption, he said. (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)

IRAN-U.A.E. GAS DEAL INKED. Iran has signed a 25-year agreement to sell more than 14 billion cubic meters of natural gas per day to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), IRNA reported on 22 April. Rokneddin Javadi, managing director of the Iranian Gas Exports Company, said the accord for selling the gas was concluded in February/March 2002, and that exports will begin in 2005. Javadi also cited recent negotiations for the sale of gas to Armenia, and said the studies on laying the pipelines to Armenia have been completed. Iran's proven gas reserves, half of which lie in an offshore field shared with Qatar, are around 28 trillion cubic meters and are second only to Russia's, IRNA reported. (Steve Fairbanks)

SUPREME LEADER PRAISES INSPECTORS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on 21 April said that the government, parliament, and judiciary should welcome the state inspectorate (National Control and Inspection Organization) as "a blessing and helpful," IRNA reported. Reflecting his oft-stated desire to combat the Islamic Republic's image of official corruption, Khamenei said all official institutions should be inspected by the agency. Khamenei assured Iranians that "the entire system fights infiltration of corruption into the administration," IRNA reported. But lest any officials become unduly worried, Khamenei said the inspection agency will never "cast doubt on the performance of any institution." (Steve Fairbanks)

HEALTH OFFICIALS DENY REPORTS OF SARS DEATH IN IRAN. Health officials in Tehran on 20 April denied Iranian press reports that a 50-year-old man had recently died of SARS at a Tehran hospital, IRNA reported. The Health Ministry's deputy head of the Center for Disease Management, Dr. Mohsen Zahraie, said, "no case of such disease has been reported in the country so far." (Steve Fairbanks)

KHATAMI DENOUNCES SATELLITE-BROADCAST JAMMING. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi have called a stop to a reported project in Tehran to jam satellite broadcasts, IRNA reported on 22 April. Following a discussion in parliament on the issue, the president and speaker issued a directive calling for identifying and taking action against those responsible for the jamming. At the parliament meeting, officials said that "a certain military organization," otherwise unidentified, is transmitting powerful jamming signals from several of its bases in Tehran as well as from mobile units installed on trucks. The report, which originally appeared in the 22 April edition of the reformist daily "Hambastegi," did not identify the offending broadcasts, which likely are Persian-language television programs originating from Los Angeles and other foreign cities. In an apparent effort to avoid controversy over whether the contents of the broadcasts warranted jamming, opponents of the project are stressing that the jamming transmissions are harmful to citizens' health, causing, among other things, infertility.

Parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeni, who is the deputy chairman of the legislature's Telecommunications Committee, announced in the 26 April issue of "Abrar" newspaper that the source of the jamming signals has been identified, IRNA reported. He said the Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telephone had tracked the source, and added that the parliamentarians have decided not to name the offending organization so the issue does not become politicized. If the jamming does not stop, he said, the organization will be named. Musavi-Khoeni added that several government institutions are looking into the possible public-health impact of the jamming signals. (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER URGES IRAN TO ACCEPT WIDER NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said during his visit to Tehran that he had seen progress in Iran on the nuclear issue and called on Tehran to "continue confidence-building measures" on its nuclear program, AFP reported on 24 April. De Villepin welcomed public assurances from Iranian President Khatami that the country is not seeking to develop nuclear arms and is acquiring nuclear power for peaceful purposes only, but said in a joint press conference with his counterpart Kamal Kharrazi that Iran should go one step further by signing the additional protocol of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei has urged Iran, which is currently only subject to inspections of sites it has already declared, to sign the protocol allowing unlimited and surprise inspections by international experts of any suspect sites.

Khatami's response was not very positive. After meeting with de Villepin, his office said in a statement "Why do countries possessing such (civilian atomic energy) technology not respect the principles of the nonproliferation treaty by not helping us in turn to acquire it?" (Steve Fairbanks)

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ALL JEWS JAILED FOR SPYING ARE NOW FREE. During a joint news conference with visiting French Foreign Minister de Villepin, who had raised the issue of human rights in Iran, Foreign Minister Kharrazi said that the five remaining Iranian Jews, the last of 13 jailed in 2000 on charges of spying for Israel, had been freed, IRNA reported on 24 April. Kharrazi did not indicate when their release took place. De Villepin said he welcomed Iran's "marked progress" on human rights, adding that he hoped "this will continue," AFP reported. (Steve Fairbanks)

IRANIAN ACTRESS SENTENCED FOR KISS ON STAGE. Iranian actress Gohar Kheirandish was sentenced to 74 lashes for kissing a male filmmaker during a public ceremony, IRNA reported on 22 April. Kheirandish, described as in her 50s, kissed Ali Zamani on the forehead and shook his hand last November while receiving a prize at a ceremony in Yazd. She claimed that her "un-Islamic" behavior was simply a "spontaneous show of maternal affection." The punishment will remain suspended. (Steve Fairbanks)

MUJAHEDIN KHALQ TERRORISTS MAY SURVIVE WAR. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sadr on 23 April met with Jordan's King Abdullah II and delivered a message from President Khatami that dealt with ways to improve bilateral relations, Petra-JNA news agency and IRNA reported. Details of the letter were not available, but a possible subject could be the hundreds of members of the armed opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) who are seeking asylum in Jordan. Abu Dhabi television had reported on 22 April that Tehran is pressuring Amman to hand over MKO personnel who have fled Iraq.

Jordanian Information Minister Muhammad al-Adwan said on 22 April that Jordan would not allow any new refugees from Iraq, including MKO members, to enter the country, according to Abu Dhabi TV. Nevertheless, the Jordanian authorities permitted the octogenarian singer Marzieh, who is an MKO associate, to pass through Jordan en route to France for medical treatment, dpa reported on 23 April.

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) deputy director of operations, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, said during a 22 April briefing in Qatar that a cease-fire is in effect with the MKO and its personnel are waiting in "assembly areas.... They do have combat equipment, but in a noncombat formation. That's unfolding at this time, and we still have some work to do to bring that all to a closure," he said. Brooks acknowledged that the MKO is considered a terrorist organization and said there is an ongoing discussion on how to handle its members, according to the U.S. State Department's Office of International Information Programs (

Foreign Minister Kharrazi denounced a rumored MKO-U.S. cease-fire -- in which Washington would allow the MKO to remain armed against Iran -- during a 24 April news conference. "If true," Kharrazi said, the agreement "will increase our pessimism and qualm towards America," IRNA reported.

Separately, Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani criticized the United States for a "double standard in the international campaign against terrorism." He said that on the one hand the United States launches a war on terrorists and on the other hand "signs an agreement with the terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, allowing them to remain armed," IRNA reported on 24 April.

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said the United States should extradite MKO members to Iran in order to prove its sincerity in fighting terrorism, IRNA reported on 21 April. (Bill Samii, Steve Fairbanks)

THOUSANDS OF SHIA CONGREGATE IN KARBALA. Thousands of Shia Muslims made their way to Karbala to participate in Arbain, marking the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas in a battle over Islamic leadership in 680 A.D. Many of the pilgrims walked hundreds of kilometers to reach Karbala, and an unidentified young man told the RFE/RL correspondent in Karbala why they do so: "Hussein was the first leader against dictatorship, a man who resisted dictatorship. He is noble and the most honest man on the planet after the Prophet Muhammad."

Events in Karbala threatened to turn into anti-American demonstrations, as was the case in Baghdad after the 18 April Friday prayers, and the sentiments expressed by one of the pilgrims contributed to such concerns. He told RFE/RL: "We want an Islamic leader to rule Iraq. We don't welcome Americans. We want neither Saddam [Hussein] nor Americans [to rule us], because they both are infidels."

Moreover, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on 18 April said, "I call on Iraqis to converge in Karbala to oppose any sort of foreign domination," AP reported, citing Iranian state television.

On 23 April IRNA reported that 4 million people were in Karbala to participate in Arbain. The mourning turned into a rally against what the official Iranian news agency termed "the foreign occupation of the country." (Bill Samii)

COALITION FORCES CRACKING DOWN ON IRAN-BACKED IRAQI SHIA CLERICS? "If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 24 April, the "Los Angeles Times" and "The New York Times" reported the next day, citing AP.

Rumsfeld's comment may help explain a 21 April report on Hizballah's Al-Manar television that U.S. military personnel detained Shaykh Muhammad al-Fartusi and several companions on 20 April as they headed home from Najaf ("The New York Times" confirmed this on 26 April). An Al-Jazeera television correspondent reported that 4,000-5,000 people on 21 April demonstrated against the detentions near Baghdad's Palestine Hotel. One of the demonstrators told the Al-Jazeera correspondent: "We are trying to...control the security situation, [but] the Americans do not want this. They want chaos and looting to prevail." Another demonstration took place on 22 April.

Al-Fartusi was released on 22 April and described his detention in a 22 April interview with Abu Dhabi television and another interview that appeared in the 24 April "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" newspaper. He claimed that "we were manhandled and beaten," adding that he and his companions spent the entire night with their hands tied behind their backs. Al-Fartusi claimed that one of his captors kicked his turban and the commander apologized for this, but "I am wearing my friend's turban now." "We let it go this time," he said, "but next time, only God knows what will happen if the masses are aroused."

Al-Fartusi was identified as the cleric charged by Qom-based Iraqi-born cleric Kazim al-Husseini al-Haeri with the administration of eastern Baghdad, according to "The New York Times" on 26 April. Al-Haeri reportedly issued a religious edict in early April that was distributed among Shia clerics in Iraq that calls on them "to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities." "We hereby inform you that Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr is our deputy and representative in all fatwa affairs," Haeri's decree adds. "His position is my position." Thousands of people chanted their support for Muqtada al-Sadr as they went to hear him at the Friday prayers at a Najaf mosque, Reuters reported on 26 April. Muqtada al-Sadr's followers are believed to be responsible for the 10 April murder of Washington-backed cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi when he visited Najaf.

Al-Haeri once had a close relationship with the Shia Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah party, but split with the group because al-Haeri was excessively pro-Iranian and called for the party to respect the guidance of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" reported on 24 April. Al-Haeri is an advocate of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult), on which Iran's theocracy is based. Al-Haeri's involvement in Iraqi politics could have a profound impact. According to "Al-Mustaqbal," he is the point at which the Sadriyun (as supporters of al-Sadr are known), SCIRI, and Da'wah converge.

U.S. military personnel in Iraq briefly detained Islamic Action Organization spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarissi and Secretary-General Ibrahim al-Mutairi on 22 April, according to international news agencies, a press release posted on, and Al-Jazeera television. Others who were detained were Ayatollah Izz al-Din Muhammadi al-Shirazi, Ayatollah Hussein al-Rabadi, and Ibrahim Shubbar. Al-Mudarissi, who has lived in Iran for 32 years, and his companions were in a four-vehicle convoy that was heading for Karbala. The Islamic Action Organization is based in Iran and is close to SCIRI.

These were not the only such incidents. Iranian state radio reported on 23 April that "the occupying forces have attacked the home of Seyyed Muhammad Heidari." Heidari was identified as a member of SCIRI. This incident has not been independently confirmed, but SCIRI leader Baqir al-Hakim mentioned Heidari by name and said that American forces detained him, according to the SCIRI website ( on 26 April. (Bill Samii)

RETURNING ARAB VOLUNTEERS FACE RESTRICTIONS. Arab volunteers who went to fight in Iraq fear that they will receive the same harsh treatment meted out to Arab Afghans and those who fought in Bosnia and Chechnya, the Saudi "Al-Watan" newspaper reported on 22 April. Returning Jordanians' passports reportedly have been confiscated and they have been invited to visit the security services. A Jordanian official confirmed this, "Al-Watan" reported, but said that the objective is to learn the fate of Jordanians who went to Iraq and from whom nothing has been heard since then. Amman rules out the phenomenon of "Iraqi Arabs," because unlike their Afghan counterparts the volunteers for Iraq were "a motley group of Islamists, Ba'athists, Arab Nationalists and ordinary citizens who had one thing in common -- fighting the Americans." Nor did the volunteers for Iraq have the same financial and logistical support that the Arab Afghans had, according to the Saudi newspaper. (Bill Samii)