30 June 2003, Volume 6, Number 27
POLL: MAJORITY WANTS POLITICAL CHANGE, EVEN WITH FOREIGN INTERVENTION. A recent poll conducted by the Expediency Council examined the demands of the Iranian people, "Yas-i No" newspaper reported on 22 June. A reported 45 percent of the respondents wanted changes in the political system, even if this came about through foreign intervention. Some 26 percent wanted managerial changes in order to improve the system's performance and bring about efficient growth. About 16 percent of the respondents wanted political reform and more power for reformists, while 13 percent of the respondents wanted the current political policies to continue and favored resolution of problems relating to people's livelihood. "Yas-i No" did not describe the format of the poll, where it was conducted, or the number of respondents.
"Yas-i No" asked why the Expediency Council could conduct a poll that has such controversial findings, while other institutions are punished. Although not spelled out, this is a clear reference to the September poll conducted by the Ayandeh Research Institute and the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls, which found that 74.7 percent of Tehran residents favor negotiations with the United States, and 64.5 percent favored the resumption of Iran-U.S. talks. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN BANS RALLIES ON ANNIVERSARY OF 1999 ATTACK. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 23 June that the Iranian Interior Ministry and the legislature have decided not to issue permits for off-campus rallies on 9 July ("18 Tir," its date in the Iranian calendar), the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The Office for Strengthening Unity student group has made several requests to hold an off-campus rally that day to commemorate the events of that day in 1999 when hard-line vigilantes, aided by police, attacked a Tehran University dormitory and caused numerous casualties and at least one fatality. The government also rejected hard-line groups' requests for permits, according to Reuters on 23 June.
State Prosecutor-General Abdul-Nabi Namazi explained on 27 June that the country's authorities do not believe there is any "need" for a commemoration of the 1999 events this year, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. The Education Ministry and the police have rejected student groups' applications for permits to hold a rally on the university campus and/or a march in Tehran, he said.
Yet the government has declared a week of mourning from 7-13 July for 300 Iranians killed during the 1980-88 war with Iraq whose remains were recently repatriated to Iran, IRNA reported on 22 June. So, although the government has banned conservative rallies as well as those of the students, the state-run media is likely to focus on veterans and regime supporters rather than on possible unauthorized gatherings of opponents of the government. Conversely, those who do protest against government policies during that week can expect to be portrayed as unpatriotic. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI TO FACE PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONING ABOUT UNREST. Ardabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen said 25 of his colleagues have signed a letter requesting the opportunity to hold a closed meeting with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to discuss the recent unrest in Iran, "Iran" newspaper reported on 25 June. Pirmoazen had said in the 23 June "Hamshahri" that there is also a possibility of presenting a bill for the president's impeachment.
Birjand parliamentary representative Mehdi Ayati, who is a signatory of the letter, asked in "Hamshahri:" "Why have the promises, pledges, and programs that he spoke about on 2 Khordad [23 May 1997, the date of Khatami's election] not been realized?" Ayati said the public, because it is uninformed, sees the legislature, the executive branch, and the leadership as being similarly at fault for the country's problems. Questioning Khatami in the parliament would be an open platform, Ayati said. "It seems that, after impeachment proceedings, the people will differentiate between the parliament and the government, on the one hand, and the leadership, which has caused problems in political, economic, social, and cultural arenas, on the other; and their judgment will be fair."
Pirmoazen said on 26 June that although the legislature wants to question Khatami about the recent unrest in the country, it does not intend to impeach him, the new Mehr News Agency (http://188.8.131.52/), which is affiliated with the Islamic Propagation Organization, reported. Pirmoazen explained that the government must be accountable, and the questioning would contribute to stability and encourage people's trust and confidence. Pirmoazen would not disclose the content of the questions and said, "Different questions will be asked. They will cover economic, political, cultural and social issues. The president must answer these questions because ministers cannot do so." (Bill Samii)
HAS TEHRAN COME CLEAN ON DETAINED DEMONSTRATORS? About 4,000 people were arrested during the recent unrest in Iran and about 2,000 are still in detention throughout the country, State Prosecutor-General Abdul-Nabi Namazi said on 27 June, according to ILNA. Some are kept in Tehran's Evin Prison and the rest are at other detention facilities, with about 800 students being held in Evin. Describing how they would be dealt with, Namazi said, "Islamic jurisprudence dictates that anyone who tries to intimidate members of the public by resorting to riots or the threat of using firearms is classed as muharib [at war with God, which carries the death penalty]."
Such large numbers and the possibility that some may be executed are chilling. It is notable that until Namazi spoke, Iranian government officials consistently understated the number of detainees. This reflects the absence of transparency in most government activities, the number of competing and sometimes unaccountable security agencies (such as the police, autonomous police units, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security [MOIS], the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Judiciary), and the usual economy with the truth that is exhibited by Iranian officials.
Gholamreza Zarifian, the deputy minister of Science, Research, and Technology in charge of student affairs, said on 25 June that the MOIS is holding 80 students, including 32 from Tehran, for alleged involvement in the recent unrest, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. This topic was discussed in a closed session of the parliament, he said, adding that contradictory numbers were given previously because there was a lack of coordination between government agencies such as the MOIS and the judiciary. Moreover, some of the students who were reported missing had in fact gone home after completing their exams.
Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi said on 24 June that some of the people arrested in Tehran and other cities are members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), most of these arrested are "thugs and hooligans" with a record of breaking the law, and 32 students are being held, IRNA reported. As for reports of "missing" students, Mortazavi said, investigations show that they took their exams and these are just rumors intended to incite people.
Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh said on 24 June that there was unrest in greater Tehran, Karaj, and Robat Karim, and said that 520 people were detained in Tehran Province, excluding the city of Tehran. There were only 30 students in the latter group, Alizadeh said, according to ISNA, and when he visited the prison he discovered that some of the detainees were illiterate and others were under 18. Alizadeh added that 10 women were among the Tehran detainees, one of whom was about to be released on bail when it was discovered that she is a member of the MKO.
Another Science, Research, and Technology Ministry official on 22 June released the names of 29 detained students, ISNA reported. "Iran" newspaper on 22 June quoted a police official as saying that a total of 520 protesters are in prison and awaiting trial for participating in the previous week's demonstrations, according to dpa.
The only reliable source that had come close to reporting a number of detainees that approached Namazi's was the Baztab website (http://www.baztab.org) on 24 June. It said that Evin Prison is overcrowded following the arrest of 4,000-5,000 students, citing an anonymous "informed source" who was quoted by a Ruydad (http://www.rouydad.com/ correspondent. Such reporting, which contrasts with that of Iranian newspapers, is making websites such as these valued alternative sources of information for Iranians. (Bill Samii)
UNKNOWN PEOPLE ALLEGEDLY ABDUCT IRANIAN STUDENT LEADERS... Abdullah Momeni, a leader in the Office for Strengthening Unity's majority wing (Neshast-i Allameh), disappeared after attending a Tehran municipal council meeting on 25 June, baztab.com reported the next day. Momeni was allegedly forced into an automobile after a substance was sprayed in his face. The ILNA had reported on 21 June that Momeni was arrested the previous day in front of Amir Kabir University but, according to Baztab on 26 June, Momeni had simply gone into hiding and reappeared to dispel the rumors.
A 21 June article about Momeni in the "Los Angeles Times" stated that the Revolutionary Court has issued arrest warrants for Momeni and other "high-profile activists." It added that Momeni believes the security forces have tapped his home and mobile telephones, and he is reluctant to go home after police tried to arrest him there.
The Democratic Front announced in a 20 June e-mail that "unknown forces in Tehran" kidnapped its spokesman, Farzad Hamidi, and another member, Babak Adel. (Bill Samii)
...AND TRY TO SILENCE OTHERS. Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh was asked at a 24 June news conference if some outspoken opponents of the government, including student leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, are barred from leaving the country. He would not give a direct response, other than to say that some are not allowed to travel abroad.
The 43-year old Tabarzadi's activism has resulted in his frequent imprisonment. He said in an interview that appeared in the 23 June issue of Germany's "Der Spiegel" that since 1999 he has spent 20 months in solitary confinement. He denied participating in the recent demonstrations in Iran, and "in order to avoid being arrested I do not even go beyond my front door."
The June demonstrations in Tehran, Mashhad, and other cities are just a warm-up for 9 July, Tabarzadi told the publication. "I am sure that there will then be massive crowds of people out on the streets, protesting against the mullahs' regime." (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATORS TO INVESTIGATE STUDENT DETENTIONS. A visit to the parliament on 22 June by student representatives appears to have galvanized several legislators to action and, according to news reports, two different committees are looking into the detentions of students. On 28-29 June, furthermore, four legislators staged a sit-in. On the first day of the sit-in, Tehran representative Meysam Saidi explained, "The aim of this [protest] session is to defend legal processes and in this way we are intending to announce our protest to and worries about the way students are confronted," IRNA reported. Saidi was joined by Fatimeh Haqiqatju, Reza Yusefian, and Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni.
In that 22 June meeting at the legislature a group of students said that over the last three days (since 19 June) students have been arrested in Hamedan, Sabzevar, Tehran, and Urumiyeh, Reuters reported. Said Razavi Faqih, who is on the central council of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU), warned during this meeting "we will not accept despotism at all. Even if they send us to prison and take us to solitary confinement, there are others who have more daring slogans than us and they will confront the system with more violent methods."
Nishabur parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Hussein Ansari-Rad said on 24 June that Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi gave permission for him and four other members of parliament to visit the detained students on 25 June, ISNA reported. The other legislators were identified as Islamabad-i Qarb's Azam Nasseripur, Qaenat's Musa Qorbani, Takestan's Rajab Rahmani, and possibly Vahideh Alai-Taleqani from Tehran.
Ansari-Rad said in an interview that appeared in the 23 June "Aftab-i Yazd" that the unrest of July 1999 showed the Ministries of Intelligence and Security, Interior, and Science, Research, and Technology the need to deal with protestors in a legal, rational, and tolerant manner. Isfahan representative Ahmad Shirzad said in the 23 June "Aftab-i Yazd" that some students create problems for the rest of the student movement and cause pessimism. Nevertheless, Shirzad added, it is difficult to know what to tell the students who tried to act responsibly.
Malayer's Mohammad Kazemi told the 23 June "Aftab-i Yazd" that the authorities must be more transparent, informing families immediately about the detention of their children. "I have been repeatedly contacted and some of the families have asked us to take steps for the release of their children. But naturally, we were unable to give them any answers."
Shirzad said on 25 June that the legislature's Education and Research Committee is going to establish a commission to investigate recent student detentions, ISNA reported. Mohammad Hussein Abu-Torabi Fard of Qazvin, Fatimeh Haqiqatju of Tehran, Ali Hassani of Arak, Jafar Kambuzia of Zahedan, and Ali Taqizadeh of Khoi reportedly will serve on this commission. "We have no detailed information about the detained students," Shirzad said, and he called on the students' families to provide the necessary information.
Shirzad, whose son has been detained, said he spoke with the boy briefly two days earlier, but added: "I don't know where my son is being held. Last week, the MOIS denied it was keeping the detained individuals, and apparently the Law Enforcement Force was not involved either."
One of the inquiries ran into a brick wall, however, and Shirzad told ISNA on 27 June that the meeting of legislators and students never took place. Moreover, the MOIS refused to take responsibility for any of the detainees, in contrast with earlier claims that it had some of the students in its custody. (Bill Samii)
NATIONAL RELIGIOUS ACTIVISTS' ATTORNEY REJECTS CHARGES AGAINST CLIENTS. Mohammad Sharif, an attorney for the national religious (melli-mazhabi) activists detained on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 June 2003), rejected the provocation charges against them, "Toseh" reported on 24 June. Sharif said they did not participate in the recent protests and added, "I reject the charge that they have provoked students." The activists are being held in solitary confinement, Sharif said, whereas solitary confinement should be used only after sentencing.
Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi said on 24 June that police seized documents from the homes of the activists that showed their contacts with unidentified "certain circles abroad" and proved that they received "'special' directives during the unrest," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN LEGISLATORS CLAIM TO HAVE COME UNDER PRESSURE. Abdol Mohammad Nizam-Islami, the parliamentary representative from Borujerd in Khorasan Province, entered the legislature in a bloodied shirt on 24 June and said he was involved in a traffic accident that was in reality an assassination attempt, the Amir Kabir University website (http://www.akunews.com) reported on 25 June. Nizam-Islami said he has been pressured ever since he signed a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in late May urging that he "drink from a poisoned chalice in order to safeguard the state." He claimed to have received threatening letters, and his friends discouraged him from returning to Borujerd.
Shiraz representative Reza Yusefian then said several of his colleagues had been pressured in various ways in the preceding days, citing an attack on Ahvaz representative Mohammad Kianush-Rad in Masjid-i Suleiman, and he asked how their security would be guaranteed, akunews.com reported.
The late May letter to the Supreme Leader was signed by 127 members of parliament and was initially available on the Iranian Students News Agency website (http://www.isnagency.com/), but it was removed after a few hours. That letter stated that the signatories are acting in "everyone's best interests" and in light of the "great danger facing our country." "Certain factions" (i.e., the hard-liners) are implementing a plan to defeat the reform movement, and this is done through the creation of crises and the undermining of executive branch officials. As a result, "the vast majority of people are disgruntled and hopeless," "the majority of elites are either silent or have chosen to emigrate," and there is "massive capital flight."
According to the parliamentarians' letter, "state officials must be honest and apologize to the people for their dereliction of duty and misinterpretations." Singled out for criticism was the Guardians Council for blocking the legislature's efforts. The letter cited the two bills that would increase presidential powers and curb the Guardians Council's involvement in elections. The letter also noted the hypocrisy of calling for a referendum and free elections in Iraq, "while denying the same basic right to our own people."
An editorial in the 26 June "Aftab-i Yazd" noted Nizam-Islami's claims and suggested that some people are trying to keep attention focused on the letter to the Supreme Leader. Police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on 25 June that the Nizam-Islami incident appeared to be a normal traffic accident, ILNA reported, citing Ilam parliamentary representative Ali Yari. (Bill Samii)
ITALIAN INTELLIGENCE REPORTS BIN LADEN IN IRAN. Several members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization are currently under arrest in Iran, Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 27 June. Among the detainees are Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman Abu-Ghayth, Osama Bin Laden's son, and several other Al-Qaeda associates. On the same day, Doha's Al-Jazeera television reported that Tehran and Cairo are discussing the extradition of some eight Egyptians who were arrested in Iran in the last two months.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 28 February rejected the reports about the presence of al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden's son in Iran, IRNA reported.
A confidential Italian intelligence report submitted in early June asserts the Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was in Iran in May, Milan's "Corriere della Serra" reported on 25 June. In early May, bin Laden and seven Arab extremists met in Tehran to plan attacks in Italy, Pakistan, and Turkey. The extremists are using forged Iranian passports and traveling as businessmen, but they do not speak Persian. A later Italian intelligence report, according to the Milanese daily, describes an Al-Qaeda meeting in Jeddah at which the decision was made to attack U.K., U.S., and Israeli interests, as well as tourists, security personnel, and political and religious leaders in pro-Western Arab countries. (The Iranian Embassy in Rome rejected this report, baztab.org reported on 27 June.)
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh had said on 23 June that Tehran has identified "many" Al-Qaeda suspects that it has in custody, IRNA reported. "If those identified turn out to be nationals of friendly countries, we will hand them over to their country of origin; but if they are found guilty of committing a crime in Iran, they will be tried here," he added. The courts will decide what to do with nationals of countries with which Tehran does not have diplomatic relations, he said. Ramezanzadeh refused to say how many Al-Qaeda members are in custody or whether they include any senior members, according to Reuters.
Iranian Foreign Ministry adviser Sabah Zanganeh told AP on 24 June that some of these individuals would be turned over to Saudi Arabia. "Some of the identified Al-Qaeda members are Saudi nationals. We will hand them over to our Saudi friends," he said. A date has not been set for the extraditions, according to Zanganeh. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said on the same day that it is not known how many Saudis are being held in Iran or if they have any connection with the May 2003 bombing in Riyadh that killed 34 people, including eight Americans, Reuters reported the next day.
The Saudis' arrest of one of the suspects in the May 2003 bombing was announced on 26 June. Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi (a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Azdi) was arrested after turning himself in to the authorities, "The New York Times" reported on 27 June. Saudi officials described al-Ghamdi as the most senior Al-Qaeda member in the country and said that he has close links with Al-Qaeda security chief Saif al-Adel and other leading members of the organization. According to "The New York Times" report, Al-Adel is believed to have spent time in Iran recently. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN MARKS INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST DRUG ABUSE AND ILLICIT TRAFFICKING. As the world commemorated International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual Global Illicit Drug Trends Report -- 2003 (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html). In the 2000-2001 period, the report noted, an estimated 15 million people abused opium and heroin. There was a steep decline in illicit opium and heroin production in 2001, but this trend was reversed in 2002 despite a drop in cultivation in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia. According to UNODC, "This increase was due to the resumption of large-scale opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan."
The UNODC report notes that, in 2002, Afghanistan was responsible for 76 percent of the world's illicit opium production. Myanmar (18 percent), Laos (2 percent), and Colombia (1 percent) were far behind in production. Iran, in turn, led the world in seizures of opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin), accounting for 76 percent of all such seizures. With the increase in Afghan opium production in 2002 (see http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afg_opium_survey_2002.pdf), it seems safe to assume that Iran will continue to seize the greatest amount of opiates.
Ali Hashemi, the head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), said at a 23 June meeting in Amman of a UN subcommission on illicit drug trafficking that Afghanistan continues to pose a tremendous danger as a source of opium, IRNA reported. Hashemi said that in the previous year, 67 Iranian security officers were killed in counternarcotics efforts and more than 1,000 related operations were conducted. During that time, Hashemi said, the security forces confiscated 152 tons of drugs.
Two days earlier, Hashemi said that the country's current approach to fighting drug trafficking, with its emphasis on interdiction, has failed, IRNA and Iranian state television reported. Hashemi said an approach emphasizing prevention and treatment would be better, and that the "Comprehensive National Anti-Drug Plan," which is scheduled for ratification in July, is the only credible approach. Hashemi warned that young people are abusing Ecstasy and LSD, as well as opium-based substances.
Prosecutor-General Abdol-Nabi Namazi, meanwhile, said on 21 June that the Revolutionary Courts tried some 345,934 narcotics-related cases in the one-year period beginning on 21 March 2002, state television reported. Such cases will be dealt with through civil and religious law, he said. Some of those in the narcotics trade are "corrupt on Earth" (mufsid al-arz) and "at war with God" (muharib), which Namazi said are charges that are punishable by death.
Drug abuse is causing serious health problems in Iran. Academic Omran Mohammad Razaqi said on 25 June that a survey of six "drug-infested districts" of Tehran found that drug injections are the main cause of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, IRNA reported. Razaqi stated that people who inject drugs find it very difficult to stop, so they should be advised on risk-reduction measures.
Brigadier General Morteza Talai, a Tehran police official, said on 25 June that opiates, hallucinogens, and drugs like Ecstasy are the most frequently abused substances in Iran, IRNA reported. Consumption habits are changing, he warned, and Iranian textbooks should carry warnings about the dangers of drugs.
Iran is cooperating with, and seeking help from, the rest of the international community in the war on drugs. The first training course for Afghan counternarcotics officers concluded in Mashhad on 23 June, IRNA reported the next day. This two-week course, which was attended by 27 Afghans, was conducted in cooperation with the British government and the United Nations.
DCHQ chief Hashemi met with Jordanian Interior Minister Ghaftan al-Majali to discuss the possibility of cooperative counternarcotics activities when he visited Amman on 23 June. Two days later, according to IRNA, Hashemi told reporters that Iran has signed counternarcotics agreements with more than 28 countries.
To help Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors cope with increased drug flows, the UNODC has launched five regional counternarcotics projects, the UN Information Center announced on 22 June (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/press_release_2003-06-20_1.html). In Tajikistan, three projects expected to cost a combined $10 million will deal with law enforcement and the provision of equipment to and training of border-control and customs agencies. A drug-control agency will be created in Kyrgyzstan with $6 million, and a countrywide database will be established in Uzbekistan.
Tehran, however, is dissatisfied with the help it gets from the international community. President Mohammad Khatami complained at a 28 June meeting of the DCHQ that Iran needs more than "lip-service" in light of the sacrifices it is making to counter the flow of narcotics to Europe, according to IRNA. Khatami also criticized the relative lack of progress in providing Afghan farmers with alternatives to opium cultivation. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN PLANS TO REPATRIATE MORE AFGHANS AS WORLD REFUGEE DAY COMMEMORATED. The international community commemorated World Refugee Day on 20 June. Just four days earlier, Iran, Afghanistan, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) signed an agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees. This is the continuation of a program started in 2002. Representing the Iranian side was the Interior Ministry's Ahmad Husseini, who serves as director general of the Bureau for Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA), according to a 17 June UNHCR dispatch (http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/6686f45896f15dbc852567ae00530132/ 80d3cb349645abfe85256d48006a32d3?OpenDocument).
There are about 1.9 million Afghan refugees in Iran, according to the Iranian government. UNHCR notes that in the last year 400,000 Afghans have left Iran for their home country. Once in Afghanistan, according to UNHCR, the returnees receive shelter-building kits, working tools, and food aid from the UN World Food Program.
The head of the UNHCR office in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Tilak Abeysingh, predicted on 22 June that 500,000 Afghans would go home by the end of 2003, IRNA reported. The Khorasan Province's BAFIA chief, Mohammad Olama, said on 22 June that more than 75,000 Afghan refugees have gone home via the Dogharun border crossing since 21 March, IRNA reported. The BAFIA chief in Qom, Mujtaba Vazeri, said on 17 June that over 133 Afghans left the city for Afghanistan in the previous week, IRNA reported, and over 10,000 of the 75,000 Afghans in Qom have headed home.
The situation to which some of the Afghans are returning is precarious. According to a report from the Dari-language service of Iranian state radio, 20 people have died in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province. An anonymous Afghan Public Health Ministry official said the victims were recently returned former refugees who died because of inadequate health care resources in the province. Moreover, conflict continues throughout the country, and the central government remains powerless in the provinces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report").
Under such circumstance, there is reason to question the eagerness of Afghan refugees to "voluntarily" return. Indeed, Tehran has been accused on numerous occasions of forcibly repatriating Afghans (see, for example, "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 January 2000, 5 June 2000, 23 July 2001, 30 July 2001, 20 August 2001, 10 September 2001, 21 January 2002, 18 February 2002, 19 August 2002, 9 December 2002, 23 December 2002, and 13 January 2003).
The Iranian consul-general in Herat, Hasan Kazemi-Qomi, denied that this is the case in an interview that appeared in the 8 June issue of Herat's "Payam-i Hambastegi." Regarding the reported confiscation of Afghans' Iranian identify cards, for example, he said that the three different types of ID cards for Afghans are to be replaced by one type of card, and it is just a "harmonization plan." Kazemi-Qomi went on to say there are two repatriation processes: supported voluntary repatriation and self-repatriation, and both of these processes are conducted in cooperation with the international community. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN DENIES REINFORCING BORDER WITH AZERBAIJAN. Ethnic Azeri Iranians are being moved from the Moghan region bordering Azerbaijan, and plainclothes security personnel are moving into their homes, zerkalo.az reported on 26 June. The website added that this policy dates from the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (1989-97), and that there is a process of locating military bases in the region. It speculated that the deportations are part of an effort to crush the nationalistic aspirations of "Southern Azerbaijan" (in Iran) or are a reaction to rumored U.S. troop deployments in Azerbaijan. On 24 June, Baku's Turan news agency cited an anonymous source in the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan who claimed that "additional" Iranian military and security units had recently been deployed along the Azerbaijani border. The Iranian Embassy in Baku denied this report in a letter to Turan. (Liz Fuller, Bill Samii)
IRANIAN PROXIES ACCUSE U.S. OF ESPIONAGE. Voice of the Mujahedin, the Iran-based radio station affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), on 24 June cited anonymous "highly informed Iraqi sources" as saying that the U.S. has established a "secret telecommunications center" in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The function of this facility, according to the radio station, is to "spy on and monitor" Syria and Iran. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN ALLEGEDLY MAKES DEAL WITH MUQTADA AL-SADR. After his early-June visit to Iran, some light has been shed on the young Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a relative newcomer to the political limelight (for info on al-Sadr's trip to Iran, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003). According to these reports, Al-Sadr has a close relationship with Tehran and is being maneuvered to supplant SCIRI's Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. Moreover, he and his cohorts are dismissive towards the traditional clerical leaders in Al-Najaf, such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Al-Sadr allegedly made a deal with the Iranian government during his early June visit to Iran, according to a 25 June report in Milan's "Corriere della Serra." Citing anonymous "Kurdish sources," the daily reported that al-Sadr met in Qom with Qasim Suleimani of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Qods Force and in Tehran with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and other regime leaders.
Al-Sadr and his hosts reportedly made a deal that in exchange for financial aid to him and his followers, he would accept the Iranian theocratic model of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult) and advocate it in Iraq, reject the Anglo-American presence in Iraq, and oppose the main source of emulation in Al-Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Moreover, Sadr and his followers would replace the traditional Shi'a groups, particularly SCIRI.
A few days after returning to Iraq, al-Sadr gave the first sermon at the Al-Kufah Mosque, according to London's "Al-Zaman" on 16 June and Baghdad's "Al-Hawzah" on 19 June. He said that he wanted nothing to do with the Iraqi advisory council that will be chosen by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. He added, "We urge the faithful not to accept this government and council because they would not represent the views of the people and would not support the independence of Iraq and its people; they are true occupation." Al-Sadr called for peaceful demonstrations against the plan.
Two of al-Sadr's aides, Sheikh Muhammad Reza al-Numani and Sheikh Adnan al-Shamani, asserted in an interview in the 24 June issue of London's "Al-Arab al-Alamiyah" that their source of emulation is Ayatollah Kazim al-Husseini al-Haeri. "As for Seyyed al-Sistani, with all due respect, he cannot practice political action in Iraq because he is not Iraqi and he does not have Iraqi citizenship; he has Iranian documents," Numani added. (Al-Haeri issued a fatwa in April that al-Sadr is his deputy in Iraq; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 April 2003.) These men also asserted that 75 percent of all Iraqis are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr said in the 27 June "Al-Hayat" that there is no coordination between him and the sources of emulation in Al-Najaf and he blamed Ayatollah al-Sistani, Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi, Sheikh Muhammad al-Fayyad, and Seyyed Muhammad Said al-Hakim for this state of affairs. According to "Al-Hayat," a rapprochement between al-Sistani and SCIRI's al-Hakim has occurred in the face of the hostile rhetoric from al-Sadr and his followers. According to al-Sadr's aide, Sheikh Adnan al-Shamani, all the recent sources of emulation are non-Iraqis and the public does not believe that these clerics were working on their behalf. (Bill Samii)