15 December 2003, Volume 6, Number 48
LEFTIST CLERICS HOLD FIRST CONGRESS, WORK ON COALITION. The Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez), the less-conservative of Iran's two main clerical political organizations, held its first annual congress on 4 December at the Shahid Bahonar Park in Tehran. Also in attendance were political activists, parliamentarians, and leaders of several other reformist political organizations, including the Islamic Iran Participation Party, the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, and the Solidarity Party, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).
Association Secretary-General and Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi gave the opening speech of the congress. Karrubi's presentation was followed by a speech by Congress Secretary Hojatoleslam Mohammad Moghaddam. According to ISNA, Moghaddam said that the February 2004 parliamentary election will be the main topic of the congress and stressed the need to keep the association's provincial representatives engaged. Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari told the congress that the antireformists have tried to portray the government and the legislature as unsuccessful and have accused them of instigating crises and social conflict. Hojatoleslam Rahmani Khalili, the presidential adviser on Sunni affairs, said that having a coalition is the secret to winning more seats in the legislature.
The status of a reformist coalition -- and the survival of the pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad grouping -- has been in doubt for several months. There has been speculation that the Islamic Iran Participation Party wants to pursue reforms more aggressively than does President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, a situation that has become particularly acute since the Islamic Iran Participation Party congress in October. It was at that time that Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami gave a particularly strong speech in which he questioned the powers of the supreme leader (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 October and 3 November 2003).
On 1 December, however, Moghaddam said, "I strongly deny ruling out a coalition between the society and the Participation Party," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He went on to say that a coalition with all the 2nd of Khordad groups was possible for the election.
Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari said in the 3 December "Nasim-i Saba" that the Militant Clerics Association has created a committee to negotiate with the other 2nd of Khordad groups on the creation of a joint list of candidates. "Of course," he said, "the Participation Party is obviously one of these groups as well."
Tehran representative Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, another prominent member of the Militant Clerics Association, stressed the importance of having just one 2nd of Khordad list of candidates during an interview published in the 29 November issue of "Aftab-i Yazd" daily. "The conservative faction is hoping that the 2nd of Khordad Front is going to fail to achieve a universal and all-inclusive coalition," Mohtashami-Pur said, "if there is a dispute and division among the groups making up the 2nd of Khordad Front, then the real winner in the end is going to be the conservative faction." The conservatives, Mohtashami-Pur pointed out, have a body of "fixed and traditional votes" on which they can rely.
The congress of the Militant Clerics Association concluded with a roundtable discussion that included representatives of other political organizations, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 December. Mohammad Salamati of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization said that the 2nd of Khordad groups must preserve unity to bring out the voters. Two other participants in the roundtable, the Participation Party's Davud Suleimani and the Solidarity Party's Ebrahim Asqarzadeh, praised the Militant Clerics Association and said it could play an important role in the election. (Bill Samii)
IRAN GETS A NEW TECHNOCRATIC PARTY. Khosrow Nassiri-Rad, secretary-general of a new political group called the Association of Technocrats, announced the group's creation on 9 December, IRNA reported. Nassiri-Rad expressed the belief that the group will secure at least 110 seats in the February 2004 parliamentary election, and he said that the association will develop alliances with other groups. Iran's main technocratic party is the Executives of Construction, which was created in 1996 by associates of then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. This party subsequently supported Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's 1997 presidential bid. Its continuing commitment to the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement has come into question because of tactical and ideological disputes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 November 2003). The creation of the Association of Technocrats may be a reflection of this situation. (Bill Samii)
EUROPEAN TOURISTS KIDNAPPED IN SOUTHEASTERN IRAN. An unidentified caller contacted the Sistan va Baluchistan Province news headquarters on 2 December and demanded a ransom of 5 million euros for three European tourists, Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali-Asqar Ahmadi said on 9 December, according to IRNA and ISNA. Qolam Reza Javdan, security chief in the Sistan va Baluchistan Province Governor-General's Office, said nothing is known about the kidnappers but security institutions are on the case. The previous day, Iranian state radio had reported that two Germans and an Irishman who were cycling from Kerman to Zahedan had been kidnapped.
Ahmadi said that the kidnapping is the price Iran must pay for waging a war against narcotics smugglers. He said that the amount of the ransom demand -- 5 million euros -- equals the value of a narcotics shipment that was seized recently. "Therefore, the strongest possibility is that they [the kidnappers] are trying to extort money because the consignment was impounded," Ahmadi said. "They are trying to recoup their lost profits," he added.
Similar cases occurred four years ago with the kidnapping of three Italians in June; three Spaniards, an Italian, and an Iranian guide in August; and three Portuguese in September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June, 6 September, and 1 November 1999). The first two cases were linked with the Shahbakhsh gang's attempt to secure the freedom of some of its members, while the latter case was connected with the Narui gang of drug traffickers. These cases ended with the victims being freed unharmed, but resolution of the cases was hampered by competition and a lack of coordination between the police and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATURE INVESTIGATES PROVINCIAL KILLINGS BY SECURITY FORCES. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 7 December that a delegation has been selected to investigate events that occurred in the Sistan va Baluchistan Province town of Saravan three days earlier, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Jafar Kambuzia, the parliamentary representative from the provincial capital of Zahedan, had said on 6 December that police shot and killed an individual who did not have a driver's license and who ignored an order to stop, ILNA reported (Kambuzia did not explain how police knew he did not have a license if he did not stop). Bystanders were enraged and clashed with the police, who shot and killed four more people, and then more security personnel arrived. Kambuzia told ILNA that the police have acted violently in recent months. Kambuzia described police tactics as "unacceptable" and the wrong way to establish security -- "It will only make people cynical and cause even more problems."
Violence is not uncommon in Sistan va Baluchistan, but similar incidents have occurred in other parts of the country recently. In mid-October, police shot at a crowd in Sardasht, Kurdistan Province, and killed three people, "Yas-i No" reported on 27 October. Hasel Daseh, the parliamentary representative from Sardasht, said the corpses were buried shortly after the incident, before sunrise, and without the presence of their families. Daseh described such occurrences as frequent.
According to "Yas-i No", the Interior Ministry was tasked with investigating the incident. ISNA, meanwhile, reported that Sardasht's Governor Ismail Mirzai said on 19 November that the incident has been referred to the Military Prosecutor's Office. Parliamentarian Daseh added that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security has also been ordered to investigate the case.
Eight people were killed in Semirom, Isfahan Province, in August (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 August 2003). Violence in Khorasan Province is not uncommon either, with many incidents resulting from disputes over plans to divide the province (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 September 2001; 11 February, 6 and 13 May, 29 July, and 11 November 2002; and 1 September 2003). (Bill Samii)
POLITICAL VIOLENCE ON THE INCREASE... In three different incidents in the first fortnight of December, members of parliament were attacked as they visited provincial cities. In a third incident, police had to rescue Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi from a mob of angry women. Such incidents usually are initiated by hard-line vigilantes and are causing a great deal of concern because of the perception that they are part of an effort to intimidate reformists and their supporters before the February 2004 parliamentary election.
Unidentified "rogue elements" attacked the 11 December meeting of Kurdistan Province parliamentarians in the town of Gharaveh, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported the next day. The attackers reportedly beat up Sanandaj representative Jalal Jalalizadeh and Saqez representative Salaheddin Alai. Local authorities reportedly arrested five of the attackers.
An unidentified group attacked Izeh parliamentary representative Issa Qoli Ahmadi-Nia on 8 December in Masjid-i Suleiman as he delivered a speech at a meeting on "The role of the Bakhtiari tribe in the growth of democracy in Iran," IRNA reported the next day. Ahmadi-Nia said later, "the people who attacked me are beset with two fundamental deficiencies, that is, poverty and lack of education; in addition, their religious knowledge is very weak." Ahmadi-Nia suggested that outside provocateurs took advantage of the locals' ignorance, saying, "The attackers were, however, directed by other persons outside to insult me and undermine my honor by shouting obscenities." Police intervened and saved Ahmadi-Nia.
Police in Yazd Province on 6 December arrested the "main suspects" in the previous day's attack on a visiting parliamentarian, IRNA reported. The victim in that attack, Isfahan parliamentary representative Mohsen Mirdamadi, told ISNA on 6 December that the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party invited him to speak at Yazd University in place of parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad. Shortly after he started his speech about 100 slogan-chanting people entered the auditorium and then 40 of them attacked Mirdamadi. He added that there were only 10 policemen present. Mirdamadi linked the incident with the forthcoming parliamentary election, saying that "Such events will continue to occur as we approach the elections [in February 2004]. The political situation is heating up and electoral rivalries are emerging," he added.
Provincial Governor-General Hamid Kalantari and Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Saduqi expressed their regrets over the incident, ISNA reported. Asked about the security measures at the venue, Kalantari said that he thought changing the speaker would have precluded any protests. Shirzad, the original invitee, has become controversial ever since his late-November speech in the legislature about the perception that Iran is developing a nuclear-weapon capability (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 December 2003).
Nobel Peace Prize winner Ebadi's 3 December speech at the all-female Al-Zahra University was disrupted by about 50 women who chanted slogans such as "Shame on you hypocrite"; "leave universities alone"; "death to Ebadi"; "God is Great"; and "American Shirin, apologize, apologize," ISNA reported. Ebadi was forced to take shelter in the building's basement, and police escorted her off campus. (Bill Samii)
...UNDERLINING CONCERN ABOUT VIOLENT GROUPS. Hard-line violence is not an uncommon feature of Iranian politics, but the recent increase in such occurrences has elicited state officials' concern. What is more worrisome is the government's claim to know the attackers and its simultaneous failure to act against them.
Shortly after the attack on parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami sent a letter to Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari and Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, urging them to safeguard legal public gatherings, state television reported on 7 December. "There must be no negligence in identifying the perpetrators of these incidents and in dealing with them," Khatami's letter said. "We must not allow the dignity of the system, legitimate freedoms, the country's interests, and the rights of the nation to be sacrificed to ill-judged behavior or the actions of particular currents and gangs."
Nasser Qavami, who heads the legislature's Legal and Judicial Committee, said in a 9 December speech that there should be a closed parliamentary session to discuss the phenomenon of hard-line vigilantes' attacks, ISNA reported. Qavami noted that the vigilantes' attacks on legal gatherings and on prominent personalities are organized and have been occurring for five years. Turning to the assault on Mirdamadi, Qavami asked: "Do you mean the president and all his security apparatus in the Interior Ministry and Intelligence Ministry still do not know which organs or powerful figure is behind these groups who launch the attacks?" He continued: "If they know, why are they not letting the public realize and expose the powerful figures behind them? And if they do not know, it is regrettable."
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said on 11 December that the pressure groups are "part of the system" and the Interior Ministry has identified them, IRNA reported. He would not name them, however, and said, rather feebly, "What is most worrying for us is that the way these figures are dealt with continuously has borne no fruit at all."
This attitude will not engender public confidence. An "Aftab-i Yazd" reader said in the daily's 11 December issue that the "foot soldiers and leaders" of the violent hard-line groups are "known to the public" and have been acting this way since the May 1997 election of President Khatami. Yet every time the president calls for their identification and then the interior minister promises to identify them and, "within a week, everyone forgets and we are back to square one." (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI CALLS FOR INFORMATION EXCHANGE. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in his 10 December speech to an international conference in Geneva that the exchange of information is an opportunity for dialogue and the bridging of societal divisions, IRNA reported on 11 December. Khatami was among the representatives of 112 countries and 374 organizations who are attending the 9-12 December World Electronic Media Forum, one of the events of the World Summit on the Information Society (see http://www.wemfmedia.org).
"We are worried about inequality in developing infrastructures and global access to information and communications," Khatami said. He added that cultural diversity must be considered the foundation of human coexistence.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government continues to block citizens' access to websites that it finds politically unacceptable or pornographic (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 December 2003). According to a weblog on net censorship in Iran (http://stop.censoring.us/), even the cache of the popular Google search engine was blocked.
At a 12 December press conference, Khatami tried to downplay questions about limited access to websites, saying that only immoral ones are blocked and all political ones are accessible. Khatami then allowed that politically provocative sites are banned, too. He cited the post, telegraph, and telephone minister as saying that 240 sites are banned. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN GENEVA. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and President Hosni Mubarak met for one hour on 10 December on the sidelines of the World Electronic Media Forum in Geneva, news agencies reported. Mubarak said after the meeting that they discussed Iraq and Palestine, and he described ties with Iran as good and normal. Mubarak also said that the meeting took place at Khatami's request. Mubarak said, "We favor the establishment of an appropriate level of ties and cooperation with Iran, and feel closeness with our Iranian brethren in our hearts," IRNA reported.
Ties between Tehran and Cairo have been strained since 1979, when Egypt provided Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with refuge, and the naming of a Tehran street after the assassin of President Anwar Sadat and Iranian hostility to Egypt's participation in the Camp David Accords only worsened the situation. A more recent point of contention is the status of Egyptian Al-Qaeda members that Tehran allegedly has detained.
"Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 13 December that Tehran is about to remove the mural of Khalid Eslamboli, Sadat's assassin, from the eponymous street. Citing "Egyptian and Iranian high-level sources," the Arabic daily from London said that this would "pave the way" for Mubarak to visit Tehran.
During the past four weeks, furthermore, Iran deported some 17 Al-Qaeda associates to Egypt, "Al-Hayah" reported on 13 December. Citing Hani al-Sibai, director of the London-based Al-Maqrizi Center for Historic Studies, the daily reported that others escaped. Sibai added that Iran is familiar ground for these individuals because many of them transited the country on their way to or from Afghanistan. Moreover, according to Sibai, "Iranian intelligence" protected Al-Qaeda. (Bill Samii)
IRAN HOLDING 130 AL-QAEDA MEMBERS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 11 December that Iran has detained 130 members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, Al-Arabiyah television reported. He said that those who have committed crimes in Iran will be tried there and the rest would be sent to their home countries. Khatami made the statement during a news conference in Geneva, where he is attending the World Electronic Media Forum. (Bill Samii)
AFGHAN LEADERSHIP MEETS WITH IRANIAN DIPLOMAT... Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mohsen Aminzadeh visited Kabul on 6-8 December and met with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Interior Minister Ali Jalali, and National Security Council chief Zalmay Rasul, according to IRNA and Kabul television.
Aminzadeh told Fahim that Iran is ready to help in the formation of a national army and in training the police (similar offers were made to Fahim when he visited Iran in January 2002; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 January 2002). Another major topic in all the meetings was cooperation in counternarcotics activities and crop substitution. Aminzadeh told Karzai that he is confident about the conditions for development in Afghanistan. Ghani called for cooperation in the customs and financial sectors. Other areas of cooperation that were discussed included the construction of the Herat-Dogharun road, bridge building, railway, education, and customs projects.
Aminzadeh met on 8 December with United Nations Special Envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi, IRNA reported. Brahimi called for Iranian assistance in Afghanistan's upcoming Constitutional Loya Jirga. The two officials also discussed the drafting of the Afghan constitution, the Afghan presidential election that is planned for June 2004, and events in Afghanistan.
The new Iranian ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, described official Iranian policy towards Afghanistan in a 23 October meeting with newspaper editors, Kabul's "Thubat" reported on 29 October. Bahrami said that Iran is committed to its pledge of $550 million in assistance for Afghanistan. Iran has a two-pronged approach towards Afghanistan, Bahrami said: first, to improve the security situation and then to work towards the country's development. Bahrami also mentioned Iran's interest in confronting narcotics. He stressed that refugees cannot return to their country until the security situation improves and there are job opportunities awaiting them. (Bill Samii)
...WHO GOES ON TO HERAT. Aminzadeh arrived in the western Afghanistan city of Herat on 9 December and met with provincial Governor Ismail Khan, IRNA reported. They discussed bilateral relations and the need to accelerate reconstruction activities. Aminzadeh also visited some of the projects that Iran is involved with, including a medical center, a power distribution facility, and the Herat-Dogharun road. Aminzadeh subsequently left for Iran.
Ismail Khan had visited Iran briefly in early November. On the way home from a trip to Europe, he arrived in Tehran on 9 November, Herat television reported the next day. In an 11 November speech cited by Herat television, Ismail Khan said that he visited an electricity substation in Iran that has been built to supply Afghanistan. "Iranian officials told me that they would do their best to extend the power line to Herat city by the end of the year." (Bill Samii)
IRAQI DICTATOR'S CAPTURE COULD BE DILEMMA FOR IRAN. Tehran has reacted happily to the 13 December capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi saying, "We also share the Iraqi people's joy," state radio reported. Alluding to the ruinous eight-year war against Iran that the Iraqi dictator initiated on 22 September 1980, Assefi added, "The history of Saddam's atrocities, especially the crimes against the Iranian people and the regional nations, are clear and unforgettable." Assefi's reaction, reflecting the pleasure of seeing a historical enemy fall, is what one would expect and is shared by the public.
This is also a bittersweet moment for Iran and the official reaction is likely to be more nuanced. Iranian reactions, which can be divided into three tracks, reflect the public's view and the government's view, but they also reflect questions about how to deal with Hussein and concerns about the continuing U.S. presence in Iraq.
Tehran's official news service, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), in many ways encapsulated the public reaction when it wrote about its reporters who were killed during the "Iraqi imposed war," the "cruelty and crimes Saddam committed" against Iran's Shi'a co-religionists in southern Iraq, and the gassing of Kurds in Halabja. IRNA also noted proudly that it had broken the story of Saddam Hussein's capture.
"The martyrs' families and those who tolerated the hardships of the war welcomed this news with delight," Tehran parliamentary representative Ali Shakuri-Rad said according to ISNA. More of a "vox pop" reaction came from a war veteran cited by Reuters. Ahmad, who lost an arm in the war, said, "I was listening to the radio and when I heard the news I cried." "I've suffered for over 10 years and I hope he will suffer more," Ahmad continued.
Reformist parliamentarian Mohsen Armin used the capture to make a domestic political point. He said, "The arrest of Saddam once again proved the fact that the age of dictators has come to an end in the world today," ISNA reported.
Hussein's capture also featured on the front page of several newspapers on 15 December. "Iran" and "Iran Daily," the Persian and English-language newspapers produced by IRNA, had the former Iraqi president's capture on their front pages. But while a "Saddam Captured" headline spanned the entire top of "Iran Daily," which is meant for foreigners, "Saddam Snared" only had a few column inches on the front page of "Iran," which is meant for the domestic audience. "Hamshahri," which is affiliated with the Tehran municipality, featured a photograph of Hussein and an article about his capture.
The Internet version of the English-language "Tehran Times," which is affiliated with the conservative Islamic Propagation Organization, also had photos of Hussein. Its feature article stated that the capture was a "precisely choreographed scenario" connected with the upcoming U.S. presidential election. From there the article deteriorated into a jumble of conspiracy theories.
This combination of responses by the public and the media reflects the official Iranian dilemma -- jubilation at Hussein's capture combined with irritation that the United States did it and continuing concern about the U.S. presence in Iraq. This dilemma was reflected by former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief Mohsen Rezai, when he said on state television on 14 December, "what is important is that Saddam has been captured.... God willing, in the future we will also celebrate the liberation of all of Iraq and the departure of the occupiers." Rezai added that people should not be upset that it was the United States that captured Hussein. "If it were possible, we could even hold a celebration for this great victory. The torment of God has finally found these people [former Iraqi leaders] even in the houses in which they were hiding. God willing, the Iranian nation will also celebrate the liberation of Iraq, when the occupiers leave."
Now the immediate question relates to how Hussein, who after his capture was taken to an "undisclosed location," should be dealt with. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman noted, "The trial of Saddam and his accomplices in an open court will restore part of the trampled rights." Will he be tried before an international tribunal, by an Iraqi court, or by the Americans who captured him? This could be where there are divisions within the Iranian ruling apparatus.
Savojbalaq parliamentary representative Jafar Golbaz said the best place to try Hussein is Iraq, ISNA reported. Golbaz rejected American involvement. "If Saddam is tried by America, the process will be prolonged and he will not be tried correctly," he claimed. "It will become a behind-the-scenes political game."
Given Tehran's fondness for multilateralism, it is likely that the Khatami administration as represented by the Foreign Ministry will call for an international trial. Indeed, before Operation Iraqi Freedom Tehran repeatedly called for resolution of the Iraq crisis through the United Nations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 March 2003). Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) member Jalal Talabani, however, said that the IGC agreed with the coalition forces some time ago that "all Iraqi criminals must be tried in Iraq," and added that a special court has been created for this, Iran's Al-Alam television reported. (Bill Samii
THOUSANDS OF IRANIANS TO VISIT IRAQ EVERY DAY. Several leading members of the Iraqi Governing Council have visited Iran recently, including Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, Ahmad Chalabi, and Jalal Talabani. Al-Hakim arrived in the city of Qasr-i Shirin on 12 December, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim and Qasr-i Shirin Governor Hussein Khosh-Iqbal signed an agreement relating to the daily travel of 3,000 Iranian pilgrims to Shi'a holy sites in Iraq.
Chalabi said during a 6 December visit to the Khosravi border crossing area that the facilities near it and Qasr-i Shirin are adequate to meet the needs of Iranians traveling to Iraq, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported. Chalabi said that 5,000 Iranians per day would be visiting the Shi'a shrines in Iraq. Chalabi had arrived in Iran on 30 November, IRNA reported, and at the Khosravi site he discussed the pilgrimage situation with Qasr-i Shirin Governor Khosh-Iqbal.
Chalabi went on to Tehran to meet with Iranian national leaders, including Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, according to IRNA and ISNA on 1 and 2 December. In general, the Iranians said they wanted the occupation to end, while the Iraqis thanked them for all their help in the past. Rohani stressed Tehran's concern about the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, which was backed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and which remains in Iraq. Mohammad Hussein Adeli, Iran's deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, told Chalabi that Iran is ready to build a pipeline from Abadan to Al-Basrah to supply Iraq with oil and gas, and he emphasized Iran's interest in reconstruction projects. Chalabi told Adeli that Iraq would like import construction materials, foodstuffs, and pharmaceuticals.
Chalabi's visit coincided with the killing in Samarra of 46 anticoalition militants by U.S. Army personnel from Taskforce Ironhorse on 30 November. The incident occurred when the militants attacked convoys carrying new Iraqi currency. An Iranian pilgrim was also killed in the incident. Tehran television on 1 December described the incident as a "massacre" in which American forces "killed some 60 innocent Iraqi people." Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi described the incident as "unjustifiable" and said that the U.S. troops targeted pilgrims. The Iranian Foreign Ministry on 1 December summoned Swiss Ambassador to Tehran Tim Guldimann to hear its protest over the Iranian pilgrim's death, IRNA reported. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran because Tehran and Washington do not have diplomatic relations.
Samarra is the site of shrines to Imam Hadi and Imam Hassan Asgari. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi condemned the U.S. military and expressed their regrets over the incident.
A delegation led by Talabani arrived in Iran on 17 November. During the visit, according to "Iran News" on 18 November, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari offered assistance in establishing and training a police force, in drafting a constitution, in running municipal governments, and in organizing a census. Musavi-Lari also offered help in the pilgrimage trade and in strengthening economic ties.
Voice of the Mujahedin cited Talabani on 24 November as saying that the pilgrimage trade will increase in two stages. After meeting with the governor of Qasr-i Shirin, Talabani said that in the first stage the traffic will increase to 3,000 people daily and in the second stage there would be a 2,000-person increase. (Bill Samii)
BAGHDAD DECIDES TO EXPEL MKO TERRORISTS. The legal representative of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) on 11 December sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Defense Department officials pleading that they "overrule" a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to expel them from Iraq, "The New York Times" reported on 13 December. The MKO lawyer is Marc Hezelin from Switzerland.
The IGC decided on 9 December that all MKO members would be expelled from Iraq by 31 December 2003, news agencies reported. A statement from the IGC labeled the MKO a "terrorist organization" and ascribed this decision to the MKO's "dark history," according to AFP. MKO offices will be closed, its funds and arms will be confiscated, and the money will be placed in a fund to compensate victims of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.
The Iraqi stance on the MKO, which played a prominent role in suppressing Shi'a and Kurdish uprisings in the 1990s, was described by IGC member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i on Al-Jazeera on 10 December. "This terrorist organization carried out acts of violence, sabotage, destruction, and terrorism against the Iraqi people during the courageous 1991 Intifada [or uprising, against Saddam Hussein]. All those who took part in the Intifada can tell you that there were those who were tortured, killed, and executed by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization." Al-Rubay'i denied that the decision to expel the MKO was part of any deal between Baghdad and Iran. "It is an Iraqi decision," he said, adding, "This applies not only to this organization but all terrorist organizations in Iraq, which should leave Iraq."
Another IGC member, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani, on 14 December described the MKO as "the best instrument for the imposition of Saddam Hussein's bullying throughout Iraq," IRNA reported. Providing more detail, Talabani said, "At the time of the clashes between Kurdish forces and the despised Saddam Hussein regime, the hypocrites group inflicted irreparable blows and losses on the people of Iraqi Kurdistan."
MKO spokesman Sana Barq Zahedi seemed removed from reality, therefore, when he told Al-Jazeera television on 10 December that his group is very popular in Iraq. "You know that our presence, background, and ties in Iraq are obvious to all Iraqis," he told the satellite news channel from London. "Iraqis, whether Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Sunnis, or Shi'a, all know us very well and bear feelings of sincere affection and respect for the MKO," he contended. The MKO spokesman said the Iranian theocratic regime wants to dominate Iraq and, "because the MKO continues to assist the Iranian resistance inside Iran, this regime resorts to these acts and ambitions" to "conceal the internal crises" and to restrict the MKO because it is opposed to "religious oppression and rule in Iraq."
About 3,800 MKO members are in Camp Ashraf, located 60 miles north of Baghdad. They are technically prisoners of the U.S., which negotiated a cease-fire with them last spring (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 and 28 April, 19 May 2003). The U.S. State Department has classified the MKO as a terrorist organization. According to an 11 September report in "The Washington Post," the State Department was concerned that the Pentagon was permitting MKO cross-border activities against the Iranian government. The U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, said on 11 September that the MKO personnel were contained in the camp and their weapons had been confiscated, Reuters reported.
It is not clear where they will go now. Iraqi National Congress official Entifadh Qanbar said, "They can seek refuge in other places," "The Washington Post" reported on 10 December. "We don't care where they're going to go." IGC member Ahmad Chalabi proposed the anti-MKO resolution and, during his early-December trip to Tehran, the officials he met with called for action on the MKO (see above).
Iran's Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said after the 10 December cabinet meeting, "Those whose hands are not besmirched with the blood of Iranians can return to the embrace of their nation and will be pardoned," Reuters reported. Karaj parliamentary representative Mir-Taher Musavi, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, on 10 December urged the IGC to turn MKO leaders over to the Iranian government, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported. Musavi also encouraged MKO members to throw themselves on Tehran's mercy. "It may be better if the junior members of the group separate themselves and return to Iran and are forgiven and supported by the government," he recommended.
Iranian presidential adviser Mohammad Shariati denied in a 9 December interview with Al-Jazeera television that there is linkage between the Iraqi expulsion of MKO members and Washington's desire to gain access to Al-Qaeda personnel in Iran. He also rejected a connection between this development and Tehran-Washington relations. Yet as "The Washington Post" points out on 10 December, the IGC decision coincides with efforts by Jordan's King Abdullah II to negotiate with Tehran and Washington on these very topics.
Iranian officials have welcomed the IGC decision to expel the MKO members. Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters after the 10 December cabinet meeting that decision is "highly acceptable" and "welcome," Reuters reported. (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)
PAKISTANI NUCLEAR SCIENTISTS DETAINED FOR POSSIBLE TIES TO IRAN. Two Pakistani nuclear scientists -- Kahuta Research Laboratories Director Faruq Mohammad and Laboratory Director Yasin Chohan -- were detained one to two weeks ago, possibly in connection with the transfer of sensitive technology to Iran, AFP and Pakistani media reported on 11 December. (Chohan was released on 12 December, dpa reported.) An anonymous "senior Foreign Office official" denied that Pakistan has cooperated with any other country in the nuclear field, Islamabad's "The News" reported. Discussing the status of the nuclear scientists, the Pakistani official said that people involved with sensitive projects must sometimes undergo dependability and debriefing programs.
Pakistani opposition politicians demanded a Senate inquiry into the arrests and accused the government of giving in to U.S. dictates, according to "The News."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is investigating potential links between the Iranian and Pakistani nuclear programs, "The Los Angeles Times" reported on 28 November. Iranian centrifuges utilize the same technology as Pakistan's, which is based on the Urenco company's designs. One of the creators of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, Abdul Qadir Khan, worked at Urenco's Dutch facility in the 1970s and he was later accused of stealing centrifuge plans from there.
Abdul Qadir Khan is regarded as the father of the Pakistani nuclear program. He visited the nuclear power plant at Bushehr in southwestern Iran in 1986, and Tehran and Islamabad subsequently signed a nuclear cooperation agreement, "The Los Angeles Times" reported on 5 January 2003. Khan visited Iran again, and Iranian scientists were trained in Pakistan in 1988. Ali Akbar Omid Mehr, a former Iranian diplomat who now lives under an assumed name in Denmark, said Khan was given a villa near the Caspian Sea in thanks for his assistance, and two anonymous "senior Pakistani officials" said that Pakistani military commanders offered to sell nuclear weapons technology to Iran in 1989, "The Los Angeles Times" reported on 4 August 2003.
Khan, however, has frequently denied ever visiting Iran, London-based energy consultant Simon Henderson writes in National Review Online on 11 December. If Khan and other Pakistanis are not behind the transfer of centrifuge technology to Iran, Henderson writes, then "suspicion falls" on a Sri Lankan Muslim merchant who was based in Dubai and who "acted as a conduit for Pakistan's orders of components and manufacturing equipment." This individual could have ordered equipment for Iran in a side deal, Henderson suggests. (Bill Samii)