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Iran Report: January 28, 2002

28 January 2002, Volume 5, Number 3

TEHRAN CONTINUES AFGHAN 'PSYOPS.' Mr. Farrokhi, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting representative in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, announced that a new Iranian TV channel -- Jam-i Jam 3 -- will start operating at the end of February and its broadcasts will cover Afghanistan, Tajikistan's Asia-Plus news agency reported on 24 January. "Now we have the opportunity to open a third channel to broadcast to Central Asia, including Afghanistan," Farrokhi said, adding that, "Iranian experts will soon bring the necessary technical equipment to Dushanbe." Iranian radio broadcasts already reach at least as far as Kabul, Iranian television broadcasts already cover much of western Afghanistan, and Afghan state broadcasting rebroadcasts Iranian television programs. Meanwhile, a special envoy of the Iranian Foreign Ministry's research and training department, a Mr. Mohsen [second name indistinct], met with the acting head of Kabul's Bakhtar Information Agency on 23 January, according to Radio Afghanistan. They discussed cooperation in the fields of news and culture.

In Iran, meanwhile, a meeting of some 300 Afghan clerics was told by Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri that the U.S. is trying to create a secular state in Afghanistan. "The head of the current government in Afghanistan is not Hamid Karzai but [UN envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi and [U.S. envoy] Zalmay Khalilzad," Nateq-Nuri said. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative for Afghan affairs, Hussein Ibrahimi, warned the same meeting about the "political sedition" of Islam and about supposed U.S. hypocrisy, the "Financial Times" reported on 25 January. (Bill Samii)

UN CONVINCED OF IRANIAN INNOCENCE IN AFGHANISTAN. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Tehran on a one-day visit, said on 26 January that according to information he has received, Iran is in full cooperation with the UN and the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai. And after meeting with Herat Governor Ismail Khan, UN deputy special envoy for Afghanistan Francis Vendrell said on 24 January, "Ismail Khan strongly denies allegations that Iran was playing any unwanted role in Afghanistan or Herat." Vendrell added that he has no concrete evidence of Iranian government interference in Afghanistan and, after his discussions with "a lot of senior Afghans," he believes that the issue of Iranian activities "has been exaggerated."

Such denials from Ismail Khan and from Iranian officials are not unexpected. Asked if he is concerned about continuing interference in Afghanistan's affairs from Pakistan and Iran, Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai said in the 27 January "Washington Post" that he had spoken with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami a few days earlier. Karzai added, "I hope that our neighbors recognize that interference will not bring anything except trouble and the spread of terrorism and radicalism in the region."

Other Afghan officials, including cabinet members, told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that they are concerned about Ismail Khan's involvement with the Iranians, as well as the relative freedom of provincial governors from Kabul's control. Mohammad Yusef Pashtun, an aide to Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Shirazi, claimed that senior Iranian military officers have been operating in Farah, Nimruz, and Helmand provinces. He said that Iranian generals using the names "Baqbani" and "Dehqan" were offering cash and other incentives in an effort to lure local warlords from their commitments to the administration in Kabul, according to reports in the 24 January issues of "The New York Times" and "The Los Angeles Times."

Iran has sent about 20 trucks filled with money for Ismail Khan to pay his troops, "The Guardian" reported from Herat on 24 January. Some of Ismail Khan's commanders say that the approximately 12 trucks a day that come from Iran carry weapons, uniforms, and other war materiel. Indeed, the troops in Herat are better outfitted than those in Kabul. And on 21 January, Kandahar intelligence chief Haji Gulali said that Ismail Khan was working with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and allies of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the mujahedin commander who has been based in Iran for the last few years, to arm and fund opponents of the interim administration.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a recent interview with "Time" magazine, rejected allegations that Iran is arming Ismail Khan and interfering in Afghan affairs He said, "Iran is not sending any weapons to Afghanistan...there's no truth to allegations of supporting a particular faction. Iran is doing its best to convince everyone to work with the central government." He qualified his denial somewhat when asked about IRGC activities in Afghanistan, saying "I'm not aware of any presence by members of the [IRGC]. But if there are [IRGC] in Afghanistan, their presence is in the framework of a political presence to maintain their old contacts in order to help the consolidation of the government, and not a military presence." Zarif added that the Foreign Ministry determines Tehran�s Afghan policy, but he conceded that "The reality of Iran is that it's not a society that speaks with a single voice�"

Meanwhile, there is increasing concern about possible Iranian involvement with the creation of a national Afghan army. Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim was in Tehran in mid-January, at which time he met with the heads of the IRGC and the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 January 2002). Fears about Tehran (as well as Moscow) prompted London to invite Fahim for a tour of British military bases in February, "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 22 January. (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN SHIA DENY LINKS WITH IRAN. Abdul Karim Khalili, leader of Afghanistan's predominantly Shia Hizb-i Wahdat, denied in a 23 January interview with Mashhad radio that Tehran is interfering in Afghan affairs, and he went on to praise Iran's efforts to establish peace and calm in Afghanistan. Other leaders of Afghanistan's Shia community �- which makes up about 15 percent of the total population -- also denied links with Tehran in interviews with "RFE/RL Iran Report."

Hizb-i Wahdat could be seen as an Iranian creation �- with Tehran's guidance it was formed from eight other Shia parties in 1988 to counter the alliance of seven Sunni parties in Pakistan, and it evolved into a single party. Yet Afghan Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq, who is a leader of the Hizb-i Wahdat, rejected outright that his organization favors Iran, and he said that this is an insult to the leadership of Hizb-i Wahdat. Some "circles" raise this accusation, according to Mohaqeq, and in fact, Hizb-i Wahdat is the only homegrown party, established in 1980 when all the Shia mujahedin gathered in Bamiyan.

Harakat-i Islami is seen as the party most independent of Iran, and Tehran actually imprisoned its spiritual leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Assef Muhseni, after his name was discovered in documents confiscated from the U.S. Embassy. In early January, Muhseni told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that neither he nor his organization has received any help from Qom, Mashhad, or Tehran. Moreover, Afghan Minister of Agriculture Sayed Hossein Anwari, who is a leader in the Harakat-i Islami, said that his movement has normal relations with all the neighboring states, and he denied any sort of special political relationship with Tehran.

There are other indications that Tehran is not promoting a Shia-centric approach in its foreign policy agenda. Sheikh Mohammad Baqer Sheikhzadeh, who heads one of Kabul's Shia mosques, said that during Afghanistan's period of post-Soviet communist rule (1989-92), the Iranian Embassy provided money and literature. Now, the cleric said, an Iranian diplomat came by the mosque one time to deliver some books, and that was the last they saw of him.

In overall terms, leaders of Afghanistan's Shia community seem optimistic about their country's future and the Shia's role in that future. Muhseni had predicted immediately after the signing of the Bonn accords in early December that the agreement would fail because of insufficient representation of the Northern Alliance (United Front), but a month later he was much more hopeful, perhaps due to relief at the Taliban's departure.

Muhseni talked about some of the Taliban's best-known acts against the Shia. He described incidents such as the four-day killing of at least 170 people near Yekalang in January 2001; the May 2000 massacre of Shia near Robatak Pass; the May 1999 and the September 1998 killings in Bamiyan; and the August 1998 massacre of about 2,000 Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif. The Taliban, furthermore, declared the Shia to be infidels, and they took over some Shia mosques.

Officials at Kabul's Jameh-yi Fatemieh mosque and the Husseinieh Omumeh told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" about other acts of Taliban repression. Taliban officials tried to prevent people from attending the Friday services, and they tried to disrupt the Ashura commemorations. At other times, Taliban officials would enter these facilities and try to destroy ornaments that are particular to the Shia. Occasionally, Taliban officials would complain that the Shia call to prayer, which differs from that of the Sunnis, was too loud.

Sheikh Mohammad Baqer Sheikhzadeh said the Taliban were against culture, knowledge, and education, but they did not bother him or his mosque too much. But he was being too kind. The Taliban arrested him twice, members of his congregation said, and although his mosque has a large library, he had to hide many of its books to avoid offending the Taliban. Photographs of leading Shia clerics, such as Ayatollahs Khomeini, Sistani, and Khamenei, had to be hidden. A bystander asked the sheikh when Afghanistan's Shia suffered the most. Sheikhzadeh said that during the mujahedin period (1992-96), the fighting between different Islamic factions caused a great deal of destruction and made Islam look bad, and the Taliban's efforts to impose Islam on people from 1996-2001 turned them away from the faith.

Ayatollah Muhseni described the Taliban as ignoramuses, and he said that the Shia were freest during the mujahedin period. As for Afghanistan's current administration, Muhseni said, it would be better if there were more Shia in the cabinet. Currently there are five Shia in the 29-member cabinet (about 17 percent), and Muhseni believes that 20 percent of the cabinet should be Shia.

Two Shia cabinet members, however, told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that they are quite sanguine about the future. Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq said the Shia have been fighting for their rights for 23 years and their objectives are respected in the Bonn agreement. All the ethnic groups of Afghanistan now are represented in the government, he added, and if the various groups respect the accords, the Shia will secure their rights in the future. Mohaqeq said that the Hizb-i Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami work well together now, and he believes that in the future all the groups will work well together to achieve democracy and popular rule ("mardom salari" -- with a laugh, Mohaqeq said that "mardom salari" is a phrase popularized by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami).

Minister of Agriculture Sayed Hossein Anwari said that the Afghan Shia have bitter and sweet memories about the past. The Shia suffered during the war against the Soviets, the situation improved during the mujahedin period, and it went downhill under the Taliban. In the six months of the interim administration, he hopes that greater public participation will be achieved; and in the government that follows the Loya Jirga, this process will continue peacefully. Anwari said that relations between the two Shia parties are good right now, and he hopes it stays that way.

Nevertheless, the Shia leaders are concerned with the needs of their constituents at least as much as they are with national politics. Muhseni was adjudicating in the disposition of a widow's financial affairs before his interview with the "RFE/RL Iran Report," and Anwari's home and offices are besieged by Hazara needing charity and by armed commanders from the Hazarajat. Mohaqeq had bigger fish to fry before the interview �- he was meeting with former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN OFFERS TO SUPPORT AFGHAN COUNTER-NARCOTICS. "All countrymen, especially peasants and farmers, are informed that from now on, the cultivation, manufacturing, processing, impermissible use, smuggling, and trafficking of opium poppy and all its derivatives is declared illegal," said an official Afghan statement read out by UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) official Bernard Frahi in Kabul on 16 January. "Violators will be dealt with severely." There are many reasons to question Kabul's sincerity, and as a frontline state in the war against Afghan narcotics, Iran is struggling to deal with the problem.

One could question Kabul's will and its ability. The Afghan leadership evicted the State High Commission for Drug Control from its headquarters to make way for a government newspaper called "Payam-i Mujahid," according to the 25 January "The Independent." The drug-control agency's vehicles were confiscated, too. "They literally threw us into the street," according to High Commission Secretary-General Mir Najibullah Shams. He added that he doesn't even have a telephone. Western counter-narcotics officials noted in recent interviews with the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that Afghanistan's Interior Ministry is tasked with the counter-narcotics function, but Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni is a member of the Northern Alliance (United Front), and in 2001 there was a 260 percent increase in opium cultivation in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance. Even if Kabul is serious about counter-narcotics, enforcement will be difficult because Afghanistan does not yet have a national police force or army.

Tehran has approached the Afghan leadership directly to deal with the narcotics problem. During a 3 January visit to Kabul, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh told Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni that the world expects Kabul to act against opium cultivation and narcotics production, IRNA reported. Aminzadeh went on to say that Iran is ready to contribute to the UN's counter-narcotics activities in Afghanistan, and he said that Iran has already implemented several poppy substitution projects in the regions bordering Iran. (Nearly all Afghan poppy comes from other parts of the country -- Badakhshan, Nangarhar, Kandahar, and Helmand. There were minor amounts of poppy cultivation in Herat and Farah provinces in 2000, and none in 2001.)

Tehran offered in mid-December to discuss crop substitution with the Afghan leadership, AFP reported, and Tehran's Agriculture Ministry was tasked with drawing up an appropriate plan. Afghan Minister of Irrigation Haji Mangal Hossein and Minister of Agriculture Sayed Hossein Anwari told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" in January that they had not heard from any Iranian officials yet. This may change soon, because after the Afghan reconstruction meeting of international donors in Tokyo, Tehran pledged financial aid of $560 million over five years.

A second way Tehran is pursuing its war on drugs is through law-enforcement and security activities. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 20 January that the government would draft a bill to pursue a more serious campaign against drug smuggling, according to IRNA. About 10 days earlier, the Val Fajr security operation in eastern Iran began, and by 22 January 1,500 "bandits" had been arrested and 21 "bandits" had been killed, according to a Sistan va Baluchistan Province police official. He added that in the first 10 days of the operation, 150 kilograms of heroin, 2,550 kilograms of opium, and 2,630 kilograms of hashish were seized, as was a large cache of weapons and ammunition, IRNA reported. Police in Gonabad, Khorasan Province, seized 542 kilograms of opium, morphine, and hashish in the month ending 20 January and they arrested 86 people. In Kermanshah Province, police seized opium, heroin, and morphine, and they arrested three "drug lords" and 70 drug dealers, IRNA reported on 20 January. In northern Tehran on 19 January, police arrested 35 dealers and users.

These activities are aimed at reducing the supply of narcotics. Some Iranians are calling for greater attention to the demand side. Molavi Abdul Hamid, a senior Sunni cleric in Zahedan, said in the 9 January "Financial Times" that the Iranian government must address the poverty that turns people toward drugs. "There is no doubt the government is fighting drugs, but they can't eradicate the problem until they end the economic plight and improve living standards," he said. "It has been shown they did not achieve much." And in the words of a Zahedan street dealer, "Life here is a disaster. Only smuggling is worthwhile. The rest is useless. We can't do anything else."

Other observers echo these views. Khalilollah Zahmatkesh, who is a member of the Expediency Council's Commission on Narcotic Drugs and an adviser to the secretary-general of the Drug Control Headquarters, believes that cultural means should go hand-in-hand with legal means, IRNA reported on 19 January, although he did not offer any concrete suggestions. Abadan's Koshtargah neighborhood, which until recently was a notorious drug-distribution area, will be cleaned up and turned into a youth recreation center, Abadan Governor Jamal Alami-Nisti said on 14 January.

Parliamentarian Soheila Jelodarzadeh, who is secretary of the Antidrugs Society, on 19 January offered some concrete reasons for Iranians' abuse of drugs. "In our society, human beings are not looked upon with dignity and respect, otherwise people who are socially accepted would not turn to drugs," she said. Jelodarzadeh warned that drug-related expenditures, including security, treatment, and related health care, could top 100 million rials (about $57,000 at the official rate), on top of an estimated 20 billion rials ($11.4 million) for Iranians' total daily drug consumption. Qom Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ali Meshkini on 18 January urged the Iranian people to assist the government in enforcing the counter-narcotics campaign, IRNA reported, and then he described "U.S. crimes against the Iranian nation both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution." (Bill Samii)

POLITICIZED CORRUPTION TRIAL IMPLICATES 'AQAZADEHS.' The trial on corruption charges of over 10 Iranians began on 21 January, and several "Aqazadehs" (the offspring of clerical officials) are in the dock, as are the head of the state's Export Guarantee Fund and the head of a state bank's foreign-exchange department. And after two days of testimony, many more influential Iranians were implicated. To some observers, this trial has more to do with politics than the pursuit of justice.

Shahram Jazayeri, a 29-year-old businessman, testified that he gave Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi 3 billion rials (about $1.7 million at the official rate) for "charitable works." Jazayeri paid approximately 5.5 billion rials (about $3.1 million) to Tehran parliamentarian and "Hayat-i No" editor Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamenei, who is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's brother. Rasht parliamentarian Elias Hazrati got help to buy a house, and a presidential candidate got help with his election expenses. Jazayeri claimed that he gave money to Ayatollah Anvari and TVs and mobile telephones to parliament deputy Mohammad Shahi-Arablu. Jazayeri also claimed that he gave money to Ahmad Saberi, the brother of the deputy from Tonekabon. Jazayeri identified the son of Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadai and some conservative clerics, too.

When the "Kayhan" newspaper reported in early January that 60 parliamentarians were linked to the Jazayeri case there was an uproar in the legislature. Behzad Nabavi claimed that this was part of a plot to eliminate the reformist sixth parliament, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 3 January, and Ali Shakuri-Rad criticized what he saw as inconsistent reactions to corruption. Conservative Deputy Musa Qorbani complained that "Kayhan" had implicated all 280 members of the legislature because it did not actually cite any names.

On the other hand, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who heads the conservative Islamic Engineers Society, said that some people are combining power, wealth, and the media to protect their illegitimate accumulation of wealth, "Noruz" reported on 19 January. Bahonar said such people are practicing a double standard and are making illegitimate claims of parliamentary immunity. Jalal Badamchian, a member of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Association, suggested in the 14 January "Aftab-i Yazd" that some reformist dailies were the beneficiaries of illegitimate funds.

And the Jazayeri case is just the most recent corruption case that is politically tinged. In early December, Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh was charged with misuse of $800 million in oil revenues. The case related to Petro-Pars, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company that is registered in the British Virgin Islands and which serves as the intermediary between the Petroleum Ministry and foreign firms. The head of Petro-Pars, parliament deputy Behzad Nabavi, had resigned a few months earlier. During the summer, another scandal erupted when Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati alleged that he could identify the individuals who had transferred money from the oil sector to their foreign bank accounts (Jannati later withdrew his claims). There also were reports in December that Central Bank Governor Mohsen Nurbakhsh and Minister of Industries and Mines Ishaq Jahangiri received court summonses. Yet they both denied receipt of the summonses, saying that they only knew of them through press reports.

Regardless of who is named and how politicized the issue becomes, Supreme Leader Khamenei seems sincere about the anticorruption campaign that he launched in April 2001 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001). He spent much of his time discussing corruption in a speech that was broadcast on 23 January. He said that "fighting against corruption is a real jihad" and all the officials should be united in this approach. Khamenei warned that some people would resist this campaign: "They shouldn't be allowed to overshadow this great campaign with some turmoil in some corner," he said, adding, "The enemy shouldn't be allowed to find a pretext to stop the campaign against corruption," and, "Senior state officials should not allow those elements who live and grow in the swamp of corruption to prevent this campaign." (Bill Samii)

RENEWED CONCERNS ABOUT JOBS AND TRAINING. In the first three weeks of 2002, state officials reiterated their concern about unemployment in Iran, and information provided by the national Statistics Organization and other local observers suggests that the country is poorly equipped to deal with the problem.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi stressed the importance of creating jobs during a 23 January meeting with legislative officials regarding the new budget. "You people's representatives, who are in direct contact with the nation from all walks of life across the country, know better that unemployment is among the topmost important problems of the nation."

"Unemployment is like a time bomb threatening the future prospect of the country," Birjand parliamentarian Mehdi Ayatei said on 20 January, according to IRNA. He added that there would be 10 million unemployed Iranians by 2006. About 3.5 million Iranians between the ages of 15 and 64 are jobless, IRNA reported on 19 January, and at least 5.5 million high-school graduates are expected to join the unemployed over the next four years. This would bring the unemployment rate up to 24 percent, whereas it currently stands at about 13 percent officially. Ten percent of the unemployed hold university degrees, according to the Statistics Organization.

The managing director of the Job Security Fund, Ali-Reza Binazir, however, said that the number of unemployed university graduates is two times higher than it was last year, and it now stands at 22 percent, IRNA reported on 20 January. Binazir blamed poor planning for the doubling of the figure in just one year. He added that his organization has sent 200 people to South Korea to work, and another 300 people will be sent abroad later.

President Mohammad Khatami presided over the 19 January session of the High Council for Employment, where the main topic of discussion was how to create job opportunities. Subsequently, it was decided to call on the parliament and the Judiciary to cooperate with the executive branch in solving the unemployment problem. Deputy Interior Minister for Plan and Budget Affairs Mohammad Reza Behzadian said on 6 January that Iran must welcome foreign investment to create more jobs and increase productivity. He called for amendment of the tax laws and the establishment of private banks, and he said greater access to markets in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan would be helpful.

Police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said in Rasht on 21 January that the unemployment problem contributed to the level of domestic drug trafficking, IRNA reported.

The large number of unemployed university graduates and the fact that 80 percent of them work in the state sector, meanwhile, suggests that their training is inappropriate to the requirements of the marketplace. According to a 29 December commentary in the "Economic Note" column of "Seda-yi Idalat," these state-sector employees are very costly. Eighty percent of Iran's oil revenues are spent on the salaries and other expenses of 3 million government workers, but 1.5 million of them are superfluous. If there are 1.5 million unnecessary government employees, according to the commentary, 40 percent of Iran's oil revenue is actually unemployment insurance, so it would be cheaper to retire them. (Bill Samii)

HALTING DEVELOPMENTS IN TEHRAN-BAGHDAD TIES. Iraqi Transport Minister Ahmad Morteza Ahmad visited Tehran in mid-January, and the Iranian State Aviation Organization announced on 23 January that Tehran would start direct flights to Baghdad soon, according to IRNA. These would be the first since the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Iranian Deputy Transport Minister Behzad Mazaheri said, "Once a suitable ground is prepared, Iranian flights into Iraq will resume." Some observers could be tempted to attach great relevance to this conditional announcement and, indeed, it could be significant in reducing Iraq's international isolation. But Tehran and Baghdad have had long-standing official relations, and many issues must be resolved before the normalization of ties.

The frequent visits of Iraqi and Iranian officials to Tehran and Baghdad were among the subjects discussed in early December by Iran's charge d'affaires to Baghdad, Amir-Said Arvand, and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, IRNA reported. At that time it was determined that the resolution of issues relating to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War would be an important starting point in normalizing the two countries' relations, and steps in this direction are being taken in January.

The Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri Ahmad al- Hadithi, is expected in Tehran on 25 January, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the previous day. He is to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, to discuss matters related to the Iran-Iraq War. Al-Hadithi said in the 21 January issue of Cairo's "Al-Ahram" that an Iranian delegation is in Baghdad to resolve this issue "through direct contacts and away from sloganeering and media sensational coverage." And Iran's Brigadier General Najafi said the situation of those captured during the Iran-Iraq War will be clarified 75 days from now, according to Iranian state television on 20 January. He added: "Out of the [list of the names of] 2,000 people that we had presented to them, they have officially replied to us in writing for 1,687 of them. They cannot be described as POWs at all. They are not being held for any reason in any part of Iraq."

In the preceding days, Tehran released almost 700 Iraqi prisoners of war. Kermanshah Governorate-General Deputy for Political-Security Affairs Ali-Asghar Jamshidnezhad said that the exchanges took place over three days at the Khosravi border crossing near Qasr-i Shirin, IRNA reported on 23 January. The Iraqis released 46 Iranian civilians, and Jamshidnezhad said that more POW exchanges are expected. (Iraqi acting Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said last July, "There is not one single Iranian prisoner in Iraq;" see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 July 2001.) Indeed, al-Hadithi and Iranian General Hussein Zamani-Nia met in Baghdad on 12 January to discuss issues from the war.

On 9 January, furthermore, six unknown Iranians who died in the eight-year war were buried at the Imam Sadeq University campus. The six were among 225 bodies returned by Baghdad. Funeral processions for them were held in 45 Iranian cities. The head of Iran's Missing in Action Committee, Brigadier General Mir-Faisal Baqerzadeh, said operations are underway to find the bodies of 10,000 more missing servicemen.

Coinciding with steps that indicate a normalization of relations between Tehran and Baghdad are activities that indicate the two governments' differences are far from complete resolution. The acting head of Iraq's UN mission, Abd-al-Munim al-Qadi, complained at the end of December about Iran's continuing violations of the ceasefire that ended the Iran-Iraq War, INA reported. And in November, an Iranian delegation headed to Baghdad to discuss the Iraqi aircraft that were flown to Iran during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, according to the 30 November 2001 "RFE/RL Iraq Report."

And on the same day that the future resumption of air links was being announced, Iraqi opposition groups were meeting in Tehran. Representatives from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Al-Dawa, and the Islamic Jihad Group started a three-day session on 23 January. And on 11 January Mahmud Abu-Mawlana of the SCIRI visited Jamal Shan, the leader of the Iraqi Turkoman National Party. During this meeting they discussed the need for the Iraqi opposition to unify, Erbil's "Turkomanli" reported on 13 January. Moreover, there is reason to believe that Tehran is supporting the Jund al-Islam, which is based in Biyara, a few kilometers from the Iranian border. The main international border near Jund al-Islam territory is controlled by Iran, and according to the December 2001 "Middle East Intelligence Bulletin," "the apparent resupply of Jund al-Islam through Iranian territory is further evidence of Tehran's complicity." Tehran actively supports Islamist Kurdish groups, too.

The Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization accused Tehran of firing seven 107-millimeter rockets at one of its camps in Iraq, AFP reported on 24 January. The MKO claimed that this was "the ninth cowardly terrorist raid" by Tehran in four months. The last rocket attack, targeting the same camp, was on 26 December. When Baghdad rounded up a ring of saboteurs in late November, Iraqi state television claimed that they "confessed to their criminal actions" to achieve the objectives of "the circles of evil and terrorism in the Iranian regime's agencies for the benefit of the U.S. administration and the Zionist entity."

Until the resolution of all these grievances -- support for opposition groups, war-related matters -- the potential establishment of transport links should not be seen as a particularly major development, especially from the Iranian perspective. (Bill Samii)