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Iran Report: July 1, 2002

1 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 24

TEHRAN OPPOSES BUSH MIDDLE EAST PEACE PLAN. President George W. Bush's latest plan for Middle East peace, which was introduced at a 24 June Rose Garden address, has received a hostile reception from Tehran. This could be because of his references to Iran; sensitivity to his comments about the Palestinian leadership; or genuine concern that the plan will not help the Palestinians.

Bush referred to Iran and groups that it supports within the context of terrorism. "Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel � including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah. Every nation actually committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups..."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 25 June responded, "Iran's backing for the Palestinian and Lebanese people is merely moral and against the occupation," according to IRNA. Assefi added that Bush's comments were just a "repetition of the White House's hard-line and unilateral stance against the defenseless Palestinian people." And Iranian state radio's English-language external service commented on 25 June that this part of Bush's comments was intended for Syrian ears, because Israel previously had said that Iranian arms reach the terrorist organizations via Syria.

"Power is concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few," Bush said, which sounded very much like his criticism of an "unelected few" in Iran during his January State of the Union address (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 February 2002). He also described "unofficial corruption" that contributes to economic stagnation. Bush called for changes in the Palestinian elite, saying, "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror."

Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that such a demand is impudent, state radio reported on 27 June. Ahmad Jibril, secretary-general of the Tehran-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine � General Command, said that Bush's plan is part of the deception used by the West since World War II. In fact, according to Jibril, Arafat has served the Americans' interests for a long time but he is no longer useful, Iranian state radio reported on 28 June.

Bush called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian areas occupied since 28 September 2000, and he said that Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories should stop. He added that the U.S. will support the creation of a Palestinian state when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions, and new security arrangements with their neighbors, and a final status Middle East peace agreement would be possible within three years.

Iranian parliamentarian Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, who is secretary-general of Tehran's "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference series, seemed distinctly underwhelmed, according to a 25 June interview with ISNA. "The only path left is resistance because if they [i.e. the Palestinians] accept this plan they will have to leave the scene and go into the dustbin of history. The acceptance of this plan means that Arafat's government and the [Palestinian National Authority] put themselves under the guillotine of America and Bush." Mohtashemi-Pur said that the plan would fail.

As for Bush's final quotation from the Bible -- "I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life" -- Mohtashemi-Pur interpreted this as a threat. He said, "With these words, Bush is threatening the world with an all-out war." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES INVOLVEMENT WITH AL-QAEDA. Iranian officials recently rejected statements about the presence of Al-Qaeda personnel in their country. Yet the reports persist, as does concern that Al-Qaeda terrorist network could be regrouping and targeting the U.S.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 22 June stated that Iran has deported all foreign citizens who either have or were suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda, according to state television. And according to state radio, Assefi said that Iran is among the pioneers of the campaign against terrorism. Assefi's comments were a reaction to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent statements that Iran had allowed Al-Qaeda personnel to cross its territory.

U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad on 14 June accused Iran of interfering in Afghan affairs, Reuters reported on 17 June. Khalilzad said that special units from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps had been sent to Afghanistan to "cause trouble," and they had helped Al-Qaeda personnel escape into Iran. Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said that he did not have any information to this effect.

Sheikh Mohammad Ishaq Madani, President Mohammad Khatami's adviser on Sunni affairs, discussed the issue of Al-Qaeda fugitives in an interview that was published in the 16-22 June issue of London's Arabic-language "Al-Majallah." Madani said that Iran's borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan are "long and rugged" and difficult to control, and he cited the government's long-running conflict with smugglers and drug traffickers. Perhaps, he conceded, some Taliban or Al-Qaeda elements infiltrated into Iran with the smugglers' help, but locals cooperated with the government. Madani continued, "Some time ago, several infiltrators were arrested. I think this makes it very difficult to imagine that others from Al-Qaeda or Taliban will run the risk of fleeing to Iranian territories." Nor did Madani think that there was any sympathy for Al-Qaeda in Sistan va Baluchistan Province.

Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, organizer of the early-June "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference that was held in Tehran, denied in the 11 June "Hayat-i No" that anybody from Al-Qaeda or the Taliban had attended his event. He told the Iranian daily that claims about the Al-Qaeda presence were part of the "extensive propaganda" that is meant to tarnish the conference's reputation. Mohtashemi-Pur concluded: "...Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were created by America and have produced the biggest number of problems for the region and for Palestine."

Mohtashemi-Pur did not, however, bother to deny the participation of Hizballah representatives in the conference. Hizballah is "increasingly teaming up with [Al-]Qaeda on logistics and training for terrorist operations," according to unnamed "U.S. and European intelligence officials and terrorism experts" cited in the 30 June issue of "The Washington Post." These anonymous "U.S. officials in Washington and intelligence operatives abroad" are concerned that Hizballah's assets and network could help a "hobbled [Al-]Qaeda network" to attack American targets.

Some of "The Washington Post's" sources believe that regardless of their different ideologies the terrorist groups share enough anti-U.S. and anti-Israel goals to work together. Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service said in "The Washington Post," however, that he did not see Hizballah and Al-Qaeda burying their differences, and "a senior U.S. intelligence official" said that because Iran fears U.S. retaliation it has tried to restrict Hizballah/Al-Qaeda contacts.

There are persistent reports that Al-Qaeda personnel have transited Iran, either before or after the 11 September terrorist attacks against the U.S. Italian police found a faxed itinerary for transporting somebody from Mashhad to Kandahar when they searched the Milan home of Egyptian terrorist Abdelkader Mahmud Es Sayed (also known as Abu Saleh, he headed Al-Qaeda's documentation committee and was convicted of murder for his part in the November 1997 killings of foreign tourists in Luxor, Egypt), the "Chicago Tribune" reported on 30 June. And "The Washington Post" reported that Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian Al-Qaeda operative, is believed to be in Iran. (Bill Samii)

U.S. GIVES IRAN EARTHQUAKE ASSISTANCE. President Mohammad Khatami said on 25 June that Iran would accept a U.S. offer of humanitarian assistance after an earthquake that reached 6.3 on the Richter scale struck northwestern Qazvin and Hamedan provinces. According to Western and Iranian news agency reports, the 22 June earthquake destroyed or damaged almost 20,000 homes in 60 villages and made around 95,000 people homeless. According to official figures the earthquake killed about 222 people, although unofficial estimates are much higher.

On hearing about the earthquake, U.S. President Bush issued a statement that read: "I am saddened by the news of the earthquake centered in Iran this morning. I extend my condolences and those of the American people to the families of the many victims in the cities and villages affected by this tragic event. Human suffering knows no political boundaries: we stand ready to assist the people of Iran as needed and as desired."

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher explained further in a 24 June press briefing that the offer of assistance -- which included food, water purification equipment, and temporary housing -- was made through the Swiss, who represent the U.S. in Iran. During the 27 June briefing, Boucher said that the Iranians made their needs known to the UN, and in response the U.S. has agreed to provide an aid package worth $300,000. This package consists of water purification systems, blankets, and personal hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.

As the Iranian president toured Abdarreh, Qazvin Province, he said, "We are not in need of foodstuff and first aid, but will appreciate receiving cash and equipment which will enable us to help the survivors," IRNA reported on 26 June. Khatami said that the government would help affected families: "Those who have lost 50 to 100 percent of their personal and real properties will be compensated 5 million rials ($2,871.50 at the official rate) and an additional 20 million rials ($11,486) in bank loans, while those who have lost 30 to 50 percent will be compensated 1.5 million rials ($861.45) plus an additional 5 million rials in bank loans.

Locals are furious about the slow pace of relief efforts, and when Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari visited the villages of Changuleh and Abdarreh and the town of Avaj he received a hostile response. Locals threw stones at Musavi-Lari's convoy, and some 300 people blocked the main road through Avaj, according to Reuters on 23 June. A local named Nasser said, "If this would have happened in Afghanistan or Palestine they would hurry and help them in five or six hours. But here nothing is happening."

Tehran-based journalist Lavin Alizadeh told Mahmonir Rahimi of RFE/RL's Persian Service on 23 June that the death toll is much greater than the officially reported figure. The government is playing down the real numbers so it can avoid an angry public reaction and to portray its response in a positive light. Alizadeh attributed the high casualties to the shoddy construction of rural buildings, which are referred to as "pofaki" ("pofak namaki" is an Iranian cheese puff). And on 24 June RFE/RL's Persian Service reported that a United Nations official who visited Qazvin and Hamedan put the death toll at "hundreds" more than was reported by Iran's state-run media. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS LEAVING U.S. Two Iranian men employed as security workers at Iran's United Nations mission in New York are being expelled from the U.S., ABC news reported on 27 June. The two Iranians were seen videotaping on 22 June the Brooklyn Bridge, the entrance to the tunnels into Manhattan, and the Statue of Liberty. New York police stopped and questioned the men, according to ABC news, but the police did not arrest the men because they have diplomatic immunity. Nevertheless, according to the TV station, the men are to be expelled for suspicious activities, some of which relate to their irregular identification documents. An anonymous U.S. official said that "The U.S. mission is looking into the matter," Reuters reported on 27 June, but he said that there are no plans at this time to expel the men. A "senior State Department official" said, "The filming raised no security concerns," according to AP. An official at Iran's UN office said that the ABC report is not true, IRNA reported on 28 June. He explained that the two Iranian officials were "taking pictures just like other tourists. Their film was one minute and 40 seconds long." A police officer inspected their documents, bade farewell, and then left. (Bill Samii)

TWO IRAN-RELATED TERRORISM TRIALS IN U.S. Deliberations in the case of defendants suspected of funneling to Lebanese Hizballah money that they gained through cigarette smuggling began on 19 June, "The Washington Post" reported the next day. The defendants are Mohammad Hammoud and his brother Chawki Hammoud, who faces charges of cigarette smuggling, money laundering, and racketeering. Another brother, Bassam Hammoud, pleaded guilty in March to racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit money laundering in the same case. According to "The Washington Post," the prosecution's case relies on wiretaps of Mohammad Hammoud's conversations in 2000 with alleged Hizballah leaders and on a receipt for a $1,300 donation to Hizballah. The receipt bears the signature of Hizballah spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammad Fadlallah.

This case stems from the July 2000 arrests in North Carolina and Michigan of 18 people on charges that included immigration violations, weapons offenses, money laundering, and smuggling. They were accused of sending money to Hizballah and providing it with night vision equipment, Global Positioning Systems, digital-photo equipment, and computers. The affidavit used to get federal search warrants alleged that Mohammad Hammoud received Hizballah-sponsored military training. Hizballah denied any links with the arrested people. (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 July 2000)

Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Robert M. Takasugi dismissed an indictment against seven people accused of raising money for the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), ruling that the State Department's procedure for classifying the MKO as a terrorist organization was unconstitutional, "The Los Angeles Times" reported on 22 June. The defendants -- Roya Rahmani, Mustafa Ahmady, Hussein Afshari, Alireza Mohammadmoradi, Mohammad Omidvar, Navid Taj, and Hassan Rezai -- were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in February 2001 on charges of raising more than $1 million for the MKO. In a tactic common to MKO operatives, they solicited funds for a charity called the Committee for Human Rights in Iran while displaying photos of alleged Iranian atrocities. They money was transferred to bank accounts in Turkey, and allegedly used to buy arms (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 March 2001). (Bill Samii)

CONCERN ABOUT IRAN-RUSSIA NUKE COOPERATION... An official from Russia's Krasnoyarsk mining chemical complex announced on 26 June that it is ready to accept spent fuel from the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. The spent fuel will be stored for three years and then reprocessed. After that the waste will be returned to Iran for burial and the restored nuclear fuel either will stay in Russia or be returned to Iran. Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Valerii Lebedev said on 24 June that transfer of these materials is part of the plan under which Russia agreed to construct the reactor, Iranian state radio reported on 24 June.

The "Guardian" newspaper had reported on 24 June that it had obtained "Internal Russian government documents" which showed that there is no agreement on the handling of spent fuel. The Russian document states: "The question of managing the spent nuclear fuel is absent in the agreement between the governments of Russia and Iran on the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant on Iranian territory. If Iran retains the spent fuel, according to Greenpeace nuclear expert Tobias Muenchmeyer, "Iran would be in possession of weapons-usable material, plutonium." Muenchmeyer explained that Tehran could reprocess the spent fuel and isolate the plutonium in a matter of weeks.

The possibility that Iran will misuse newfound nuclear capabilities is a matter of some concern for Israel, and it is a complicating factor in Washington-Moscow relations. Israeli Defense Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer notes that Iran will have a nuclear capability in three or four years, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 26 June. "The whole world is sleeping while Iran builds a core nuclear infrastructure that is going to do something bad to the interests of the world," Ben-Eliezer added.

Regardless of such fears, Moscow is pressing on with the Bushehr project. Atomic Energy Ministry official Lebedev said on 21 June that "Everything is going according to schedule at the site," according to ITAR-TASS. And, according to IRNA on 22 June, Lebedev ruled out the possibility that the Bushehr reactor could have military applications. A Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official said several months earlier that "all the necessary documents on the construction of another two reactors in Iran have also been prepared," Tehran radio reported on 20 April.

Vladimir Orlov of Moscow's PIR Center said that "There is practically zero risk that Iran will use the Bushehr power plant for nuclear proliferation," "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 21 June. An anonymous senior U.S. official, however, warned that "[Russia] is giving meaningful help [to Iran] in mastering the nuclear-fuel cycle, and some critical technologies like sophisticated metal alloys [and for] laser-isotope separation techniques...that are involved in building the bomb." Rose Gottemoeller, a former deputy undersecretary of energy responsible for nonproliferation programs who is now at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, adds that "Russian technology is unique to the Iranian program, because it is the only game in town." Gottemoeller explained that nobody else is willing to cooperate with Iran.

There is greater concern about the transfer of Russian knowledge that the Iranians could apply practically to weapons programs, according to "The Christian Science Monitor." Valentin Tikhonov of the Russian Academy of Sciences concedes that under his country's dire economic situation, many scientists see little difference between civilian and military projects.

Some observers in Tehran seem to take the American concerns seriously. Tehran parliamentary representative Fatemeh Haqiqatju said during a 15 April speech in Ahvaz that the U.S. intends to attack the Bushehr nuclear power station and other important economic targets, according to ISNA. Such an attack, Haqiqatju said, is part of four-phase plan to force Iran to retreat from its current stance. She did not identify that stance. (Bill Samii)

...AS RUSSIAN MILITARY LOGISTICS OFFICIAL VISITS IRAN. Russian Deputy Defense Minister in charge of logistics Mikhail Dimitriev on 25 June rejected allegations that Tehran and Moscow have "unconventional cooperation," IRNA reported, and he said that Russia's work at Bushehr complies with international regulations. Dimitriev had arrived in the Iranian capital two days earlier to participate in the second round of the Tehran-Moscow joint defense cooperation commission and to inspect Iranian defense industries facilities. According to Iranian state television, Dimitriev said that foreign states cannot pressure Russia into limiting its relationship with Iran, and Iran-Russia cooperation in the defensive sphere will continue.

His Iranian counterpart, Mir Hamid Nasl-Pak, greeted Dimitriev at the airport when he arrived on 23 June. The next day, Dimitriev visited the Shahid Kolahduz armor-manufacturing facility, which is affiliated with the Defense Industry Organization (Sazeman-i Sanai-yi Defa), ISNA reported. Dimitriev observed the modernization of a Russian T-55 tank via the installation of a new fire-control system, gun, and engine -- all of which are Iranian-made. (Bill Samii)

U.A.E. RAISES ISLANDS DISPUTE AT OIC SUMMIT. The United Arab Emirates' Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Waqf, Muhammad Nakhira al-Dhahiri, said on 26 June during the Organization of the Islamic Conference foreign ministers' summit in Khartoum, Sudan, that his country is hoping for a peaceful solution to its dispute with Iran over three Persian Gulf islands, according to Abu Dhabi's WAM news agency. The islands in question -- Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs -- are near the Strait of Hormuz, and Iranian troops have been there since 1971. Al-Dhahiri said, "We hope that the recent visit made to Tehran by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamdan Bin-Zayyid Al Nuhayyan and the upcoming one to U.A.E. by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami would produce positive steps in the direction towards resolving the islands issue either through direct negotiations or taking the case to the International Court of Justice." He added, "Settlement of the case will also strengthen Gulf Cooperation Council-Iran relations and bolster regional peace, security, and stability."

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh -- at 12 June press conference -- also discussed the islands issue, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 13 June. "There can be negotiations on sovereignty over Iran's islands and we believe that all islands in the Persian Gulf registered in Iran's name belong to Iran." Nevertheless, he seemed encouraged by the tone of recent U.A.E.-Iran discussions and meetings (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 May 2002 and 17 June 2002) and said, "Naturally we differ over certain matters but we had a most positive atmosphere in our talks." (Bill Samii)

OIC FOREIGN MINISTERS WILL MEET IN TEHRAN. The next session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference foreign ministers' summit will be held in Tehran, Sudanese state television reported on 25 June. Sudanese National Assembly Speaker Ahmad Ibrahim al-Tahrir told Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi when they met on 25 June that Islamic nations are expecting fruitful conclusions to emerge from the current session. Among the conclusions at the ministerial meeting were a renewed condemnation of all forms of terrorism, a call for a definition of terrorism, and emphasis on the difference between terrorism and legitimate resistance. Speakers at this meeting stressed the need to cut off political and economic ties with Israel, according to Sudanese television. (Bill Samii)

IRAN AND IRAQ DISCUSS PILGRIMS AND REFUGEES... Iranian Shia pilgrims who attempt to enter Iraq via Syria often encounter problems, Iranian state television reported on 29 June. Among the problems they face are "terrible conditions" at hotels and hostels, lack of insurance, and lack of access to telephones to contact the Iranian embassy. Four days earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with his Iraqi counterpart, Naji Sabri, during an Organization of the Islamic Conference foreign ministers' summit in Khartoum, IRNA reported on 25 June.

Kharrazi raised their previous discussions about Iranian pilgrims visiting Shia holy sites in Iraq, and he called on the Iraqis to provide the necessary facilities. Earlier in the year, the Khosravi border terminal in Kermanshah Province was inaugurated. The main reason for Iranians to use this facility, according to Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram, is so they can visit holy sites in Iraq. This is the country's largest such facility and it has a 10,000-passenger per day capacity, IRNA reported on 6 March.

The fifth round of meetings of the Iran-Iraq humanitarian issues committee ended on 22 June, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported on 23 June. The two sides agreed to prepare a timetable for the repatriation of displaced people as of 13 July, and they exchanged lists of those awaiting repatriation. The Iraqis announced that the first batch of 138 displaced Iranians is ready, the Iranians agreed to receive some 275 families, and the nationality of other applicants is being checked. The exchanges will take place at the Al-Shalamjah and Al-Mundiriyah border crossings. The next round of meetings is scheduled for 21 August in Tehran.

Iraqi refugees in Iran probably are not very keen to return to their country of origin. According to a 20 July report in "Iran Daily," the threat of U.S. and British attacks against Iraq has caused a fresh influx of refugees. Most of them arrive through Khuzestan and Ilam provinces, a police official in Ahvaz said, and they cite unemployment and economic problems as their main reasons for coming to Iran. The Iraqis who are not held for smuggling are deported after being interrogated. (Bill Samii)

...AS BAGHDAD SENDS MIXED SIGNALS. Regardless of their meetings on issues of mutual concern, the relationship between Iran and Iraq remains a complicated one. So while the two neighbors exchange pleasantries and seem to cooperate on one front, in other areas tensions continue. Baghdad's official Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported on 27 June that Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri, in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, complained about 41 Iranian violations of the cease-fire agreement they reached at the end of the 1980-1988 war, according to Reuters. In the February to 15 May 2002 period, according to the Iraqi letter, Iranian helicopters flew over Iraqi sites, Iran built sand barriers and erected new towers, seized Iraqi vehicles, and opened fire on civilian personnel.

According to IRNA, Iraqi Culture Minister Hamid Yusef Hammadi is scheduled to arrive in Tehran on 27 June for a five-day visit. He is to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, and members of his delegation are to visit the cities of Mashhad and Isfahan. Three days earlier Iraqi President Saddam Hussein cabled his Iranian counterpart, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, condolences over the loss of life in the Iranian earthquake. The cable read, according to the Iraqi news agency INA on 24 June, "We express to you our heartfelt condolences on this painful incident and beseech God to have mercy upon the victims, to grant patience to their families, and protect the Iranian people from all that is evil." (Bill Samii)

MORBID MOSQUES FAIL TO PROMOTE PIETY. Religious officials dominate the upper reaches of Iran's government -- the supreme leader, Expediency Council chairman, president, and parliamentary speaker. And although the number of clerics in the parliament has fallen since they dominated the legislature immediately after the revolution, the clerical members of the Guardians Council still can reject any legislation. It thus came as something of a surprise when Mohsen Qarati, the supreme leader's representative to the "literacy movement," announced at a 12 June gathering in Qom that Iran's mosques have become "morbid places," and he also said that young people have the right not to attend the Friday Prayers. "I usually only attend the second sermon, because there is nothing worth saying in the first sermons," he said according to the 13 June "Noruz." Qarati added that the rulings handed down by Shia sources of emulation should be revised and only about 60 of the rulings are useful.

Such statements from a member of the establishment illustrate concern over the widening gap between the aging theocratic elite and the youthful majority of the population. But this is not the only illustration that the theocrats and the people no longer see eye-to-eye.

Qom's clerical population has risen from around 25,000 to more than 45,000, and the city is home to more than 50 seminaries and about 250 research institutes and libraries. Yet the clerics' prestige has been falling, Christopher de Bellaigue writes in the 27 June "New York Review of Books." Clerics in Qom told Bellaigue that involvement in governmental affairs has debased the clergy's status. Increasingly, the robed ones are subject to derision at the hands of playful children, and taxi drivers do not pick them up. Some of them, therefore, eschew their religious togs when they leave Qom.

That the seminaries continue to attract students may have more to do with practical concerns than with religious ones. Whereas the population must contend with double-digit unemployment and even university graduates must resort to menial jobs or moonlighting, completion of religious studies provides advantages in securing a public-sector job. Seminary connections also serve as an informal network that can lead to jobs or other forms of mutual assistance (in the case of Haqqani School graduates helping each other, see "Haqqani -- Theology and Thought," "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 April 2001). While many Iranians must deal with low quality or inadequate housing, furthermore, some clerics seem to believe that they are entitled to special privileges. Ayatollah Reza Ostadi said during a meeting at the Ayatollah Golpaygani Seminary that the Mahdieh Township Authority in Qom has failed to allocate a thousand housing units to clerics. He said, "Entekhab" reported on 12 June, "Many of the clergy spend most of their allowance on renting a house. They are living a hard life."

It would be unfair to say that all seminarians are trying to earn the Iranian bureaucrat's equivalent of a Masters in Public Administration; the seminaries have their true believers, too. These are mostly people of an older generation who were attracted to religious life when it did not necessarily lead to a government job, and whose political ideals led them into conflict with the previous monarchical regime. Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is linked with the Haqqani School and who propounds some rather extreme views, is one such person. In a 7 June presermon speech in Tehran, he warned the "outsiders" that they risk angering the Iranian people, and he added an additional warning that imitators of the West are infiltrating state institutions. Mesbah-Yazdi told his audience, "Our most important task is to defend our values and Islam," IRNA reported.

It also would be unfair to say that laymen's resentment of the clergy relates only to their pursuit of privileges. Many see the conservative clergy as out of touch with the changing world, and they object to what they perceive as an ossified and unresponsive system that ignores their right to participate. Clerical leaders should be emulated in spiritual matters, but some believe that such emulation does not necessarily extend to political life.

Hashem Aghajari, a prominent reformist politician and a member of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, questioned the concept of a religious hierarchy in the 25 June "Noruz." He said that the existence of bureaucracies and hierarchies is natural, but he criticized those who are trying to organize the sources of emulation and other senior clerics into a centrally controlled structure. To do so, Aghajari said, went against the various forms of religious interpretation (ijtihad). There are two clerical currents, he said: fundamentalist and despotic on one hand, and modernist and reformist on the other hand. It is this latter group, he said, which should be described as "religious scholars." But a "coalition of fundamentalist and traditionalist clergy" is standing against ijtihad and innovation.

Some supporters of religious government find such opinions intolerable. Aghajari was heckled and run out of the auditorium when he expressed his views during a 19 June speech in Hamedan, and the hard-line press (ex: "Kayhan" and "Resalat") claimed that he had insulted religion. The Hamedan seminary then released a statement in which it demanded that the authorities take action against Aghajari and his hosts. Hamedan's Friday prayer leader and the head of the seminary wrote to the sources of emulation and asked them to "instruct the Muslim people on their religious obligation," ISNA reported. The Islamic Society of Students released a statement in which it labeled Aghajari as "the fifth column of the world powers and [a] moderated socialist," "Noruz" reported on 24 June, and it threatened that "sooner or later the revolutionary anger of students and the religious people of the society would fall on people like him and those who have changed their ideology."

Even Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, one of the country's most respected conservative religious figures, was critical of Aghajari, state television reported on 26 June. He said that there are such attacks against the clergy because of its resistance to "world-devourers," and he urged the Judiciary to deal with those who insult religion, the clergy, and the people. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami also stepped into the fray. He said, according to state television on 27 June, "Our clergy not only protect religion, but they are also at the side of the people and defend their rights.... why are they seeking to weaken the clergy under the pretext of open-mindedness and reform?"

There was an anti-Aghajari demonstration in Qom on 28 June, state television reported.

Criticism of Aghajari was, in turn, criticized. An editorial in the 26 June issue of "Noruz" daily said that changes in youthful views of the clergy should not be ascribed to statements such as those of Aghajari. Youthful pessimism could be ascribed to resistance to reform. The editorial warned that sycophancy causes more harm than honest criticism. The editorial said that the clerical establishment was greatly harmed by its support for the losing conservative candidate in the 1997 presidential election. The non-clerics who encouraged the clergy to support this losing candidate are, the daily said, "more Catholic than the Pope."

A more optimistic opinion came from Qom seminary instructor and reformist activist Ahmad Qabel. He said some people oppose reform of the system "because they feel that their personal interests are in danger." Nevertheless, he predicted that the opponents of reform would be overtaken eventually. Qabel advised, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 8 June, "We, as the reform forces, must learn to keep this patience and strength alive inside ourselves. We must give hope to people so that they feel we are still active even when our activities have stopped." (Bill Samii)