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Iran Report: August 26, 2002

26 August 2002, Volume 5, Number 32

The next issue of the "RFE/RL Iran Report" will appear on 16 September 2002.

UNELECTED BODIES BLOCK MORE LEGISLATION. In the latest display of the power of unelected bodies over the Iranian people's popularly elected representatives, the Expediency Council and the Guardians Council have rejected four pieces of legislation, RFE/RL's Persian Service reported on 17 August.

The Expediency Council rejected a bill that would have forced state media to turn over to sports federations a portion of the revenues earned for broadcasting sports competitions. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting had argued that the revenues were inconsequential and that they were doing a public service by providing some of these sports publicity they would not get any other way.

Of the three pieces of legislation rejected by the Guardians Council, the first focused on the issue of juries for press and political trials. The Guardians Council had rejected this bill three times already. The parliament proposed that the Special Court for the Clergy would be exempt from the requirement for a jury, but the Guardians Council recognized that this would undermine the court's legitimacy.

The Guardians Council reasoned, according to the 18 August "Aftab-i Yazd," "If Clause 1 of the enactment means that there is no need for the presence of a jury and holding an open trial for investigation of political and press crimes of the clerics, it is against article 168 of the constitution, and if it may also be applied to the clerics -- since the late Imam (may God sanctify his soul) and the eminent leadership, by commanding as the Vilayat-i Faqih, have necessitated the investigation of those crimes in the Special Court for the Clergy and this court is not among the courts of the Justice Administration -- therefore clause 1 is against the religious regulations and article 57 of the constitution." Article 168 deals with political and press offenses, and it says that relevant trials should be open and in the presence of a jury. Article 57 deals with separation of powers.

The second piece of rejected legislation would have overhauled the health system by taking certain health-related functions from the Imam Khomeini Foundation and placing all health-care issues under one government-supervised umbrella. The parliament believed that this change would improve transparency and accountability. The Guardians Council, however, said that the bill would undermine the Supreme Leader's prerogatives.

The Guardians Council also rejected, on constitutional grounds, a bill that focused on reforming the educational system. The parliament's bill proposed transferring some of the powers of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution to the Supreme Council of Education and Training, particularly in issues that dealt with examinations, text books, and grading of exams.

Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Rakei said on 18 August that when the constitution was drawn up (in 1979) nobody imagined that the empowerment of the Guardians Council would so obstruct the legislative process, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. Rakei urged the Supreme Leader to caution the Guardians Council to respect the limits of its powers and responsibilities. (Bill Samii)

...AND GUARDIANS COUNCIL CRITICS SOUND OFF. Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Rakei also said on 18 August, according to "Aftab-i Yazd, that the Guardians Council official in Gilan Province who recently accused some legislators of getting their orders from the U.S. should identify them. Rakei asked if he was speaking personally or on behalf of the council.

Hussein Karbalai, who heads the Guardians Council office in Gilan Province, had said that "some people want to turn the leader into just a ceremonial position. We are of the opinion that some [parliamentary] deputies receive their orders from America." He continued: "You can see that they say things that are the enemy's utterances. Rest assured, in the next elections we will not allow anyone who has problems with the system and who has files against them to enter the [parliament]. We are already nurturing the good revolutionary forces who are devoted to the vilayat in each town and preparing them so that when they decide to become candidates they will be accepted and approved by the supervisory officials." Karbalai warned, "When we assess the candidates' eligibility, even one negative report would suffice for us [to disqualify them]."

Karbalai's comments about election supervision, which is one of the Guardians Council's duties, stand in contrast with those of Mohammad Ali Moshfeq, the Interior Ministry official in charge of elections. Moshfeq was asked in the 30 July "Aftab-i Yazd" about the impact on future elections of the current political atmosphere. He said the current dispute between the Guardians Council and the Interior Ministry is tied to election supervisors resorting to "unwritten laws."

Moshfeq also said that the municipal council elections are scheduled for March 2003. He said that there would be 60,000 polling stations, and only habitations with less than 100 residents would be excluded from the election. Moshfeq said that there would be elections in 1,300 cities, 800 districts, and 30,000 villages.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati has been re-elected as secretary of the Guardians Council and Mahmud Azizi was re-elected as its spokesman, Iranian state television reported on 14 August. Seyyed Reza Zavarei was elected to serve as the deputy head of the council. (Bill Samii)

RELIGIOUS, ETHNIC DISCRIMINATION THREATEN IRANIAN UNITY. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told a gathering of Iranian cultural attaches on 19 August that the U.S. is trying to aggravate religious and ethnic disputes. He said, according to IRNA, "This country [the U.S.] is attempting to cause civil wars and religious conflicts." He continued, "America has reached the conclusion that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a great danger to it and that the unity of Sunnis and Shia is to the disadvantage of Israel."

It does not seem that outside agitation is necessary -- witness a recent letter from the parliament's Society of Sunni Deputies to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that was described in the 1 August "Mardom Salari."

The letter said that Sunnis expected that the 1979 Islamic revolution would bring an end to the deprivation and discrimination that they had suffered under Iran's monarchies, but so far this has not been the case. Among the problems faced by Sunnis: "purging of certain Sunni forces from governmental faculties; difficult and unjust selection processes; closure of a number of Sunni seminaries; preventing the construction of a Sunni mosque in Tehran;" a glass ceiling on promotion possibilities; insulting programs on state broadcast media; and publication of insulting articles.

The letter noted the attention given by the Iranian government to defending the Muslims of Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Palestine, while at the same time some Iranian officials do not see the country's Sunnis as faithful Muslims. The letter expressed the hope that the Supreme Leader would order an investigation of these issues, "considering their negative impact."

Ethnic Azeris make up almost one-quarter of Iran's population, and although Azeris are predominantly Shia, they also complain of discrimination. Ethnic Azeri dissident Aslan Khalidi (Xalidi) said in the 10 August issue of Baku's "525 Gazet" that Iranian companies are digging up Azeri historical artifacts and selling them to foreigners, while at the same time the Azeri artifacts are being replaced with Persian ones. Khalidi said that this is being done at the Babak castle in the town of Kelidar in Iran's East Azerbaijan Province. Khalidi accused Iran of falsifying Azerbaijan's history.

Ethnic Azerbaijani dissident Mahmudali Chehragani recently visited the U.S. and, on 8 August, gave a speech in Washington, D.C., Baku's "Yeni Musavat" newspaper reported on 10 August. The daily reported that officials from the Pentagon, Congress, and the media attended Chehragani's presentation. Chehragani preceded his visit to Washington with a trip to San Francisco, Turan news agency reported on 27 July (Chehragani visited Europe earlier; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 February 2002).

According to a report that appeared in the 20 August issue of the Azerbaijani newspaper "Xalq Cabhasi," the irredentist National Revival Movement is planning a march to Mount Sabalan in southern Azerbaijan (northern Iran, in other words) in order to commemorate Azerbaijan's first post-Soviet president, Abulfaz Elchibey. To publicize this event, flyers were distributed and advertisements were placed in newspapers. A spokesperson for the United Azerbaijan Association said that the government of Iran is very concerned about this issue and it has sent two "military divisions called Ashura" to Mount Sabalan to stop the marchers. (Ashura battalions are the Basij's antiriot units.) The spokesman said that the marchers would not be deterred. (Bill Samii)

EVERY FATHER'S SON. The father of Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, the former interior minister and close associate of President Mohammad Khatami, complained in the 17 August "Aftab-i Yazd" that after almost 1,000 days in prison, his son still has not been given the conditional release to which he is legally entitled. Nuri's father said, according to an ISNA dispatch that is cited in "Aftab-i Yazd," "I cannot endure this situation. I'm proud of my son. What is his crime? He has simply written some articles and made a few comments. Are these good enough reasons for jailing someone like him for five years? Look how they have treated Mr. [Said] Hajjarian's attackers. Hajjarian's assailant has been allowed conditional leave."

The father of jailed dissidents Manuchehr and Akbar Mohammadi said that he was promised that both of his boys would be transferred to Evin prison, ISNA reported on 16 August. Akbar was transferred from Sari prison, the elder Mohammadi said, but Manuchehr is still in Qaemshahr prison. He added, "After the requests we made to the head of the Judiciary [Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi], the Article 90 Committee of the [parliament] and the Tehran Revolution Court, they promised us that they would send both of them back to Tehran. However, I do not know anything about the reasons for the transfer or about why Manuchehr Mohammadi has not returned [to Tehran]." (Bill Samii)

IRAN ACCUSES U.S. OF ENCOURAGING IRAQI GAS USE. Citing anonymous military officers, "The New York Times" reported on 18 August that the White House gave battle-planning assistance to Iraq during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War because it wanted to avoid having Iran over-run the Persian Gulf's oil-producers. According to "The New York Times" article, more than 60 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officers were providing Baghdad with bomb damage assessments, tactical planning, and information on Iranian deployments. At the same time that this information was being provided, "The New York Times" reported, Iraq was using chemical weapons -- such as mustard gas, sarin, and VX -- against Iranian forces.

Colonel Walter Lang, who was the Defense Intelligence officer at the time, said that the DIA and CIA were "desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose." Iraqi use of gas, therefore, was not a "deep strategic concern." The real concern, Lang told "The New York Times," was that Iran would emerge victorious in the 1988 battle for the Fao Peninsula, and it then would turn its attention towards Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

This report has angered Tehran, with Iranian state radio's external English-language service commenting on 19 August that the U.S. is "a partner in Iraq's crimes against Iran due to the political, economic, and arms aid it gave to Baghdad." State radio said that the White House currently is using Iraq's chemical weapons stockpile as the justification for attacking it, whereas it previously acquiesced in Iraq's use of chemical weapons. Iranian state radio observed, "This dual stance indicates Washington's use of governments and individuals as tools. As long as they serve U.S. interests they are encouraged and supported. But when they act contrary to these objectives, they are considered enemies and are bound to be destroyed."

Tehran radio falsely claimed that the White House encouraged Baghdad to use chemical weapons, and it cited a February 1998 "The Los Angeles Times" article to this effect. But an article by Robin Wright in the 16 February 1998 edition of "The Los Angeles Times" notes, "The Reagan administration never actively encouraged Iraq's use of chemical weapons or missiles."

Nevertheless, Iraqi use of gas was not a secret. An anonymous "former U.S. intelligence official familiar with the American role" told "The Los Angeles Times" that the U.S. knew that the Iraqis used chemicals in their major campaigns, and "we knew the intelligence we gave the Iraqis would be used to develop their own operational plans for chemical weapons." An anonymous "former senior U.S. diplomat involved in Iraq" added, according to "The Los Angeles Times": "By 1986, Iraq had proven itself better at the use of chemical weapons than any fighting force in the world." Thousands of Iranians were killed when Iraq used chemical weapons in the 1988 battle of the Fao Peninsula.

The U.S. was not alone in assisting Baghdad during its war against Iraq. The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, served as a go-between for President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and officials from the CIA and DIA, according to "The New York Times." "The Los Angeles Times" pointed out that, prior to the battle for Fao, France, Egypt, and Jordan helped to reorganize and retrain the Iraqi military. And Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates provided almost 40 percent of the $100 billion that Iraq spent on arms. (Bill Samii)

LEBANESE CONSIDER RELATIONSHIP WITH IRAN. The leadership of Lebanese Hizballah is engaged in an internal debate over a number issues, including the status of Iran's indirect contacts with the U.S. specifically and with the West generally, London's "Al Hayat" reported on 3 July. The Arabic-language newspaper acknowledged at the time that there is very little information available about the outcome of this debate, but its sources said that Hizballah's leadership recognized that the situation's delicacy required practicality and realism. Reports since that time indicate that the Lebanese, especially Hizballah officials, can remain confident in Iranian support.

Hizballah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qasim said that neither Iran nor Syria would give in to U.S. pressure to end their support for his organization. He explained, according to Qatar's "Al-Rayah" on 3 July: "Iranian and Syrian postulates are fundamental and strategic postulates. Both of them took into consideration before they set out that they would be exposed to pressures and face difficulties. But it won't be the first time. How often have Iran and Syria come under pressures and been placed on the terrorism list and other international tools within the incessant U.S. moves in this direction? The two countries tolerated this because of their fundamental and strategic convictions."

In mid-July, Iran showed its support for Lebanese Shia. At a ceremony to honor farmers in the Bekaa Valley, a delegation from Iran's Agriculture Ministry distributed insecticides and pesticides, "The Daily Star" reported on 15 July. An Iranian delegation led by the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Ali Sobhani, distributed funds for building medical centers, rehabilitating hospitals and schools, and promoting agricultural guidance in southern Lebanon, "The Daily Star" reported on 16 July.

Sobhani met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud on 5 August and discussed increasing cooperation, IRNA reported the next day, and in light of the Israeli threat against Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, he called for greater unity. (The selection of Masud Edrisi-Kermanshahi as Sobhani's succcessor was announced by IRNA on 30 July. Kermanshahi previously served as the Foreign Ministry's director-general for Mideast, Arab, and North African affairs, head of the office for American affairs, ambassador to Cuba, and charge d'affaires in Mexico.)

A delegation of Hizballah parliamentarians visited Tehran in August. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told the guests that the Hizballah's political activities foiled adverse publicity launched against it, and he encouraged the "Islamic resistance" to continue its political activities, IRNA reported on 19 August. The next day, the Hizballah visitors met Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. He advised them, according to state television, that the Palestinian issue would be resolved through reliance on Palestinian fighters and the support of the Islamic and Arab world.

The Hizballah legislators met with Tehran parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur on 20 August, too. Mohtashami-Pur, who was secretary of the April 2001 and June 2002 "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conferences, advised them that compromise between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is "the greatest threat" to the "intifada," according to IRNA. Visiting Lebanese legislator Abu Hussein Rad said that most regional governments are not ready to stand up to the U.S., and "Iran is the only country which deals seriously with U.S. threats," IRNA reported his having said.

Israel television's Channel 1 reported on 21 August that Islamic Revolution Guards Commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi visited Lebanon around the same time. (Bill Samii)

CZECH INTELLIGENCE DESCRIBES IRANIAN TARGETING. The Czech news agency (CTK) on 20 August cited Prague's daily "Hospodarske Noviny" as reporting that an Iranian military attache was interested in certain unnamed important complexes and state institutions, according to the annual report of the Czech counterintelligence service. The Czechs are concerned that Iranian businesses might try to acquire dual-use technologies. And since 11 September, the interest of Iranian and other Islamic intelligence services has picked up, according to CTK, though the agency did not give examples or further details. (Bill Samii)

IRAN AND KUWAIT SIGN SECURITY AGREEMENT. Iran and Kuwait signed an agreement on 21 August in Tehran to combat drug traffickers, commodities smugglers, illegal fishing, and illegal border crossings, according to Iranian state television. The agreement was signed by a delegation of Kuwaiti border guard authorities led by Major General Suleiman Fahd al-Fahd and the Iranian border guards commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Sanei. MGN Fahd al-Fahd praised the cooperation of Iran's law-enforcement force and coast guards.

The second Iran-Kuwait joint-security meeting was held in Kuwait City in early June, and Iranian Interior Ministry Security Affairs chief Asghar Ahmadi and the Kuwaiti first deputy interior minister, MGN Ahmad Abdul Latif al-Rajib, chaired the meeting, IRNA reported on 4 June. Ahmadi and Rajib called for more cooperation by the coast guards in stopping drug traffickers, and there was a call for more cooperation in combating opium cultivation and drug manufacturing. Ahmadi said that Iran has intercepted 350 tons of narcotics and 83 tons of hashish that were on their way to Arab countries, the Kuwaiti news agency Kuna reported on 2 June.

The meeting is the result of a mutual security memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Iran and Kuwait in October 2000. The MOU laid the groundwork for the two sides to cooperate more in counternarcotics and crime prevention, extradition, and stopping human trafficking. (Bill Samii)

VISITING BAHRAIN MONARCH DISCUSSES IRAQ, REGIONAL SECURITY... Bahrain's monarch, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifah, visited Iran on 17-18 August. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said before the visit that it marks a "new chapter" in the two countries' relationship, and is an indication of the positive results of Iran's policy of detente, IRNA reported on 16 August. The head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, received Sheikh Hamad at Mehrabad Airport.

Standing beside Sheikh Hamad at Tehran's Saadabad Palace, Khatami stressed the importance of security for regional development and progress, according to Iranian state radio. In response, Sheikh Hamad said, "The time has arrived for solidarity and consultations between the brother nations, and this visit to Tehran is an indication of the depth of fraternal feelings between Iran and Bahrain." Subsequently, they exchanged views on bolstering regional security through interstate cooperation.

Sheikh Hamad met with Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 18 August. Kharrazi called for more cooperation between Iran, Bahrain, and the other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, "in order to defuse the plots hatched by enemies," IRNA reported. Sheikh Hamad spoke out for Muslim solidarity, and said that Islamic states should not give foreign powers a pretext to attack.

Sheikh Hamad also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 18 August. Khamenei said that it is important for Iran and Bahrain to expand their relations in light of the current threats to the Islamic world. Khamenei also said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran opposes any kind of attack on Iraq. The Islamic world must adopt an appropriate position on this issue," Iranian state television reported.

Bahrain and Iran expressed their opposition to a unilateral military attack against Iraq in the final communique, which was released on 18 August. They called for a fair and durable peace in the Middle East and an end to, "the Zionist regime's occupation and aggression." They voiced concern about Israel's possession of weapons of mass destruction. They condemned terrorism and urged for a distinction between that phenomenon and "legitimate resistance to occupation." (Bill Samii)

...BUT MONEY TALKS, TOO. Iran and Bahrain are interested in more than security issues. When he met Bahrain's monarch, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifah, at Tehran's Saadabad Palace, President Mohammad Khatami expressed Iran's readiness to cooperate in oil, gas, banking, and investing, IRNA reported on 17 August.

Sheikh Hamad on 18 August received Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari and stressed the importance of economic ties, Manama's "Gulf Daily News" reported on 19 August. The Sheikh discussed joint trade and investment projects in light of the "excellent facilities" Bahrain provides for foreign investors. Shariatmadari also spoke with Bahraini Finance and National Economy Minister Abdallah Sayf about the forthcoming signing of an economic agreement that would eliminate double taxation on income and capital.

On 19 August in Tehran, Sayf met with Iranian Economics Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri, and welcomed the expansion of banking, finance, transport, and investment ties with Iran, according to IRNA. Mazaheri said that Iran is interested in signing agreements that promote and support joint investment, eliminate double taxation, and establish sea transport lanes. (Bill Samii)

RADIO FREE AFGHANISTAN INTERVIEWS GENERAL FAHIM. The Afghan Service of RFE/RL on 17 August interviewed Afghan Defense Minister General Mohammad Fahim about his purported rivalry with President Hamid Karzai.

There was speculation that the recent replacement of Karzai's Afghan bodyguards with U.S. Special Forces was related to questions of loyalty (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 August 2002). In other words, the bodyguards were supposedly more loyal to Fahim than to Karzai, and after the early July assassination of Vice President Abdul Qadir, there was concern that Karzai could be next. ("The Washington Post" reported on 24 August that agents from the State Department's diplomatic security service will take over Karzai's security detail in September for a year as they train Afghan security personnel).

Fahim told Radio Free Afghanistan that the personnel change had nothing to do with interpersonal rivalries: "The exchange of Hamid Karzai's bodyguards was a necessity, because if any harm comes to him, it would be the end of peace and national unity in Afghanistan, but this does not mean that there is a misunderstanding or difference of opinion between us. This is merely a change of the program to maintain the president's security, and they [U.S. bodyguards] are taking over just temporarily."

"The Washington Post" had reported on 24 July that Fahim and Karzai are "locked in an escalating rivalry that threatens to destabilize Afghanistan's shaky government." The article focused on Fahim's effective control of the secret service, headed by Mohammad Aref and described by "Karzai and his allies" as a "vast, corrupt, and highly politicized apparatus that operates outside the president's authority." Fahim took exception to such reports in his interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, saying, "There are false reports, for instance some time ago, the 'Washington Post' was being offensive to the armed forces and in particular has accused me of warlordism. Whereas I am humble to everyone, have an intellectual overview of all matters, and am marching toward a legal status."

If reports of Fahim's rivalry with Karzai are accurate, one could ask why the U.S. does not have him replaced as defense minister. Ahmad Rashid provides a possible explanation in the 29 July "Wall Street Journal," where he describes Fahim as "a valuable ally in the hunt for Al-Qaeda operatives in eastern Afghanistan." "Western intelligence officials in Kabul," furthermore, said that Washington fears that withdrawal of support for Fahim would drive him more firmly into the arms of Tehran and Moscow, both of which still fund Fahim.

Fahim knows the right things to say, too. When asked how long U.S. forces will stay in Afghanistan, he told RFE/RL's Afghan Service: "Al-Qaeda centers still exist in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern plains, and the possibility of an attack to destabilize the situation is expected of them. They [U.S. forces] will remain there until such time that we concur with the U.S. forces that this danger is over and there is no need for the presence of U.S. soldiers." (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN COMMANDER EXPLAINS MASS GRAVES. According to individuals involved in the transport of Taliban prisoners to Sheberghan prison near Mazar-i-Sharif in November-December 2001, many of the prisoners suffocated in sealed, airless transport containers and were buried in a mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili, according to the 26 August issue of "Newsweek." General Saboor, an Afghan military commander in northern Afghanistan, explained the reports in a 22 August interview with Mashhad radio. He said, "Since the Taliban forces might have carried out a suicide operation, we had to put some of them in containers." He added, "Since some of the Taliban prisoners were suffering from injuries, they died while they were being put into the containers."

A documentary by filmmaker Jamie Doran and entitled "Massacre in Mazar," which was first screened in early-June, attempts to blame American forces for the alleged massacre. Nevertheless, Doran conceded in an interview with an RFE/RL correspondent that he has "no evidence whatsoever to suggest that American soldiers killed any of the prisoners." The Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Dave LePan, denied that any U.S. soldier might have witnessed massacres of Taliban captives. "The U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, looked into these allegations months ago when they first surfaced, and they were found to be unfounded," LePan said. (see "Afghanistan: Documentary Stirs Controversy Over Mistreatment, Executions Of Afghan Prisoners," (Bill Samii)