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Iran Report: January 29, 2001

29 January 2001, Volume 4, Number 4

TAJZADEH TRIALS A THREE-PRONGED ATTACK. The head of the election headquarters, Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh, is being tried in camera on charges relating to the August-September 2000 clashes between hard-line vigilantes and reformist students in Khorramabad and the February 2000 parliamentary election. But a look to the future suggests that the real reasons of these trials is to eliminate the possibility that Tajzadeh will do anything to favor Iranian reformists in the June 2001 presidential election.

Tajzadeh is not the first person to appear in court over the Khorramabad events. The appointment of an investigating judge was announced on 18 November. Subsequently, Luristan Province's deputy governor in charge of political affairs, Mohammad Rezai, was summoned and released on 200 million rials bail, IRNA reported on 9 December. Then Khorramabad parliamentary representative Seyyed Issa Musavinejad faced four hours of questioning, "Hambastegi" reported on 15 January, and was released on 200 million rials bail. Charges against another 140 people are pending, according to a judge cited by the 13 January "Resalat."

Speaking outside the Tehran courts on 21 January, Tajzadeh said that he appeared to testify about the events in Khorramabad, but then he was charged with slander and inciting the public. Mohammad Kazemi, who was the deputy head of the parliamentary investigation into the Khorramabad unrest, had told IRNA two months earlier that "preliminary investigations" did not warrant Tajzadeh's appearing in court.

Indeed, there were three investigations into the events in Khorramabad -- by the Judiciary-run state inspectorate (National Control and Inspection Organization), the Supreme National Security Council, and the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy committee -- due to questions about objectivity (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 September 2000). The inspectorate's report was the first one and it was highly critical of Tajzadeh, Rezai, and others, but the SNSC and Interior Ministry leapt to their defense (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 September 2000). The SNSC report was next, and it was criticized by the hard-liners (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 October 2000).

The parliamentary investigation was the last one, and its report was reproduced in the 17 November "Aftab-i Yazd." The report's findings on the course of events in Khorramabad were almost identical to those of the earlier reports, but its apportionment of blame and responsibility appeared to be the most even-handed. The report found the worst violations of the law included politicization of the original student gathering by its organizers, the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU, or Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, the largest pro-Khatami student organization), and later unauthorized marches and demonstrations. The report also described the incident at Khorramabad's airport, when a mob forced Islamic intellectuals Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar and Abdul Karim Sorush, who were to address the OSU's annual meeting, to go back to Tehran.

The parliamentary report found that ethnic and regional sensitivity, regional difficulties (unemployment, poverty, and privation), and regional mismanagement were contributory factors. Other factors were the presence of violence-prone political factions, political disputes between local officials, and the presence of the military and the Basij. Singled out as being either guilty or negligent were Brigadier General Gholamreza Suleimani, the Luristan Province commander of the IRGC and Basij; Hojatoleslam Mohammadi, the Supreme Leader's IRGC representative; the acting commander of the Borujerd IRGC; the commander of the Basij's Karbala base; and the airport's security. State broadcasting and Khorramabad's Friday Prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Seyyed Kazem Husseini-Mianji, aggravated the situation. The OSU and the Khorramabad branch of the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party also went beyond legally permissible bounds, according to the report.

When he spoke on the courthouse steps in January, Tajzadeh also said that he was facing a complaint filed by the National Auditing Organization (NAO) regarding alleged "irregularities" in the parliamentary election, according to IRNA, and the judge had given him ten days to respond to the charges. Tajzadeh said that the complaint stemmed from the Interior Ministry's critical review of the NAO report about the numerous recounts and annulments of election results. Tajzadeh added that what was supposed to be an investigative hearing had turned into a trial. Tehran Governor Ayatollah (his name, not his rank) Azarmi faces identical charges. The Interior Ministry, the Tehran authorities, and the Guardians Council had many arguments over ballot counting and recounting in Spring 2000 (see, for example, "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 April 2000).

Tajzadeh's appointment as election supervisor has been very upsetting to the hard-liners (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 January 2001), and consequently, the objective of these trials almost certainly is to make sure that Tajzadeh cannot fulfill this role. In what some perceived as a warning or even a threat, the hard-line Islamic Coalition Association said on 22 January that Iranians would not vote if an impartial person did not head the election headquarters.

Tajzadeh is affiliated with the reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and he is facing a Judiciary that is in the hard-liners' hands. Political activist Taqi Rahmani explained in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service that Tajzadeh is in a powerful position because personnel subordinate to him in the provinces have similar political inclinations and they run the elections locally. If he is prevented from doing this job, "Iran News" reported on 23 January, it would be a "decisive blow" to the reformist camp, and the Interior Ministry would lose its ability to supervise the upcoming election. (Bill Samii)

SERIAL MURDERERS SENTENCED. Judge Mohammad Reza Aqiqi announced the verdicts in the trial of 18 Ministry of Intelligence and Security employees for the late 1998 killings of political dissidents and writers -- called the "serial murders" -- on 27 January. The victims were Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh, Mohammad Mokhtari, Dariush Foruhar, and Parvaneh Foruhar. Many observers believe that Majid Sharif was the fifth victim in the serial murders, and some believe that these were part of 80-100 murders during the 1990s. The sentences are as follows, according to IRNA:

* Ali Roshani -- sentenced to death twice
* Mahmud Jafarzadeh -- sentenced to death once
* Ali Mohseni -- sentenced to death once
* Mustafa Kazemi -- four terms of life imprisonment
* Mehrdad Alikhani -- four terms of life imprisonment
* Hamid Rasuli -- two terms of life imprisonment
* Mohammad Azizi -- two terms of life imprisonment twice
* Morteza Fallah -- one term of life imprisonment
* Khosro Barati -- ten years in prison
* Mustafa Hashemi -- eight and a half years
* Abolfazl Moslemi -- eight years
* Mohammad Hussein Asna-Ashr -- seven years
* Ali Safaipur -- seven years
* Asqar Sayyah -- six years
* Ali Nazeri -- two and a half years
* Morteza Haqqani, who confessed to participation in the Mokhtari and Puyandeh murders, was acquitted
* Iraj Amuzegar, who denied participation in the Foruhar or Puyandeh killings, was acquitted
* Alireza Akbarian, who denied participation in the Foruhar murders, was acquitted

The case was conducted in camera, leading to questions about its fairness and whether the real culprits were in the dock. Safa Puyandeh, the sister of Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh, told the Islamic Students News Agency that:

"The specific identification and punishment of the people who gave the orders for the serial murders is more important to us than the punishment of the perpetrators. We may even consider these agents to have been led astray themselves. If it is not made totally clear who gave the orders for the serial murders, how can there be any guarantee that my child or husband or any other citizen has any security?"

It is unlikely that the verdicts will satisfy anybody, either. Attorney Nasser Zarafshan said, according to AP, "The murders were not decided by one or two persons. It was an organized and carefully planned decision carried out by the secret agents... The case brought to the court had little to do with the realities on the ground." And the reformist Islamic Iran participation party said in a statement, "Many questions and doubts are raised about the verdicts and any silence from the judiciary would leave doubts in the minds of the people."

Judge Aqiqi said that appeals could be made to Iran's Supreme Court. (Bill Samii)

APPEALS OF CONVICTED JEWS DENIED. Mustafa Mandegar, an attorney representing four of the ten Iranian Jews convicted on espionage charges last year, said on 23 January that he had been "unofficially" informed that their appeals were rejected. The ten were convicted in July, their sentences were reduced in September, and then they asked to have the charges overturned at the end of October. At that time, many hoped that the charges would in fact be overturned, because the original espionage charges had already been annulled and only charges of collaborating with a foreign power remained. But militating against this were both sentiment against the accused among public officials and the media and Tehran's reluctance to appear to have submitted to foreign pressure (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 November 2000). Jewish parliamentary representative Maurice Motamed, on the other hand, said on 24 January that "The prosecutor-general has sent the dossier for study... I am not aware of the result," according to IRNA. Motamed added that the prisoners receive regular family visits and kosher food: "The Chief Justice (in Shiraz) has continued his full cooperation in this regard." (Bill Samii)

U.S. SANCTIONS MAY END SOON. Statements by Iranian and American officials in the days shortly before and after the 20 January U.S. presidential inauguration have renewed expectations that the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act will not be renewed in August 2001. Some cautious observers suggest, however, that although ILSA may no longer exist in its current form, some sort of selective sanctions may continue to exist.

During his confirmation hearing on 17 January, Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell said that the administration's national security team would explore the possibility of an increased dialog with Iran. One day earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that the Clinton administration's policies towards Iran had failed, and "the transition of power in the White House has presented an opportunity for the new administration to make changes in the failed U.S. policies towards Iran," according to IRNA. And on 6 January, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani said, "The new U.S. administration...seems to be taking effective measures to break a wall of mistrust between Tehran and Washington."

One day after the inauguration, on 21 January, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi suggested that actions spoke louder than words and advised patience. He predicted, according to "Dowran-i Imruz:" "Either the Americans continue with their antagonistic policies or they show some flexibility in some areas such as the sanctions. ...If the latter is the case, then we have to study the situation, the area which it has effected and its importance. ...Naturally, if their action is qualitative, significant and positive the Islamic Republic of Iran will take it into consideration." Assefi did not say what Iran could do that would benefit the U.S.

Geoffrey Kemp, a regional specialist with the Nixon Center for Peace in Washington, DC, told RFE/RL: "The business community, as well as the academic community and the think-tank community have all done studies on unilateral sanctions in the last few years and virtually everyone has concluded they don't work. And that if a policy is not effective, why keep it? Particularly if it hurts American interests abroad." Kemp predicted, however, that the termination of prohibitions on U.S. companies buying and selling Iranian oil and gas and on the import of Iranian oil to the U.S. are unlikely. Kemp pointed out that the Iranians never reacted positively to the Clinton administration's concessions, which led to criticism of the White House on Capitol Hill. Kemp suggested that "there will have to be some back-channel negotiations with the Iranians to make sure the next time a new administration makes a gesture that there will be some response."

Ambassador Robert Pelletreau, who served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and is now a partner in the Alfridi and Angel law firm, told RFE/RL that renewal of ILSA is unlikely because the mood in Congress has changed. "In the Congress now, we will find much more questioning about the policy toward Iran and a much stronger business group which will be speaking against continuing unilateral sanctions. So, I would see a much more careful and considered action than ILSA was when it comes up for renewal in August." Pelletreau said that if the signs from Tehran are reassuring, the Bush administration may consider relaxation of existing trade sanctions against U.S. imports of Iranian oil and against American companies buying and selling Iranian oil and gas.

The first test of the White House's willingness to impose sanctions will come up soon. The State Department is examining Sinopec's (China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation's) plan to invest over $150 million in deals that include work on refineries in Tabriz and Tehran and on the Caspian oil port facilities in Neka. In several cases over the last few years, sanctions have been waived. But in the words of a spokesman for North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, "The Chinese communist government is aiding and abetting an Iranian terrorist state. That's not something for which sanctions should be waived."

Many U.S. firms have technically side stepped sanctions and the trade embargo by using foreign subsidiaries or Iranian middlemen, the "Financial Times" reported in October, and the U.S. government has done nothing about this. Other activities by American companies have not been ignored. The U.S. oil group Conoco's analysis of seismic data, through its British subsidiary, for the National Iranian Oil Company is being investigated by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. And the U.S. Customs Service launched an investigation into the possibility that Mobil Corporation illegally "swapped" oil with Iran, the "Wall Street Journal" reported in October. (Bill Samii)

KHARRAZI DUE IN MINSK. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is scheduled to visit Belarus on 1 and 2 February in order to open the Iranian Embassy in Minsk, according to Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka. The Iranian Embassy in Kiev currently serves Belarus, also. During the two-day trip, Kharrazi is scheduled to meet with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Prime Minister Uladzimir Yarmoshyn, Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou, and House of Representatives Chairman Vadzim Papou, the independent Belaplan news agency reported on 18 January.

Iran-Belarus trade stood at $207 million between January and November 2000, a 47 percent increase over the previous year. Belarus mainly exports food, medical products, petrochemical products, and industrial and electronic goods, according to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Both countries are interested in the sale of military goods, too, and when Iranian Vice-President Hassan Rohani visited Belarus a year ago he inspected defense-products factories (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2000).

Belarusian Ambassador to Tehran Leanid Rachko met with Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani in late November, IRNA reported. Earlier that month, Moscow's "Segodnya" reported that Iran had shown an interest in the 2T armored reconnaissance vehicle (BRDM), which was designed by the Belarusian Minotor-Servis Closed Joint-Stock Company. It is believed that Belarus cannot afford to produce the vehicle domestically, so it would sell the experimental model and relevant plans and documentation. The most unusual aspect of this vehicle, according to "Segodnya," is the stealth-technology material used on it. The BRDM also comes with a 23 mm cannon, 30 mm grenade launcher, Strela antiaircraft missiles, antitank mines, and a 7.62 mm machine gun.

An Iranian trade delegation headed by Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari visited Belarus in early September. Afterwards, Shariatmadari told IRNA that the two countries signed at least six Memoranda of Understanding dealing with economic, technical, agricultural, scientific, and research cooperation. The two countries' central banks signed an agreement to open a "special buy-back account" for the exchange of $10 million in goods, too. An MOU on aviation was signed, also. Belarusian radio reported at the end of September that opening of the new Minsk-Tehran route was economically inefficient and unadvisable, because such a flight would have only 10-12 passengers a day. (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN VISITS CONTINUE. Numerous Iranian officials have visited other countries in the first month of 2001. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and the Ministers of Commerce, Roads and Transport, and Education and Training are scheduled to visit Bulgaria from 23-26 January. They are to meet with President Petur Stoyanov, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, National Assembly Chairman Yordan Sokolov, and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhaylova, as well as their ministerial counterparts, Sofia's BTA reported on 19 January.

Before arriving in Sofia, Karrubi visited Amman and met with King Abdullah and other officials. Iranian Minister of Commerce Mohammad Shariatmadari met with Water and Irrigation Minister Hatem Halawani at this time to discuss funding of the Disi irrigation project, possibly because Libyan financial participation in this project is inadequate. According to a report in the 4 January "Al-Qods al-Arabi," Jordan is reluctant to get too friendly with Iran due to security concerns, and out of sensitivity to this the Iranian ambassador to Amman sometimes deals with pro-Israel Jordanians. On the other hand, Amman has expelled members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a terrorist group of Iranian exiles.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Rome for two days in mid-January and met with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini. The trip went well although a member of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization threw an egg at Kharrazi, with IRNA noting that "such incidents are not uncommon when ranking Iranian officials visit foreign countries." Kharrazi then went to New York for the Group of 77 meeting.

An Iranian delegation led by Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh was in Russia from 15-20 January. During a two-day visit to Belgrade, Deputy Foreign Minister for Euro-American Affairs Ali Ahani told the Yugoslav Minister for Ethnic and Religious Minorities that in Iran, minorities have a "favorable" situation, IRNA reported on 18 January. Ahani also delivered a message from President Mohammad Khatami to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Iranian Economic and Financial Affairs Minister Hussein Namazi arrived in Yerevan on 23 January.

A delegation representing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that was led by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani visited Lebanon in mid-January, and while there it met with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri.

Iran's minister of labor and social affairs, Hussein Kamali, delivered a verbal message from Khatami to the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad as-Sabah, on 20 January. The Persian Gulf state's health minister, Mohammad Jarallah, said his country would like to employ Iranian nurses and radiologists soon, and Kuwaiti Labor and Social Affairs Minister Abd al-Wahab al-Wazan said his country would like to hire Iranian computer experts. On 22 January, according to IRNA, the two sides signed an agreement on the engagement of Iranian workers by Kuwait. Guest workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines are employed by the wealthy Persian Gulf states, also.

Several foreign officials have visited Iran, too. Uzbek Sports and Youth Minister Kamil Jan Yousefov met with his Iranian counterpart, Vice President for Physical Training Mustafa Hashemi-Taba, and the head of Iran's Judo Federation, Mohammad Derakhshan, on 26 January. They discussed similarities between traditional wrestling in Uzbekistan and Iran's Khorasan Province.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad was in Tehran from 23-25 January and met with Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Khatami, and other officials, including Ambassador to Damascus Hussein Sheikholeslam, who was one of the "students" who held American diplomats hostage from 1979-1981. In his meeting with Khamenei, al-Assad criticized "Palestinian officials who have sold out the Palestinian territory." And Khatami told his Syrian guest that "Syria should remain the vanguard of confrontation against the Zionist forces." Khatami went on to say, "The movement will continue for as long as the entire occupied territories are not liberated."

On 23 January, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque met with Khatami, who compared the revolutions in their respective countries and extended an invitation to his counterpart, Fidel Castro. Roque also met Foreign Minister Kharrazi and Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati. Indonesian Education Minister Yahya Mohaymen was in Tehran on 23 January, IRNA reported. Oman's Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmud as-Said and a delegation including his foreign affairs, commerce, petroleum, and legal affairs ministers came to Iran on 23 January. The Omanis met with Khatami, Kharrazi, and other officials, according to IRNA. Khatami told Oman's Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs Said Fahd bin Mahmud al-Said that Israel represented the "biggest crisis, threat and danger in the region and in the Islamic world," according to IRNA.

Moroccan Prime Minister Abderrahjan Youssoufi, accompanied by his minister of economy, finance, and tourism and his minister of employment, spent five days in Iran in late January. He met with Supreme Leader Khamenei, Khatami, and Kharrazi, and the two sides signed 7 MOUs addressing fisheries, livestock, culture, investment, trade, and the environment. Palestine was a topic of discussion, too. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri visited Tehran in mid-January and met with the Supreme Leader, Khatami, Vice President Hassan Habibi, and other officials. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Tehran in early January and met Supreme Leader Khamenei. Obasanjo and Khatami signed six documents, including MOUs on political, economic, and cultural issues, and a trade agreement. They also discussed the Group of 77, chairmanship of which Iran has just assumed. Finally, according to Lagos' "The Guardian" on 11 January, the two presidents discussed oil prices.

And on 7 January, Khatami told China's Vice-President Hu Jintao that the crises in Afghanistan and the Middle East should be resolved, saying "war and bloodshed should be replaced with dialog of civilizations," IRNA reported. The same day, Secretary-General of the Islamic Inter-Parliamentary Union Muhammad Aouf met with Khatami, who said that Israel is "an artificial entity created under the aegis of the international colonialism, Israel which has inflicted great damage to the Islamic Umma including the Palestinian nation." Italian Minister of the Interior Enzo Bianco was in Tehran, too.

Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner intends to visit Tehran on 13 February, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 16 January, and she will be accompanied by a business delegation. Jordan's King Abdullah is scheduled to visit Tehran in late February, Iranian Ambassador to Amman Nosratollah Tajik said on 17 January. Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, and Industry and Foreign Trade Minister Enrico Letta are expected to make separate visits to Iran in February, Iranian state radio reported on 21 January. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI MAY GO TO CAIRO. Sheikh Nasr Farid Wasil, the Mufti of Egypt, believes that President Mohammad Khatami will visit Cairo at the end of February for an eight-nation Islamic summit, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 16 January. Wasil, as well as Al-Azhar representative Sheikh Mahmud Ashur, had just returned from a trip to Iran for a conference on Sunni-Shia relations. Wasil told London's "Al-Hayah" on 9 January that the conference had eliminated many misunderstandings about Iran and "fanaticism that sought to lead the Islamic world astray." He added that "the enemies of Islam promoted that mistaken idea to sever bonds between Egypt and Iran."

The mid-January erection in Tehran of a second giant mural of Khalid Eslamboli, President Anwar Sadat's assassin, may damage the budding relationship between the two countries. Egyptian and Iranian officials downplayed the impact of this development, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." The Egyptians admitted that the mural's appearance is disappointing, but they suspect that it is "an indirect message from certain hard-line circles" to Khatami and is an effort to disrupt the two countries' relations.

The Eslamboli murals are not the only problem. Iranian state radio reported on 25 January that Egyptian security officers closed down the Iranian pavilion at the Cairo International Book Fair. The Iranian charge d'affaires in Cairo and his staff walked out of the fair in protest. Two days later, the head of the Egyptian interest section in Tehran, Muhammad Fathi Rifaah al-Tahtawi, denied that Iranian publishers were prevented from attending the Cairo International Book Fair. He told IRNA that the pavilion's opening was "delayed." A Tehran daily reported on 27 January that the Egyptian interest section in Tehran had refused to give visas to Iranian publishers and, therefore, they could not take part in the book fair. (Bill Samii)

ALL NAVAL ACTIVITIES, BUT IRAN'S, CRITICIZED. Tehran opposes naval activities by other countries, wherever they might be. President Mohammad Khatami said that "the presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf and other sensitive areas of the world was aimed solely at preserving America's own interests," state television reported on 6 January. An unidentified Iranian Foreign Ministry source also criticized Russian naval maneuvers in the Caspian, IRNA reported on 11 January. The source said that "Iran believes that there is no threat in the Caspian Sea to justify the war games and military presence and such measures will harm the confidence-building efforts of the littoral states in the region."

Most recently, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi condemned the Reliant Mermaid III naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea that involve forces from Israel, Turkey, and the U.S., IRNA reported on 15 January. He said, "Tehran believes that the marine exercises are hostile measures against the will of the world of Islam that supports the cause of the defenseless Palestinians." Arab states have reacted angrily to the previous Reliant Mermaid exercises, the "Jerusalem Post" reported on 17 January, and Jordan, which was due to attend the current exercise as an observer, has pulled out. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani also criticized these maneuvers during the 19 January Friday prayers sermon.

Iranian naval forces, on the other hand, apparently are free to participate in maneuvers wherever they see fit. Captain Rajender Singh of the Indian Navy said that naval chiefs from Iran and Israel, as well as top naval officials from the U.S., U.K., and other countries, will participate in the International Fleet Review in Mumbai in February. 22 countries will send warships to form review lines in Mumbai harbor for the IFR, which will mark the golden jubilee of India's becoming a republic, "The Hindu" reported on 12 January. (Bill Samii)