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Iran Report: July 26, 1999

26 July 1999, Volume 2, Number 30

REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS WARN KHATAMI. In a 12 July letter, senior IRGC officials complained to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami that the government had focused on the assault on the student hostel rather than on the behavior of the students themselves. As published in the 19 July issues of "Jomhuri-yi Islami" and "Kayhan," the officials asked why threats to national security and slogans against the Islamic Republic had not been investigated: "Should the violation of sanctities and insulting the principles of this system not be regretted and investigated?"

When the IRGC leadership heard Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 12 July speech, in which he said attacks against him were tolerable, "we asked God to kill us. That is because our hands are tied. We have been forced to shut our eyes, remain silent and watch the wilting of a flower which blossomed as a result of 14 centuries of Shia and Muslim suffering." They asked, "How long should we have revolutionary patience while the system is being destroyed?"

The IRGC officials first issued subtle warnings. "We can see the footprints of the enemy in the aforementioned incidents and we can hear its drunken cackle. You should understand this today because tomorrow is too late. ...look at foreign media and radios. Can you not hear their joyful music?" Then they came to the point: "our patience has run out. We cannot tolerate this situation any longer if it is not dealt with."

The letter sheds some light on some issues but at the same time raises many other questions. It partially explains Khatami's comments of 13 July, when he said "some will take political advantage of the situation. Basically, the violence and disturbance were against the interests of the system. They were against the interest of the nation, and against the policies of the government." One might ask whether Khatami was speaking of the hardliners or the demonstrators? But his statements about "issues raised, slogans chanted...are all meant to induce division" echoed those in the IRGC letter.

It may be that Khatami acted in this way to avoid bloodshed, and undoubtedly there would have been much more if the IRGC had taken action. But the students asked to meet Khatami on 9 July, before the 12 July letter was written, and they later expressed frustration with his refusal to talk to them.

The letter puts into doubt the belief that many in the IRGC voted for Khatami in the May 1997 election. Not only does he not have the confidence of the IRGC leadership, but it is unlikely that the letter's 24 signatories would have acted if they were not confident in their troops' obedience. IRGC commander General Yahya Rahim Safavi, however, sought to deflect questions about the organization's political tendencies by saying that the IRGC supports Khatami "as a pillar of the present political system," according to IRNA on 23 July.

A related question then arises: with which faction do the regular forces identify? Statements by Joint Staff chief Brigadier General Mustafa Turabipur ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 March 1999) indicate that the regular forces are completely loyal to their commander-in-chief, Khamenei. While they may be expected to say this, Turabipur made no mention of Khatami. In fact, neither Khatami nor the Supreme National Security Council has constitutional or legal authority in the security field or the military chain of command.

A third point raised by the letter's publication is that it provides some support for suggestions that there was a coup attempted against Khatami and his government. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), according to "Neshat" on 15 July, said "certain circles" are opposed to Khatami's policies and are creating false crises to increase public dissatisfaction with his policies. The MIRO went on to say that the attack at the university, the riots, and the general destruction could not have happened without coordination and organization. Those behind the murders of dissidents were behind these events, too. The security forces have been infiltrated, MIRO said, and an "unholy alliance between internal and foreign opportunists" has been formed.

An 18 July article in the London "Sunday Times" about "last week's attempted coup" made related suggestions. It said the events of 8 July probably resulted from spontaneous actions of the students and the hardliners. The mayhem of the following days, however, "had all the hallmarks of a well-orchestrated covert action, using mobs to discredit and reverse a popular movement." As a result, the article said, "Khatami was obliged to distance himself from the rioters." In fact, Khatami had already done so when he refused to meet with them on 9 July, and the IRGC letter reinforced the need for him to maintain distance.

But other questions remain unanswered. Why was this letter published when it was? Was it a warning to the 2nd Khordad [the date of Khatami's election] movement? Former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai said "secret hands" published the letter to discredit the IRGC, IRNA reported on 24 July. Will the newspapers which published this classified document be punished, just as "Salam" is being punished for doing the same thing? The Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry sent written warnings to the relevant managing editors, IRNA reported on 21 July. (Bill Samii)

TELEVISED CONFESSIONS IMPLICATE EXILES, FOREIGN STATES. Iranian state broadcasting recently televised the heavily edited "confessions" of two leaders of student organizations. The effect of broadcasting the confessions will be threefold. They will corroborate the regime's charge that the events of 8-13 July were backed by sources outside the country, they will warn students and exiles, and they will discourage Western political leaders from commenting about events in Tehran.

On 19 July the Ministry of Intelligence and Security announced that student leader Manuchehr Mohammadi was behind the unrest. Mohammadi was arrested and beaten last July, and he was arrested again in May. Last autumn, Mohammadi visited America via Turkey through the assistance of a "fugitive counterrevolutionary element." He was arrested after returning from that trip, Mohammdi said in an interview printed by Rome's "La Republica" on 21 July. The MOIS said the information leading to his most recent arrest was secured after "the people were asked to demonstrate vigilance and to report any news on the chaos-mongers."

In the television broadcast, Mohammadi looked tired and disheveled. He said he had contacted nationalists, including the Nation of Iran Party (of the assassinated Foruhars) and the National Front. He also was in touch with Elahe Amir-Entezam, the wife of Abbas Amir-Entezam, so his "link with the outside world expanded."

Other names, including that of Mohammadi's host when he visited Connecticut, were deleted. The announcer said the Islamic Union of Students and Graduates also was behind the unrest. That organization's secretary-general, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, is the editor of "Hoviat-i Khish" and is imprisoned. In another video clip, Mohammadi said: "all these students believe that religion should be separate from politics." He then said: "The forces outside the country say that we must pick up arms to go forward by adopting a policy of violence to take over the government."

On 21 July state television broadcast a statement from the MOIS, in which Rahim Rezai was accused of delivering money to Mohammadi and his colleague Malous Radnia (who is also known as Shansi).

On 22 July the "confession" of Gholamreza Mohajerinezhad was broadcast. In a heavily edited mix of studio footage and a student rally, Mohajerinezhad described himself as deputy leader of the Nationalist Union of Students (Itihadiyeh-yi Ilmieh-yi Danishjuyan) and a follower of the National Front. He admitted to, in a way, connections with both Mohammadi and Rezai. While in Texas and Germany, Mohajerinezhad said, he met with Iranian exiles who urged armed struggle to create unrest and to overthrow the government. And they held demonstrations in May "to create tension and strife so that it would be said that members of Hizbullah had done this."

Other than emphasizing the foreign connections of the demonstrators, these televised confessions and announcement will warn students that other arrests may be forthcoming. In fact, students continue to be arrested. Press statements from student organizations in Iran and from Amnesty International emphasize that many other people are still being held. Among them is Elahe Amir Entezam. Reza Hojjati said, "We have been identified and seriously threatened, even by death," "Neshat" reported on 19 July.

These "confessions" also play into reports that statements by foreign powers exacerbated the situation during the days of unrest. For example, U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley said on 12 July: "We oppose the disruption of peaceful assembly through the use of violence and deeply regret the resultant injuries and loss of life. We call on the government of Iran to protect peaceful demonstrators and to respect international human rights standards."

Referring to the U.S., Durham University lecturer Ali Ansari said: "However benign and well-intentioned the statement may have been, I don't think it was very prudent," Reuters reported on 21 July. Western diplomats who requested anonymity have shared similar opinions.

Yet the American comments were mild compared to those of other governments. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said the students' actions were the natural reaction to a "repressive regime." Sweden, in an official 13 July letter to the Iranian embassy in Stockholm, said it hopes reformers emerge with greater influence in Iran because, "it is with them that Stockholm intends to work." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he hoped for a victory of the moderate camp, "Al-Ahram" reported on 14 July.

Be that as it may, President Bill Clinton was more cautious when he discussed Iran on 21 July. He said: "frankly, I'm reluctant to say anything for fear that it will be used in a way that's not helpful to the forces of openness and reform. ...I just hope they find a way to work through all this, and I believe they will. "

It seems that the Iranian government's short-term solution for "working through" the situation will be its usual one: create scapegoats and blame foreigners. (Bill Samii)

CLERICAL COMMENTARY ON DISTURBANCES. Several religious leaders and institutions made statements about the events of 8 July, when Law Enforcement Forces, the Ansar-i Hizbullah, and University Basij attacked student hostels in Tehran. These statements indicated that although they may be theologically conservative, these theologians are divided about what is being done in the name of Islam.

Ayatollah Mohammad Abai-Khorasani, secretary of the Qom Association of Seminary Students and Lecturers (Majmae-yi Mudarisin va Muhaqiqin-i Howzeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom), said the 8 July attack on the students is worse than the one on Qom seminaries in 1963, according to "Khordad" on 15 July. At least the 1963 attack occurred during daylight hours when people could defend themselves, he said. Having previously expressed his disgust with such vigilante actions and other hardliner activities, Abai-Khorasani said whoever ordered the attack must be punished.

Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, who was once the designated successor to the father of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, expressed his views in a statement published by "Khordad" on 12 July. He said "the whole affair was a repeat performance of the attacks carried out on numerous other occasions in the past all over the country." The actions of violent groups in the name of religion only "blacken Islam's glittering face and draw a violent picture of Islam." Montazeri went on to complain that not only are government employees attacking the people, they are financed from the budget supplied by the same people. Public officials engaged in such violent acts, Montazeri said, are "guilty of treason against Islam, the revolution, the country, the Islamic values, and the clerical establishment."

Montazeri repeated a comparison he has made before, that the Ansar-i Hizbullah is no better than the rented thugs organized by Shaban "Brainless" Jaafari in the 1950s to attack the supporters of Premier Mohammad Musaddiq and opponents of the monarchy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 February 1999). The attackers should be punished, Montazeri said, and "people expect action and expect that their elected president show more decisiveness and act upon his promises."

Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Lebanon's Hizballah, discussed the events in Iran in an interview broadcast by Radio Monte Carlo, which is affiliated with the French government. "In principle we condemn the storming of the university campus," he said, and the security forces "must maintain a balance and curb the aggressors." Fadlallah expressed support for the students' demands, as well as President Mohammad Khatami's call for "everybody to abide by the law."

Fadlallah concluded: "I believe that allowing for counter opinion to be expressed is not negative, and even if negative aspects arise, they can be addressed through other views. Violence, particularly in today's world, cannot serve any cause or any country."

The Qom Theological Lecturers' Association (Jameh-yi Mudarisin-i Howzeh-yi Elmiyeh-yi Qom) commented on the situation in a statement broadcast by Iranian state radio on 13 July. It expressed "regret" and expressed its "sympathy with all those who were harmed during that event." The association urged the government to "deal firmly with all those who broke the law regardless of their group affiliations."

This organization, which represents some of Iran's most senior conservative clergy, was not very critical of those who attacked the students. Instead, it adopted the official position espoused by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Its statement said "this tragic incident, which was undoubtedly planned in line with the aims of the sworn enemies of Islam and revolution," comes "at a time when the global arrogance and all its agents are planning a massive onslaught against the foundations of the state." The preservation of unity," therefore, is "among our most important religious obligations and national duties." (Bill Samii)

IRAN ACCUSES TURKEY OF AIR ATTACK. On 23 July, the Iranian Foreign Ministry complained to the Turkish charge d'affaires in Tehran that on the previous day Iranian forces had stopped an attempted border incursion by the Turkish military, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. This came on the heels of a Turkish government official's claim, as reported by the "Turkish Daily News" on 21 July, that Turkey and Iran have decided to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate earlier Iranian claims that it was attacked.

On 18 July, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi accused Turkey of bombing an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base in Piranshahr and some western villages, the IRNA reported. Subsequently, Turkish charge d'affaires Aykut Sezgin was summoned to receive a protest, as well as demands for an explanation and compensation.

The next day, Turkish National Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu denied everything, according to the semi-official Anatolia news agency. He said: "I can immediately state that these claims are unfounded. is out of the question for Turkish aircraft to cross the Iranian border to hit certain targets." While reassuring reporters that there was no such incident, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit offered to "conduct a technical investigation at the scene of the incident," Anatolia reported on 19 July.

It thus remains unclear just what really happened in West Azerbaijan Province. The Iranian government's failure, so far, to provide actual evidence of the attack undermines its claims, just as its failure to show proof of alleged U.S. missile strikes near Abadan on 25 January undermined those claims. The Iranian allegations should be seen in the context of Iran's continuing relationship with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), its alleged support for Islamic radicals in Turkey, and the Turkish government's reaction to the recent unrest in Iran.

At the end of June and in early-July, Turkish officials and Kurdish organizations friendly with Turkey stated that PKK forces which have left Syria are now based in Iran and are staging operations from there with the government's help (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 July 1999). Tehran rejected the charges, but it also canceled previously planned meetings with Ankara to discuss the issue, according to Iranian state radio on 7 July.

Since then, publications citing anonymous sources continue to hammer at the PKK issue. A 15 July article in Istanbul's centrist "Hurriyet" said that four female PKK members admitted under interrogation that they were trained in Iran and Greece to use explosives. London's Arabic-language "Al-Hayah" reported on 19 July: "Documents that have been submitted to Tehran by a party concerned with the Kurdish issue indicate that the [PKK] has succeeded in obtaining widespread support from the conservative wing in Iran, which has allowed it to open training camps and set up bases along the Iranian border with Iraq."

Turkey also charges that Iran is sponsoring Islamist terrorist groups, including those working under the umbrellas of Hizbullah and the Islamic Great East Raiders Front (IBDA-C). Although Turkish Muslims are mainly Sunni, Turkish Hizbullah accepts anybody who works for a sharia state. Captured members of Turkey's Hizbullah admitted to training in Iran, according to Istanbul's centrist "Radikal" daily on 4 July. Initially, they also enjoyed support from the security forces because they fought the PKK, but the Hizbullah later trained at PKK facilities in the Bekaa Valley.

The IBDA-C also cooperates with the PKK, according to a 5 July article in "Radikal," which explains why the demands of IBDA-C prison inmates were broadcast by the PKK's MED-TV during the Abdullah Ocalan trial. The Turkish intelligence service (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati) documented IBDA-C assassinations of Iranian oppositionists in Turkey.

Cakmakoglu, while denying the air strikes against Iran, said: "We are greatly disturbed by the fact that terrorists who engage in various actions in our territories later escape to Iran, Iraq, and Syria. While conceding that there is a power vacuum in Iraq, Turkey "would like Iran and Syria to know that we shall not tolerate them adopting a stance that facilitates the actions of terrorists."

The Turkish leadership, particularly after the demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities, has been very critical of the Iranian government. On 13 July, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said: "The Iranian people are very sophisticated. They have a rich history. I believe they can't live under a repressive regime, therefore, their movement is natural. But we cannot, and don't want to, interfere in their internal affairs. We hope these events can be good for the Iranian people." A report by an Ecevit adviser, according to the liberal pro-Islamic Istanbul daily "Yeni Safak" on 14 July, said: "The people do not trust their regime in Iran. They are disappointed by the failure of the government to realize reforms. The Iranian regime is shaking but it must not be expected to collapse in a short time, What is important is that it is not feared by the people anymore."

Ecevit's comments (as well as those of other governments) were not welcome in Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry formally protested Ecevit's "irresponsible" comments, IRNA reported on 14 July.

If the Iranian government created the incident to distract attention from the country's real problems, it succeeded somewhat. Comments by Iranian officials about the alleged air raid resemble their utterances about the alleged U.S. missile strike in January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 February 1999). Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee called for "retaliatory policies against Turkey," IRNA reported on 19 July. Parliamentarian Seyyed Muhammad Hosseini told IRNA on 21 July that the army should respond.

Iranian publications were incensed. On 20 July the "Iran Daily" complained about "Turkish aggression, arrogance, and lawlessness," and it urged suspension of all security meetings and agreements. The "Tehran Times" accused Turkey of invading Iran because the Islamic Republic opposes "domination of the Zionists in the Mideast." "Kayhan International" warned that it would resist such actions, and it speculated that " the source of the orders could be Washington or it might be Tel Aviv."

On 21 July the "Iran Daily" said Ecevit's statements about the demonstrations and the more recent air raid "did not originate with Turkish minds." The newspaper went on to say that the Turkish ruling elite is dependent on the U.S., which has "found certain naive people whose dependency they can exploit." (Bill Samii)

SPIES AND ASSASSINS IN GERMANY AND PAKISTAN. An Iranian man has been arrested on espionage charges in Germany, the "Der Spiegel" magazine reported on 24 July. Specifically, he is charged with trying to infiltrate Iranian opposition groups there. "Der Spiegel" reported that German authorities intercepted the Iranian agent's radio transmissions to Tehran. Another Iranian faced similar charges earlier this year.

Iranian national Kazem Darabi, sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the murder of Iranian dissidents in the 1992 Mykonos affair, was transferred from a Berlin prison to one in Aachen, Germany's DDP/ADN news agency reported on 9 July. This is allegedly in connection with his pending release in exchange for Helmut Hofer, a German businessman accused of illicit relations with a Muslim woman in Iran, the "Berliner Morgenpost" reported. Berlin judiciary spokeswoman Svenja Schroeder-Lamb denied an exchange is planned, saying the move was to facilitate Darabi's family visits. Warrants are still outstanding for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, former President Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Intelligence Minister Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, for their alleged roles in ordering the assassinations.

Hofer is currently under house arrest, having been released on bail. "Entekhab" reported on 14 July that he is suicidal, so his lawyer has requested the trial date be moved up. Sources at the judiciary said Hofer will get medical help.

Islamabad's independent daily "The News" reported on 6 July that a prosecution witness positively identified a Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) activist accused of involvement in the September 1997 murder of Iranian bakers Asad Ali and Muhammad Hussein in Nazimabad. The witness said Kamran Farooqui shot the victims with a Kalashnikov. It is alleged that the murders occurred after speeches by SSP activists provoked sectarian sentiments. (Bill Samii)