RFE/RL Iran Report – 09/26/2006

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RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 9, No. 35, 26 September 2006

A Review of Developments in Iran Prepared by the Regional Specialists
of RFE/RL’s Newsline Team

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19 address to the UN General Assembly, U.S. President George W. Bush
directed some of his comments to "the people of Iran," according to
the White House website and Radio Farda. Bush told Iranians that the
"greatest obstacle" to determining their own futures, having a
rewarding economy, and a society that lets them fulfill their
potential is their "rulers," who "have chosen to deny you liberty and
to use your nation’s resources to fund terrorism, and fuel
extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons."
Bush said Iran must abandon "its nuclear weapons ambitions,"
adding that the United States does not oppose Iran’s having a
peaceful nuclear program. "We look to the day when you can live in
freedom — and America and Iran can be good friends and close
partners in the cause of peace," Bush said.
Bush went on to advise the Syrian people that "your
government is turning your country into a tool of Iran," adding,
"This is increasing your country’s isolation from the world."
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General
Assembly on the evening of September 19, "The New York Times"
reported. Ahmadinejad said the UN Security Council, of which China,
France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are
permanent members, is not impartial. "Excellencies, the question
needs to be asked, if the governments of the United States or the
United Kingdom commit atrocities or violate international law, which
of the organizations in the United Nations can take them to account?"
Ahmadinejad asked.
In discussing the recently concluded conflict in Lebanon,
Ahmadinejad said, "Apparently the Security Council can only be used
to ensure the right of the big powers." He criticized the Security
Council for not demanding a cease-fire in Lebanon more quickly.
Ahmadinejad made repeated references to the council’s legitimacy.
Ahmadinejad addressed similar themes during a September 21
press conference in New York. He said, "Some root causes of
today’s problems of humanity are coming from the world order that
we believe remained since World War II," RFE/RL reported. Ahmadinejad
continued: "This is an old system, it leads a few to see themselves
as the owners of the world and see others as their belongings. Some
like to rule the whole world and this has led to injustice in world
relations." Ahmadinejad repeated his earlier criticism of the
Security Council, and he called for a change in the status quo,
saying, "All nations should have equal rights, all peoples and
nations are respected, all have the right to have a respectable life,
all have the right to access justice, all have the right to peace and
Earlier, Ahmadinejad attended a two-day summit of the
Nonaligned Movement in Havana that concluded with a September 16
statement supporting a peaceful nuclear program in Iran,
international news agencies reported. The statement also proposed a
nuclear-free Middle East and urged Iran to cooperate with the UN
nuclear inspectorate verifying the peaceful nature of its program, AP
Ahmadinejad held talks with participating statesmen on the
sidelines of the summit, including the presidents of Algeria,
Belarus, Venezuela, Sudan, and Bolivia, and the crown prince of
Qatar, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on September
17. Ahmadinejad’s program reportedly included signing five
agreements with Cuba, and the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA)
reported that he also met with ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
On September 17, Ahmadinejad traveled to Venezuela, where he
was greeted by President Hugo Chavez and a 21-gun salute, IRNA and
Fars News Agency reported. Ahmadinejad is expected to sign 25
agreements to form joint ventures in the oil, petrochemicals, mining,
and farming sectors to produce medicines, train steel-industry
workers, and produce surgical equipment and plastic packaging, EFE
and globovision.com reported on September 17. Ahmadinejad said
shortly after his arrival in Caracas that Iran and Venezuela have
"common ideas" and "interests" as they fight "global hegemony,"
globovision.com reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

U.S. REPORTERS BANNED BY IRAN. Iran’s Islamic Culture and
Guidance Ministry announced on September 20 that U.S. reporters will
not be allowed to work in Iran, state television reported. The move
reportedly came in response to Washington’s alleged refusal to
issue visas for all the reporters wishing to accompany President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad during his visit to the United States to address
the UN General Assembly.
The State Department, however, denies refusing visas to the
journalists, RFE/RL reported on September 21. It says Iranian
officials withdrew the visa applications. (Bill Samii)

Bank Saderat Iran announced on September 10 that all its activities
comply with Islamic law and with international regulations, IRNA
reported. The announcement added that the bank’s extensive ties
with foreign financial institutions make it immune to any actions by
the United States.
The Iranian bank was responding to a September 8 speech by
U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial
Intelligence Stuart Levey at the American Enterprise Institute in
Washington. Levey announced that Bank Saderat is prevented access to
the U.S. financial system because its activities aid terrorist
organizations. "Iran provides Hizballah with hundreds of millions of
dollars each year, which is why I have said that Iran is the central
banker of terror," Levey said. "It is remarkable that Iran has a
nine-digit line item in its budget to support Hizballah, Hamas, and
other terrorist organizations at the expense of investing in the
future of its young people." Levey went on to say that he and other
U.S. officials will travel to the Middle East and Asia to discuss
"measures we should all be taking to protect ourselves from
Iran’s use of the international financial system to advance its
dangerous policies."
In Singapore on September 16, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry
Paulson discussed Iran with finance ministers from the G-7 (Canada,
France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United
States), international media reported. Paulson reportedly warned
against the activities of companies that are suspected of serving as
fronts for Iranian weapons programs and which are reputedly used to
support terrorism, "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal"
reported on September 18.
Ibrahim Sheibani, governor of the Central Bank of Iran,
announced on September 16 that Iran is converting some of its dollar
reserves to other currencies, state radio reported. Sheibani said the
step is a reaction to U.S. sanctions against the Bank Saderat,
announced by Washington in early September. "We intend to pursue all
legal means and we expect the International Monetary Fund to adopt an
appropriate stance against this unilateral and illegal move,"
Sheibani added. (Bill Samii)

Ministry spokesman Seyyed Mohammad Ali Husseini said on September 17
that the most recent "International Religious Freedom Report" from
the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights,
and Labor, which was released on September 15, is politically
motivated, Fars News Agency reported. Husseini said the reports shows
that Washington is not really interested in human rights or religious
liberty, and he claimed the report’s real purpose is to further
U.S. foreign policy objectives. Husseini said the report is of "no
The State Department report accuses the Iranian government of
"restricting religious freedom"
( 2006/71421.htm). Shi’ite
Islam is Iran’s state religion, and the report referred to
difficulties faced by the Baha’i, evangelical Christian, Jewish,
Sufi, and Zoroastrian minorities: "There were reports of
imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on
religious beliefs." The situation has worsened since the election of
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the report alleges. (Bill Samii)

Jewish-Iranian families filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court
on September 7 claiming that the Iranian government kidnapped their
relatives as they tried to escape Iran in 1994-97, Radio Farda
reported. One day later, a summons relating to the case was delivered
to Iran’s former president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, at a
reception hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in
Arlington, Virginia. The lawsuit alleges that Khatami’s policies
precluded a trial and these same policies prevented the provision of
information on those missing. One of the attorneys in the case, the
Los Angeles-based Pooya Dayanim, told Radio Farda that U.S. law
allows foreign victims of torture to file cases against the torturers
in U.S. federal courts. (Bill Samii)

of talks in Vienna between Iranian Supreme National Security Council
Secretary Ali Larijani and EU High Representative for Common Foreign
and Security Policy Javier Solana, unnamed diplomats reportedly told
AP on September 10 that the two sides have reached a compromise in
which Tehran would suspend uranium enrichment for a month or two if
this can be portrayed in a face-saving way.
However, Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) Ali Asqar Soltanieh said on state television on
September 10 that reports of a suspension are false. "Suspension, or
as some news agencies say, ‘a suspension for one or two
months,’ was not discussed in the talks and, based on my
information from the meeting, I denied this," he said.
Aside from that seemingly significant discrepancy, both sides
were publicly enthusiastic about the discussions. RFE/RL quoted
Larijani as saying that "we have made constructive progress" and
adding: "We have reached common points of view on a number of issues
that we have. And, as was mentioned by Solana, many of the
misunderstandings were removed." Solana described the "hours of work"
as "productive" and said some "misunderstandings" were "clarified."
Solana said another meeting will follow within a week.
Alaedin Borujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s
National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told ISNA on
September 11 that talks between Larijani and Solana have shown that
"the only way to come out of the present situation is to negotiate,
and pressure on Iran" will not work. He said that in contrast to
previous talks, the latest talks were held "in a suitable
environment," and focused on Iran’s response to a Western package
of proposals on its contested program "and questions" EU states have.
The two sides are set to continue talks, showing that EU states now
favor talking to Iran, Borujerdi said. He said that EU states have
concluded that "using political pressure and the [UN] Security
Council lever will lead nowhere," ISNA reported. He accused the
United States of trying to block a negotiated solution to the issue.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton is a "radical, irrational
agent," he said, working against talks, "and it was repeated in the
UN…that the draft of a second resolution [against Iran] is in
Bolton’s pocket."
The governing board of the IAEA met in Vienna on September 13
to discuss Iran’s controversial nuclear program, RFE/RL’s
Radio Farda and news agencies reported. The board was to consider a
statement drawn up by France, Great Britain, and Germany mildly
critical of Iran’s failure to suspend nuclear fuel-making and
related activities in response to repeated Western requests, AP
reported. The text of the statement uses "toned-down" language that
will not jeopardize scheduled September 14 talks with Iran, AP quoted
unnamed diplomats as saying.
On September 13 in Vienna, U.S. envoy to the International
Atomic Energy Agency Gregory Schulte said Iran’s "refusal to
suspend" uranium enrichment and related activities that could one day
serve military purposes "and its refusal to cooperate is a choice of
confrontation over…negotiation," AFP reported.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in
Tehran on September 14 that "talks and negotiations are the only
solution" to the diplomatic impasse over Iran’s nuclear program,
ISNA reported. He accused the United States of "intensifying pressure
to damage the existing atmosphere and obstruct the current process of
talks." The United States is using "threats and forcefulness to
pursue its unilateral aims," and resorting to "blackmail by
publicity" to "infect" the atmosphere against Iran and "sidetrack"
talks, he said. Husseini said Iran and "the other parties" are trying
to "find a solution" through talks; he urged Washington "to be a
little patient" to "prove its sincerity in welcoming negotiations,"
ISNA reported.
Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, the head of Iran’s Atomic
Energy Organization, met on September 19 in Vienna with IAEA
Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, state television and IRNA
reported. Aqazadeh said afterward that the IAEA does not appreciate
Iran’s extensive cooperation. Aqazadeh added that he briefed
el-Baradei on Iran’s talks on the nuclear issue with the EU’s
Javier Solana.
In New York on September 19, President Ahmadinejad criticized
the United Nations’ stance on the nuclear issue, state television
reported. "The UN approach toward global issues is an illogical one
which manifests itself in various forms in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon,
and Sudan," he said. "The UN behavior toward Iran’s nuclear
program is also another example of this unjust behavior which should
be corrected," the president added.
Ahmadinejad again addressed the nuclear issue in a September
21 press conference. He dismissed international concern over
Iran’s nuclear program during his September 21 press conference,
and he ascribed this concern to alleged U.S. hostility and efforts to
retard Iran’s development, RFE/RL reported. "U.S. leaders have
opposed our nation for the past 27 years, they are against any
progress by our nation," he claimed. "They imposed eight years of war
on us and the United States supported the aggressor [Iraq]. We
hadn’t done anything wrong, we had just been freed from a
dictator who was supported by America [a reference to the Iranian
According to Reuters, Ahmadinejad also said Iran is willing
to negotiate over the possibility if its suspending
uranium-enrichment activities, and he added that negotiations with
the European Union are going well. "We have said that under fair
conditions and just conditions we will negotiate about it," he said.
(Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

Tehran, Cardinal Angelo Michela, was summoned to the Iranian Foreign
Ministry on September 17 to hear Iran’s displeasure at remarks
made by Pope Benedict XVI in mid-September and interpreted as linking
Islam with violence, IRNA reported. A speech by the Roman Catholic
pontiff quoted 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II
Paleologus’s assertion that Islam brought the world only "evil
and inhuman" things, such as "the command to spread by the sword the
faith he preached."
The director-general for Western Europe at the Iranian
Foreign Ministry, Ibrahim Rahimpur, told the cardinal, "We do not
expect the pope…to make comments one hears from [U.S. President]
Bush on the anniversary of the September 11" attacks, IRNA reported.
Rahimpur said the pontiff’s conduct belies his stated interest in
dialogue among religions, and complained that he had made an
"incomplete" reference to a historical discussion. Rahimpur wondered
aloud why Pope Benedict said nothing about the Persian scholar’s
reply to the controversial 14th-century quotation. "Clearly the
Islamic world collectively interprets the pope’s remarks as
insulting, and he must show more awareness of his religious and
political responsibility," Rahimpur said.
Separately, Tehran’s Armenian bishop, Sabouh Sarkissian,
and Armenian members of Iran’s parliament on September 17
condemned the pope’s remarks, IRNA reported. Iranian seminaries
also closed down in protest at the remarks, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
and AFP reported on September 17.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the pope in
a September 18 speech, state radio reported. Such comments result
from ignorance and are insulting, Khamenei said. Khamenei said these
statements are part of an effort to create crises and misrepresent
Muslims. "I think the pope himself has been deceived in this case,"
Khamenei added.
Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi on September 20
invited Pope Benedict XVI to a debate at any time or place, Fars News
Agency reported. "The hostile remarks made by the pope are a clear
example of the growing violence in the world," Makarem-Shirazi said.
The Vatican issued several statements expressing "regret"
that Muslims found the speech offensive, and Pope Benedict on
September 20 stressed his "deep respect" for Islam and said the
"polemical nature" of the 14th-century emperor’s statement "does
not reflect my personal conviction." (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

named the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s new spokesman in a September
10 directive from Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, Mehr News
Agency reported. Previously director of the Supervision and
Assessment Department in the Foreign Ministry, Husseini also has
served as charge d’affaires in Jordan, Syria, and Tajikistan. He
succeeds Hamid Reza Assefi, who has served as spokesman since 1999.
(Bill Samii)

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER VISITS IRAN. Nuri al-Maliki arrived in Tehran on
September 12, where he held an initial round of talks with President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad, ISNA and IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad said at a
press conference that Iran is ready to help with Iraqi reconstruction
and development, and specifically water-resources management, ISNA
reported. Ahmadinejad said a secure and independent Iraq will benefit
all regional states, and Iran will stand by its neighbor "to the
end…we support the popular government derived from the people’s
vote and the Iraqi Constitution," IRNA reported.
The same day, Iranian Trade Minister Masud Mirkazemi met in
Tehran with trade and banking officials, the governors of four
provinces bordering Iraq, and Iran’s trade attache in Baghdad to
discuss ways of boosting exports to Iraq, IRNA reported. Mirkazemi
urged "cohesive, precise, and clear" policies to increase imports, a
coordinated trading policy for frontier provinces, and closer
controls over frontier markets, IRNA reported.
Al-Maliki met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in
Tehran on September 13, receiving the cleric’s pledge that Iran
will give Iraq "practical support," IRNA reported. Khamenei said the
"happiness and progress" of Iraqis constitutes the same for Iranians.
"The Islamic Republic…considers itself obliged to provide the Iraqi
people and government its practical support," he said. He expressed
hope that the "daily suffering" of Iraqis, which he blamed "partly"
on the previous "diabolical regime" and partly on "the presence of
occupiers," will end soon. "With the departure of the occupiers, many
of Iraq’s problems will be resolved," Khamenei said.
Al-Maliki thanked Khamenei for Iran’s supportive stance,
and said, "the expansion of relations with friendly and neighborly
states is one of Iraq’s foreign-policy priorities," IRNA
Al-Maliki met on September 13 with Expediency Council
Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Supreme National Security
Council Secretary Ali Larijani, ISNA reported. Rafsanjani told him it
is the "shortcomings" of the "occupying power" that are causing
instability in Iraq: "the people of Iraq can rely on internal
capabilities to resolve many problems." He said Iranians will do
everything to help Iraq’s government restore security to the
land, but also help with reconstruction and development. "In suitable
conditions, Iranians can swiftly help so the problems of the Iraqi
people are resolved," he said.
Larijani said separately that Iraq is Iran’s "natural
ally" and this alliance could take "evident" form now under
al-Maliki’s government. Iran’s "fixed policy," he said, is to
help assure Iraq’s security and territorial integrity, ISNA
reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

consulates came under attack in separate incidents in the southern
Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on September 19, Al-Sharqiyah television
reported the same day. Police sources in the city said that two
rockets hit the outer wall of the Iranian Consulate, and a third
rocket landed on a nearby police car. A British military spokesman
said one mortar shell landed inside the consulate’s compound.
There were no apparent injuries in either attack. Police in Al-Basrah
said they arrested 130 suspected insurgents on September 19, dpa
reported on September 20. An unidentified police spokesman said the
arrests were part of a new security crackdown on the city. (Kathleen

Rights Council is meeting in Geneva for the next two weeks, and some
former members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization gathered outside
the meeting place to demand that 160 other former members be given
refuge in the West, Radio Farda reported on September 18.
The Mujahedin Khalq Organization (commonly known as the MKO
or MEK, and which uses a variety of cover names including
People’s Mujahedin of Iran) is listed as a "foreign terrorist
organization" by the U.S. State Department. The MEK was based in Iraq
and operated against Iran at Saddam Hussein’s behest; many of its
members now reside in Camp Ashraf (100 kilometers from Baghdad) where
they enjoy the Geneva Convention’s "protected person" status, and
some members have returned to Iran voluntarily.
Milad Ariai, who left the MEK after 20 years, told Radio
Farda that many of the 160 asylum seekers are citizens of Western
countries. Because the MEK is regarded as a terrorist organization by
many countries, he continued, the former members are having problems
going to the West. (Bill Samii)

Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani arrived in Damascus on
September 20 for a one-day visit, SANA reported. Larijani met with
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Vice President Faruq
al-Shar’a, and topics of discussion reportedly included the
international standoff over the Iranian nuclear program, Iraq,
Lebanon, and Palestine. (Bill Samii)

Governor-General Seyyed Solat Mortazavi told a September 10 meeting
of provincial officials in the provincial capital of Birjand that the
actions of Baluchi insurgents led by Abdulmalik Rigi have been
stopped, Mehr News Agency reported. "With the grace of God and owing
to an unprecedented action, all active members of the Rigi revolt
have been arrested and full security has been [restored] in eastern
Iran," he said.
Rigi’s group, called Jundullah, was blamed for a March 16
attack on a motorcade traveling between the cities of Zahedan and
Zabol in which more than 20 people were killed and seven others
injured; in early April, it released a videotape in which it claimed
to have killed an officer in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (see
"RFE/RL Iran Report," March 29 and April 18, 2006).
Mortazavi attributed the actions of Jundullah to foreign
powers, saying, "The arrogant powers, bent on undermining the
security of the Islamic republic, seek to exacerbate ethnic and
tribal differences and in so doing commit all sorts of crimes by
using operatives like Rigi." (Bill Samii)

Azizan was detained by Iranian authorities on September 18, Radio
Farda reported on September 20. Azizan was protesting outside the
Ardabil provincial governorate against the mysterious deaths of
political prisoners Akbar Mohammadi and Valiollah Feyz-Mahdavi.
Talash Kobra Ghorbanzadeh, Azizan’s wife, told Radio Farda that
her husband is in solitary confinement and has launched a hunger
strike. Ghorbanzadeh said she was taken to see a prosecutor who asked
about Azizan’s associates and wanted to know who was behind his
protest. Ghorbanzadeh reportedly responded that Azizan acted of his
own accord but said the judge was not convinced. If Ghorbanzadeh does
not cooperate, she said the prosecutor warned, her husband could be
subjected to harsh measures. (Bill Samii)

REFORMIST DAILY CLOSED. "Sharq," one of Iran’s prominent
reformist dailies, was ordered temporarily closed by the Press
Supervisory Board for an allegedly insulting cartoon and editorial
discrepancies, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda and local media reported on
September 12. The board ordered the closure because the license
holder failed to name a new editor who would have "greater
supervision" of the daily’s contents, as the board had earlier
It also deplored an offensive cartoon published on September
7, interpreted as a reference to President Ahmadinejad. The cartoon
reportedly depicted a donkey surrounded by a halo; Ahmadinejad has
claimed that light surrounded him when he spoke once to the UN
General Assembly in September 2005.
Exiled cartoonist Nikahang Kosar told Radio Farda on
September 12 that the system in Iran effectively obliges "legal
mechanisms" to take action whenever any "small group" of people which
he said are regime insiders find an article or cartoon offensive.
Journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin told Radio Farda on
September 11 that the government and Press Supervisory Board are
violating press laws, and there is no legal basis for banning the
Editors and managers of several "nongovernmental" dailies met
with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani in Tehran on September 13, and heard his views on
responsible reporting. He said newspapers are a "strategic" necessity
in Iran, but need to respect truthful reporting and consider state
interests, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said "supra-legal restrictions
on the press go against the interests of the revolution and country,"
and it is "practically impossible" to block the news in a "global
village" and amid an "information explosion." But he urged the press
to "respect the interests of the people, regime, and country, and
commit themselves to reporting realities and respecting" their
"professional principles." He deplored the "bad tradition" of
"insults and calumny" against politicians, "especially at elections,"
IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

defending a student activist who died in Tehran’s Evin prison in
late July, is now charged with "insulting the system," apparently for
remarks he made after his client Akbar Mohammadi’s death (see
"RFE/RL Iran Report," August 10, 2006), RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
reported on September 11. Bahramian told the broadcaster that Evin
prison authorities are taking legal action after unspecified comments
he made on the constitutional rights of citizens and inmates. He said
he has already attended one session in which he explained his
statements to interrogators.
Separately, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi
told a gathering of judiciary officials in Tehran on September 11
that Iranian judges give out too many jail sentences, a practice he
said is inspired by Western systems and against Islamic legal
principles, Mehr reported. He said laws should be changed to allow
judges to order the conditional release of many more inmates who have
completed half their sentences, after due consideration. Prison, he
said, is not "the solution or treatment for crimes" and "the basis of
imprisonment as a penalty…must change, and substitute penalties
should be used," Mehr reported. VS

concern about the condition of two detainees, former legislator Ali
Akbar Musavi-Khoeini and former student Ahmad Batebi, "Aftab-i Yazd"
reported on September 12, citing Iranian agencies. Tehran Province
prison chief Sohrab Suleimani told ISNA on September 11 that Batebi
enjoys a "suitable physical state" and is currently in Evin prison.
Batebi’s father says he has not seen him on a list of Evin
Suleimani added that another detainee, Valiollah Feyz
Mahdavi, died in prison recently "after hanging himself in the prison
bathroom." In spite of "security elements, sometimes there are
suicides in prison," Suleimani said, "and we do everything to
minimize cases of such deaths," ISNA reported. The suicide version of
his death is disputed.
Separately, Zohreh Islami, Musavi-Khoeini’s wife, told
the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on September 11 that she spoke
by phone to her husband once in the last seven days, but has been
prevented from visiting. She said he has been under arrest "for 92
days" and the judiciary has rejected his lawyer’s request for a
meeting with Musavi-Khoeini or his release on bail, ILNA reported. VS

There is a rising number of "abused" women turning to drugs and
prostitution in Iran, and this is becoming a grave problem in cities,
RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported on September 14, citing rights
activist Mehrangiz Kar. She said more women she termed "vulnerable"
for their precarious financial conditions and difficult home
conditions are turning to drugs and prostitution, and at an
increasingly young age. They can expect very little support from the
government or society, she added. She cited a recent report in which
a woman staying at a state shelter or health-care facility killed her
"illegitimate" child to rid herself of the "shame." Kar said some
social workers chide the women in their care for their lifestyles and
help bring about such crimes. Kar said the woman told the health-care
worker that by killing her child she "wiped away the stain of shame
and sent it to God." Kar said this statement effectively "put the
government, society, and even social workers on trial." She urged the
government to provide job training for such girls. VS

Forces Logistics Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar announced on
September 18 that several defense projects will commence in the
coming days, Fars News Agency reported. Iran marks the annual "Sacred
Defense Week" — the commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War — in
late September. Najjar said some of the MODAFL’s new products
will be displayed during a September 22 parade.
Also on September 18, Admiral Sajjad Kuchaki, commander of
the Iranian navy, announced domestic manufacturing of the Joshan
missile boat, state radio reported. He also introduced the
76-millimeter Fajr gun that can be used against surface vessels at a
range of 16 kilometers or aerial targets at altitudes up to around
7,000 meters. The gun’s rate of fire can vary from 10 rounds per
minute to 85 per minute. (Bill Samii)

Agricultural Jihad Ministry’s director-general for domestic
commerce, announced on September 21 that red meat and chicken will be
distributed at lowered prices in the coming month, IRNA reported. The
holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin on September 23 or 24, and
it will conclude with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. During Ramadan,
devout Muslims fast during daylight hours and consume meals only
during the night. Shafei said 10,000 tons of frozen chicken will be
distributed and consumers will face only a 400-rial-per-kilogram
markup. The ministry is considering the distribution of 20,000 tons
of red meat, and possibly an additional 12,000 tons of imported red
meat. (Bill Samii)

head the Assembly of Experts, the influential assembly that oversees
the work of the supreme leader, pits a pragmatic former president
against a fundamentalist seminarian with close ties to the current
president. Another possible choice, ex-president and reformist
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, lies somewhere in the middle.
The race could have serious long-term implications —
particularly for would-be reformers.
The Assembly of Experts is a powerful institution whose 86
clerics’ supervisory role includes the power to remove Iran’s
supreme leader from office. The fact that its members are popularly
elected every eight years highlights the significance of the decision
that faces voters in the December 15 ballot.
One of the most controversial aspects of this election is the
competition for the assembly’s leadership.

Reluctant Candidate?

Ex-President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, already a deputy
speaker of the assembly, is largely backed by reformists, centrists,
and mainstream conservatives. Leading figures in a conservative
clergymen’s association, the Tehran Militant Clergy Association
(Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran), visited Hashemi-Rafsanjani
in mid-September to encourage his candidacy. One of those clerics,
Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, advised Hashemi-Rafsanjani that
he is "still one of the principal mainstays of the system and
leadership," the Aref website reported on September 19. He said such
status carries a responsibility to "stand and serve the system at
sensitive junctures."
Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a seasoned politician who served as
president for two terms in 1989-97, was a legislator, and currently
heads the Expediency Council. He reportedly told the clergymen’s
group that his participation is unnecessary and would make no real
difference. He said he was already being criticized, and he pointed
to his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2005, which included
personal attacks against him and his family. Similar attacks — many
of them centered on allegations of financial corruption — have
continued against Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s associates. They smack of
an effort to weaken the informal network through which he wields his
considerable influence.

The ‘Crocodile’

The man whom many view as Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s likely
rival is Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. Mesbah-Yazdi is
punningly referred to by detractors as "Ayatollah Crocodile"
("Temsah") due to his hard-line views. He is current President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad’s spiritual guide and a founder of the conservative
Haqqani seminary, with numerous associates in the executive branch of
Two Haqqani alumni serve in the current cabinet —
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein
Mohseni-Ejei and Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa
Pur-Mohammadi. Mesbah-Yazdi now heads the Imam Khomeini Educational
and Research Institute, and several of its associates now work in the
executive branch, including government spokesman Gholam Hussein
Elham, First Vice President Parviz Davudi, and presidential adviser
for clerical affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Nasser Saqa-yi Biria.
A conservative weekly associated with Mesbah-Yazdi, "Parto-i
Sokhan" from Qom, has published a number of attacks on
Hashemi-Rafsanjani. A lengthy piece on August 23 purports to be
seminarians’ response to a letter from Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The
ex-president is portrayed as questioning Iran’s theocratic system
and employing "distorted and truncated quotes" from the founder of
the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to substantiate his
views. The article goes on to imply that Hashemi-Rafsanjani has
comforted Iran’s enemies by voicing support for a Leadership
Council to replace the current figure of the supreme leader.
The same article suggests that allies of Britain sought to
pass a constitutional amendment that would have extended
Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s term as president beyond 1997. It also
condemns his failure to call for the death of a scholar who
criticized the clergy in 2003 and his support for women’s rights.
The article goes on to attack the think tank associated with the
Expediency Council, the Strategic Research Center, which includes
perceived reformers on its staff like former President Khatami and
former Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam
Hassan Rohani.
Occasional hints of reconciliation between the hard-line
Mesbah-Yazdi and Hashemi-Rafsanjani generally prove not to be true.
The two reportedly bumped into each other at recent meeting of the
Assembly of Experts and had what one observer described as a "very
friendly and warm encounter," "Sharq" reported on September 4. The
hard-liner was quoted as saying he has "no blood feud with anyone"
and stressing his long friendship with Hashemi-Rafsanjani. But he
reportedly rushed to add that he and Hashemi-Rafsanjani "differ…on
certain issues" and that their "religious responsibility" dictates
that "friendship will play no role."
Pro-reform activists have reacted to fundamentalist attacks
against their favorites in many ways — including downplaying
Mesbah-Yazdi’s prerevolutionary activities against the shah. He
also has been linked with a banned millennialist entity, the
Hojjatieh Society.
A former interior minister and legislator better-known for
his role in establishing the Lebanese Hizballah in the 1980s,
Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, recently likened
Mesbah-Yazdi’s followers to the Hojjatieh Society — calling them
"a movement within an organized cult…[that seeks] control of the
Assembly of Experts," "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted him on August 26 as
saying. Mohtashami-Pur warned that "a movement that thinks like the
Hojjatieh always poses a danger to the people and the system."

Reformist Target

The fundamentalists are attacking other prospective leaders
in the Assembly of Experts, too. One of their apparent targets is a
symbol of the reformist movement, former President Khatami
(1997-2005). A reformist party leader, National Trust Party head
Ebrahim Amini, accused Khatami’s opponents of "trying by various
means to create doubt in public opinion about the positions of the
reformists," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on September 16. He accused
those same elements of resorting to "character assassination."
A leading figure from the center of the political spectrum,
senior Executives of Construction Party member Mohammad Hashemi,
echoed that accusation, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on September 16. He
said the bullying began after the 2000 parliamentary elections and
has "gradually turned into an unethical tradition" through which
fundamentalists stopped pressing solutions and started relying solely
on political attacks on their opponents.
The most vicious recent attacks on Khatami have come from
Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham
and the head of the "Nosazi" website. In an open letter published in
"Etemad-i Melli" on September 4, Rajabi suggested that a U.S. visa
for Khatami’s recent trip to the United States is his "reward for
eight years of efforts from the Americans, and especially from .the
Black House."
Rajabi attacked Khatami’s "presence and parading in
America’s cities" and disparaged his views on "modern Islam" She
accused Iran’s most prominent proponent of reform of distorting
religion — calling Khatami’s Islam "the Islam of a life of
pleasure, the Islam of doing business, the Islam of aristocracy, the
Islam of seeking comfort, the Islam of seeking welfare, and in a
word: American Islam." She called it "a lame excuse for someone who
is dressed as Shi’ite clergy?"
Criticized by reformists and by conservatives, and her
brother, Mohammad Hassan Rajabi, according to "Kargozaran" on August
1, Rajabi lashed out again. She said Khatami’s ascribing of the
2001 terrorist attacks on the United States to Muslims "delivered a
major blow against Islam." She suggested that recent remarks by Pope
Benedict XVI that elicited widespread condemnation among Muslims were
"a natural echo of Khatami’s remarks," "Aftab" reported on
September 17.

Strong-Armed Conservatives

The role of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) could
further cloud prospects for potential rivals to any but the most
conservative candidates. The IRGC was accused of interfering in the
2003 municipal elections on behalf of fundamentalists. The Basij, a
branch of the IRGC, was accused after the 2005 presidential election
of having behaved like a political party.
Such allegations coincide with accusations of Guards Corps
political activism that are either denied or refuted with references
to Article 150 of the Iranian Constitution that tasks the IRGC with
defending the revolution and its achievements.
Recent statements by Guards Corps leaders are consistent with
a pattern favoring the hard-liners. The chief of the IRGC joint
staff, General Yadollah Javani, told a meeting of corps commanders
that there are major political movements involved in the upcoming
elections that have different interpretations of Iran’s
theocratic system (vilayat-i faqih), "Hemayat" reported on September
10. He characterized opponents as believing that the popular vote
legitimizes the system and that the theocracy’s responsibility is
satisfying the people. That movement is opposed by those who — like
revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and presumably,
himself — believe God legitimizes the vilayat-i faqih system. Javani
went on to say that the reformists are intent on returning to power,
and they are trying to create divisions among fundamentalists.
The supreme leader’s representative in the IRGC
counterintelligence department, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Salek, sounded a
more ominous alarm. He warned that there is an effort afoot to
undermine the vilayat-i faqih, "Kayhan" reported on September 17. He
alleged that an unidentified five-member committee is trying to
"infiltrate" individuals into the Assembly of Experts "in order to
create deviations in that institution." He said their goal is to
"bring about the disintegration and collapse of the Islamic political

Are The Reformers Ready?

Pro-reform parties are not standing by idly. They are trying
to form a coalition to compete with the fundamentalists. "Aftab-i
Yazd" on September 16 quoted Mohammad Salamati of the Mujahedin of
the Islamic Revolution Organization as saying the reformist coalition
has been finalized.
But there also are questions about a draft election law that
many observers fear would extend the hard-liners’ considerable
ability to restrict candidates for elected office. A former interior
minister, Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, noted that the group
conducting the election — the Interior Ministry — is from the same
political camp as the Guardians Council, which is supervising the
election, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 14.
Musavi-Lari noted that the Guardians Council’s power to
vet candidates represents reformists’ "main concern," since that
body can decide "whether or not they will be allowed to remain on the
The Assembly of Experts held its semi-annual meeting on
August 29-30. Little information emerges from those closed-door
affairs — highlighted by the fact that final statements are
remarkably similar from year to year.
But as the current group prepares to give way to a new
Assembly of Experts, it appears that a fundamentalist victory would
cement the hold of President Ahmadinejad’s allies over all
elected branches of government. On the other hand, reformist gains
would signal that a group that has been in disarray since 2003 has
returned to the political fray — and is not completely marginalized.
(Bill Samii)

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Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

The "RFE/RL Iran Report" is a weekly prepared by A. William Samii on
the basis of materials from RFE/RL broadcast services, RFE/RL
Newsline, and other news services. It is distributed every Monday.

Direct comments to A. William Samii at [email protected].
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