Saturday, August 11, 2007
Iran Update: Dissenters Executed En Masse
A crowd watches an execution in Iran's holy second city of Mashhad, 01 Aug. Separately two men convicted of murdering a top Iranian judge in 2005 were hanged in public in central Tehran on Thursday, the first such public executions in the Iranian capital in five years(AFP/ISNA)
Dissenters In Iran Executed En Masse
110 Slayings This Year, Outpacing 2006
KGO By Mark Matthews
Aug. 9, 2007 (KGO) - Public executions and mass arrests signal a continuing crackdown inside Iran. The numbers reported in Wall Street Journal Editorial this week are staggering.
Iranian experts say the government of Iran is under growing pressure, not only from the U.S. and the UN, from its own people as well. There is evidence suggesting the government of Iran is responding to that pressure.
The hangings and stonings are being photographed and posted on sites like YouTube. The men and women depicted faced charges from murder, rape and adultery.
Amnesty International reports 177 people executed last year is nearly double than the year before. This year, the mark is already 110, with an increased number in public and televised on Iranian TV.
Jamal Dajani, the director of Middle Eastern programming for Link TV in San Francisco says the executions broadcast inside Iran are meant to send a message to the Iranian people.
"Well, we're not seeing the executions here because they don't air them on satellite TV, but they are aired on some of the terrestrial networks," said Dajani.
Omid Memarian, a freelance journalist, lived in Iran up until last year working for opposition newspapers. One by one, the government shut them down, so he began blogging on the Internet.
"At this time, the Iranian government, they feel more pressure from the international community. And domestically, they are facing with lots of people's demand," said Memarian.
Memarian says Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took power promising a stronger economy, and he hasn't delivered. Thus, the religious crack down and government's show of force are in response to a growing unrest.
"It can be a huge uprising. They know potentially the social movements in Iran could become more harsh and more broader," said Memarian.
Memarian, who was himself jailed in Iran for 50 days in late 2004, says thousands have been imprisoned for speaking out. He says the U.S. should refrain from confronting Ahmadinejad because it gives the Iranian government an excuse.
"The government is using sanctions as an excuse to say okay 'because of sanctions we can not do our promises.' So you can see how even these pressures is a grant for Ahmadinejad's government to just go on," said Memarian.
Reports within Iran show the economy there is struggling, and the Iranian people are relatively pro-U.S. compared to other countries in the region.
These are reasons why, according to Memarian, the Iran government is turning to public executions.
Copyright 2007, ABC7/KGO-TV/DT.
Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi (2nd L) attends the execution by hanging of Majid Kavousifar and Hossein Kavousifar in Tehran August 2, 2007. Iran hanged Majid and Hossein, the killers of a judge, Hassan Moghaddas, who had jailed several reformist dissidents, before a crowd of hundreds of people on Thursday. The banner reads: "We give our condolences to all our judiciary colleagues and the deceased family on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hassan Moghaddas". REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN)
Iran: execution of political prisoners under the pretence of common criminals
Thursday, 26 July 2007
NCRI - On Sunday, the mullahs’ regime hanged two political prisoners among twelve other prisoners, according to information received. The regime transferred Fazel Ramezani and Haj-Morad Mohammadi, members of the Bakhtyari Tribe (southwestern Iran), from the notorious Gohardasht Prison to the Evin Prison where they were executed with ten other prisoners.
Executing political prisoners such as members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as common criminals under the pretext of drug smugglers has been a common practice in Iran.
The Iranian Resistance draws the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary General and all other international human rights organizations to the increasing number of the arbitrary executions and in particular that of the political prisoners under the pretext of common criminals. It called for designation of an international fact finding mission to investigate the executions.
Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran
July 25, 2007
Iranians watch the execution of Hossein Kavousifar and Majid Kavousifar who were hanged in public in central Tehran. The two men were convicted of murdering a top Iranian judge in 2005. Their hangings were the first such public executions in the Iranian capital in five years.(AFP/Behrouz Mehri)
Jonathan Gurwitz: The Achilles' heel in an Iran gone mad
Web Posted: 08/11/2007 12:01 PM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
Twenty years ago, the Soviet Union was on the verge of catastrophe. People who suffered under the repressive rule of the communist regime in Moscow had lost faith in its guiding ideology. Calls for internal reform met with increased internal repression.
Revenue from the energy sector had for years sustained exorbitant military expenditures and propped up the Soviet state. But in the mid-1980s, America's Arab allies flooded the market with cheap Middle Eastern crude. Ronald Reagan's "Saudi strategy" led to a collapse in the price of oil. The authoritarian dictatorship that had been preserved by Siberian oil fields soon collapsed as well.
The Cold War ended. The West had won. Not a shot was fired.
There's a country today that resembles the Soviet Union of the 1980s, one that engages the West in a reckless game of adventurism, where the people have lost faith in a revolutionary ideology, that is resorting to increasingly harsh measures to deal with dissidents and whose regime is sustained solely by oil revenue.
That country is Iran.
President Bush and the major presidential candidates of both parties are correct in saying that a military option for dealing with Iran must remain a contingency for the future. But the demise of Soviet Russia suggests there's another, better way to deal with Iran that avoids military confrontation.
The case of Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old Iranian American scholar who has been held in solitary confinement for three months in Tehran's dreaded Evin prison on charges of anti-state activity, is the best-known, but by no means the only, example of a paranoid crackdown by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on real and imagined opponents.
The regime has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Iranians in recent months for infractions of the Islamic dress code, "hooliganism" and other ethical transgressions. State security and paramilitary groups have detained and beaten university student reformers and labor union leaders.
Iran is in the midst of an execution craze. The Iranian government has put to death more than 150 people this year, including women and juveniles. Most of the executions are public hangings, some broadcast on television. Iran expert Amir Taheri writes that 150 more are scheduled to be hanged or stoned to death in coming weeks.
The heightened repression, televised confessions and executions — not so subtle reminders of the lethally coercive powers of the state — come amid signs of economic unrest, rising unemployment and inflation and declining oil production. While Iran is still OPEC's second-largest exporter of crude oil, it is a net importer of refined petroleum products, including gasoline. When the government was forced to institute gas rationing in June, rioting broke out.
There's no Saudi option today with regard to Iran. The demand for energy from a robust international economy means that even if OPEC's other producers open their spigots to capacity, the price of oil won't appreciably decline. But domestic discontent and economic fragility point to the mullah's Achilles' heel.
In conjunction with U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolutions that freeze the assets of entities and individuals involved in Iran's illicit nuclear program, Congress is seeking to broaden the economic front against Tehran. The Bush administration has already had success pressuring international financial institutions to cut their ties with Tehran. Proposed congressional measures would place sanctions on European energy companies — such as Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total and Spain's Repsol — for doing business in Iran.
European governments object that this would hamper efforts to moderate Iranian extremism. Engagement, as they call it, is, however, a thin veneer for doing business at any price.
The West can deal with Iran's nuclear weapons program and support for international terrorism without ever firing a shot. But those who aren't willing to work the economic lever make a teetering Iran more durable and dangerous than it otherwise ought to be.
DOMESTIC TERROR IN IRAN
by Amir Taheri
Wall Street Journal
August 6, 2007
It is early dawn as seven young men are led to the gallows amid shouts of "Allah Akbar" (Allah is the greatest) from a crowd of bearded men as a handful of women, all in hijab, ululate to a high pitch. A few minutes later, the seven are hanged as a mullah shouts: "Alhamd li-Allah" (Praise be to Allah).
The scene was Wednesday in Mashad, Iran's second most populous city, where a crackdown against "anti-Islam hooligans" has been under way for weeks.
[Domestic Terror in Iran]
Five convicted criminals are hung in Mashad, Iran, on Wednesday Aug. 1, 2007.
The Mashad hangings, broadcast live on local television, are among a series of public executions ordered by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month as part of a campaign to terrorize an increasingly restive population. Over the past six weeks, at least 118 people have been executed, including four who were stoned to death. According to Saeed Mortazavi, the chief Islamic prosecutor, at least 150 more people, including five women, are scheduled to be hanged or stoned to death in the coming weeks.
The latest wave of executions is the biggest Iran has suffered in the same time span since 1984, when thousands of opposition prisoners were shot on orders from Ayatollah Khomeini.
Not all executions take place in public. In the provinces of Kurdistan and Khuzestan, where ethnic Kurdish and Arab minorities are demanding greater rights, several activists have been put to death in secret, their families informed only days after the event.
The campaign of terror also includes targeted "disappearances" designed to neutralize trade union leaders, student activists, journalists and even mullahs opposed to the regime. According to the latest tally, more than 30 people have "disappeared" since the start of the new Iranian year on March 21. To intimidate the population, the authorities also have carried out mass arrests on spurious grounds.
According to Gen. Ismail Muqaddam, commander of the Islamic Police, a total of 430,000 men and women have been arrested on charges related to drug use since April. A further 4,209 men and women, mostly aged between 15 and 30, have been arrested for "hooliganism" in Tehran alone. The largest number of arrests, totaling almost a million men and women according to Mr. Muqaddam, were related to the enforcement of the new Islamic Dress Code, passed by the Islamic Majlis (parliament) in May 2006.
Most of those arrested, he says, spent a few hours, or at most a few days, in custody as "a warning." By last week, 40,000 were still in prison. Of these, 20,363 men and women are held on charges related to violating the Islamic Dress Code. According to the Deputy Chief of Police Gen. Hussein Zulfiqari, an additional 6,204 men and women are in prison on charges of "sexual proximity" without being married.
The wave of arrests has increased pressure on the nation's inadequate prison facilities. At a recent press conference in Tehran, the head of the National Prisons Service, Ali-Akbar Yassaqi, appealed for a moratorium on arrests. He said Iran's official prisons could not house more than 50,000 prisoners simultaneously while the actual number of prisoners at any given time was above 150,000. Mr. Yassaqi also revealed that each year on average some 600,000 Iranians spend some time in one of the 130 official prisons.
Since Mr. Ahmadinejad ordered the crackdown, work on converting 41 official buildings to prisons has started, with contracts for 33 other prisons already signed. Nevertheless, Mr. Yassaqi believes that, with the annual prison population likely to top the million mark this year, even the new capacities created might prove insufficient.
There are, however, an unknown number of unofficial prisons as well, often controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or militias working for various powerful mullahs. Last week, human rights activists in Iran published details of a new prison in Souleh, northwest of Tehran, staffed by militants from the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah. According to the revelations, the Souleh prison is under the control of the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi, and used for holding the regime's most "dangerous" political foes.
The regime especially fears the growing free trade union movement. In the past four months, free trade unionists have organized 12 major strikes and 47 demonstrations in various parts of the country. They showed their muscle on International Labor Day on May 1 when tens of thousands of workers marched in Tehran and 18 provincial capitals. The regime retaliated by arresting scores of trade unionists and expelling many others.
According to Rajab-Ali Shahsavari, leader of the Union of Contractual Workers, 25,795 unionists have been fired since April. He estimates that now over 1,000 workers are losing their jobs each day, as the regime intensifies its crackdown.
Worse still, the number of suspicious deaths among workers has risen to an all-time high. According to Deputy Labor Minister Ibrahim Nazari-Jalali, 1,047 workers have died in "work-related accidents" since April. Labor sources, however, point out that none of the accidents have been investigated and, in at least 13 cases, the workers who died may have been killed by goons hired by the regime.
The biggest purge of universities since Khomeini launched his "Islamic Cultural Revolution" in 1980 is also under way. Scores of student leaders have been arrested and more than 3,000 others expelled. Labeling the crackdown the "corrective movement," Mr. Ahmadinejad wants university textbooks rewritten to "cleanse them of Infidel trash," and to include "a rebuttal of Zionist-Crusader claims" about the Holocaust. Dozens of lecturers and faculty deans have been fired.
The nationwide crackdown is accompanied with efforts to cut Iranians off from sources of information outside the Islamic Republic. More than 4,000 Internet sites have been blocked, and more are added each day. The Ministry of Islamic Orientation has established a new blacklist of authors and book titles twice longer than what it was a year ago. Since April, some 30 newspapers and magazines have been shut and their offices raided. At least 17 journalists are in prison, two already sentenced to death by hanging.
The regime is trying to mobilize its shrinking base by claiming that the Islamic Republic is under threat from internal and external foes. It was in that context that the four Iranian-American hostages held in Tehran were forced to make televised "confessions" last month about alleged plots to foment a "velvet revolution."
Over 40 people have been arrested on charges of espionage since April, 20 in the southern city of Shiraz. Khomeinist paranoia reached a new peak last week when the authorities announced, through the Islamic Republic News Agency, the capture of four squirrels in the Western city of Kermanshah and claimed that the furry creatures had been fitted with "espionage devices" by the Americans in Iraq and smuggled into the Islamic Republic.
Mr. Ahmadinejad likes to pretend that he has no worries except "Infidel plots" related to the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions. The truth is that, faced with growing popular discontent, the Khomeinist clique is vulnerable and worried, extremely worried. The outside world would do well to carefully monitor and, whenever possible, support the Iranian people's fight against the fascist regime in Tehran.
Iran today is not only about atomic bombs and Iranian-American hostages. It is also about a growing popular movement that may help bring the nation out of the dangerous impasse created by the mullahs.
Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).
A masked Iranian policeman tightens the noose around the neck of Hossein Kavousifar in central Tehran. Kavousifar and his nephew Majid were hanged from cranes, watched by a large crowd which gathered to witness the first public executions in the capital in five years. The two men were convicted of murdering an Iranian judge.(AFP/Behrouz Mehri)
IRANIAN WORKERS ARE ON THE MARCH
by Amir Taheri
August 1, 2007
The way part of the Western left portrays Iran, one would believe that here we have a progressive regime opposed by small numbers of rich reactionaries beholden to the United States.
Blinded by anti-Americanism, the so-called left in the US and the European Union fails to see the true nature of the current struggle in Iran.
American intellectuals of the left such as Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Noam Chomsky have persuaded themselves that anyone who shouts "Death to America!" is fighting for "repressed humanity" and worthy of support.
For their part, the champagne and caviar socialists of Paris and London, claim that the only Iranians who oppose the mullahs are middle class intellectuals often with dual Iranian-American citizenship and, thus, deserving of being seized and tortured as hostages in Tehran.
The truth, however, is that the Islamic Republic, far from representing the mass of the Iranian poor, is an instrument of domination for a new class of rulers who control the national economy through oil revenues that account for almost 30 per cent of the gross domestic product and some 70 per cent of the national budget.
Over the past quarter of a century, the mullahs and their relatives, plus a few thousand military and security officers have shaped into a nomenclature. They have the best jobs, receive the most favours and enjoy priority in access to goods, services, and opportunities for social climbing.
The pre-revolution middle classes formed over 150 years have all but dissolved into poverty with, a good part finding refuge in exile.
Today, there are an estimated 6.5 million Iranians, almost 10 per cent of the total population of the country, in the Gulf region, Europe, Canada, the US and Latin America.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), more than 150,000 highly educated members of the Iranian middle class flee the country each year, creating "the biggest recorded brain drain in history".
The most serious challenge to the new ruling class of mullahs and military-cum-security officials comes from segments of society that the left labels "the popular masses". Spearheading the fight are groups of industrial workers who have started to flex their muscles in the past two to three years.
Next week, these workers will confront President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration through a series of one-hour strikes designed as a show of solidarity with imprisoned trade unionists.
According to the Workers' Organisations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC) over 600 labour leaders have been arrested or "made to disappear" in a crackdown against independent trade unions that started last April.
A further 4,500 workers have been dismissed, often without pay, on vague charges of "fomenting unrest" in a number of state-owned building projects.
The largest number of arrests were made during the May 1 International Labour Day marches organised by independent trade unions in defiance of the state-sponsored ceremonies.
Next week's protests, however, will focus on two prominent independent trade unionists who symbolise Iran's growing labour movement.
The first is Mahmoud Salehi, leader of the Union of Bakery Workers in Sanandaj, capital of Iranian Kurdistan. Salehi was picked up on April 9 when security men raided his home, beat up his family and carried him to an unknown destination.
The second is Mansour Osanloo, president of the Tehran Bus Workers Union. He was abducted in Tehran on July 10 on a busy Tehran street and ended up in Evin Prison, known as "The Islamic Alcatraz".
Salehi has never been formally charged while rumours about his alleged misdeeds are spread through the state-controlled media.
According to these patently absurd rumours, Salehi is a member of the Kurdish Communist Party (Komalah), is seeking to detach the province from Iran and is, at the same time, working with the US to bring "Jewish-Crusader democracy" to Iran.
The authorities have already disbanded the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA), an independent service covering the free trade union movement. They have also arrested 32 WOACC militants, including six members of the executive board of the Tehran Bus drivers' syndicate.
Despite the repressive measures, the labour movement seems to be picking momentum.
A group of WOACC leaders has written to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director General Juan Somavia, calling for an international committee of enquiry to investigate the repression of Iranian workers' movement.
The good news is that Western trade unionists are beginning to pay attention to the struggle of their fellow-workers in Iran. Several European trade unions have already called for Salehi, Osanloo, and other Iranian trade unionists to be released. There is some hope that American labour will also join.
Somewhere along the line, the Western left may also realise that it has been duped by a few anti-American slogans into supporting a regime that is dedicated to destroying whatever progressive ideals it once espoused.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.
Iranian police officers escort Majid Kavoosifar (C) to his execution by hanging in Tehran August 2, 2007. Iran hanged Majid and Hossein Kavoosifar, the killers of a judge who had jailed several reformist dissidents, before a crowd of hundreds of people on Thursday. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi (IRAN)
Iranian policemen prepare Majid Kavousifar (C) for his execution by hanging in Tehran August 2, 2007. Iran hanged Majid and Hossein, the killers of a judge who had jailed several reformist dissidents, before a crowd of hundreds of people on Thursday. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi (IRAN)
Majid Kavousifar (L) waves to the crowd before his execution by hanging in Tehran August 2, 2007. Iran hanged Majid and Hossein Kavousifar, the killers of a judge who had jailed several reformist dissidents, before a crowd of hundreds of people on Thursday. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi (IRAN)
REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi (IRAN)
A SPECTER IS HAUNTING IRAN
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
August 1, 2007
Penn: Sides with Iran's oppressors. Penn: Sides with Iran's oppressors. August 1, 2007 -- THE way part of the West ern left portrays Iran, you'd think that it's a pro gressive regime opposed by a few rich reactionaries beholden to the United States.
American leftists like Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Noam Chomsky have persuaded themselves that anyone who shouts "Death to America!" is fighting for "repressed humanity." The champagne-and-caviar socialists of Paris and London, meanwhile, claim that the only Iranians who oppose the mullahs are middle-class intellectuals who often have dual Iranian-U.S. citizenship - and, thus, deserve to be tortured in Tehran as hostages.
In truth, however, the Islamic Republic, far from representing the poor masses of Iran, is an instrument of domination for a new class of rulers who control the national economy through oil revenues.
Over the last quarter-century, the mullahs and their relatives, plus and a few thousand military and security officers, have morphed into a nomenclatura. They have the best jobs, receive the most favors and enjoy priority access to goods, services and opportunities for social advancement.
The pre-revolution middle classes, formed over 150 years, have all but dissolved into poverty, with a good part finding refuge in exile. An estimated 6.5 million Iranians, almost 10 percent of the country's population, have emigrated. The International Monetary Fund reports that more than 150,000 educated Iranians flee the country each year, "the biggest brain drain in history."
In fact, the most serious challenge to the new ruling class comes from what the left labels "the popular masses." Spearheading the fight are groups of urban workers who have started to flex their muscles in the last two to three years.
Starting next Thursday, these workers will confront President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration through a series of one-hour strikes to show solidarity with imprisoned trade unionists.
The regime began a crackdown on independent trade unions last April. The Workers' Organizations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC) notes that more than 600 labor leaders have been arrested or "made to disappear." Another 4,500 workers have been dismissed, often without pay, on vague charges of "fomenting unrest" at various state-owned projects. The largest number of arrests came at the May 1 International Labor Day marches organized by the WOACC, representing independent trade unionists, in defiance of state-sponsored ceremonies.
Next week's protests, however, will focus on two imprisoned independent union men:
* Mahmoud Salehi, leader of the Union of Bakery Workers in Sanandaj, the capital of Iranian Kurdistan, was arrested April 9. Security men raided his home, beat up his family and carried him to an unknown destination.
* Mansour Osanloo, president of the Tehran Bus Workers' Union, was abducted July 10 on a Tehran street and thrown into Evin Prison, "The Islamic Alcatraz."
Salehi's wife, Najibeh, says the union leader is seriously ill; rumors claim that one of his kidneys collapsed after weeks of torture designed to force him to offer televised "confessions."
Salehi has not been formally charged; meanwhile, the state-controlled media spread false rumors - that he is a member of the Kurdish Communist Party, wants to detach the province from Iran and is working with Washington to bring "Jewish-Crusader democracy" to Iran.
Salehi, 45, is a charismatic figure and magnetic orator. He started as an apprentice baker at aged 14, and in 2004 rose to become a founder of the city's independent bakery workers' union. A year later, he organized a "Day Without Bread" in support of hundreds of Kurdish intellectuals, teachers and workers imprisoned, often without charge.
Later, Salehi achieved national stature by emerging as a key figure in creating WOACC, Iran's first independent nationwide organization of workers, with branches in 18 of Iran's 30 provinces.
The day Osanlou was arrested, he had presided over a meeting of his executive committee that rejected new government rules. These ordered bus drivers and conductors not to admit passengers who violate the Islamic Dress Code, passed into law last May, and to restrict women passengers to buses' back seats.
Osanloo's lawyer, Parviz Khorshid, says that he hasn't been allowed to visit his client and that his demand for a medical examination of the prisoner was rejected.
The authorities have already disbanded the Iran Labor News Agency, an independent service covering the free union movement. They have also arrested 32 WOACC militants.
Despite the repression, the movement seems to be picking up momentum. A strike has shut down the textile factories Sanandaj, Salehi's hometown. In Asaluyeh, on the Persian Gulf, described by many as "the largest labor camp in the world," the estimated 150,000 workers at a dozen oil and gas projects are expected to walk out.
Dozens of state-owned factories have come to a standstill as a result of strikes in Arak, Kermanshah, Alborz, Qazvin, Bushehr, Sari and several other cities.
The good news is that Western trade unionists are beginning to pay attention to the struggle of their fellow workers. Several European unions have called for Salehi, Osanloo and other Iranian trade unionists to be released. There is some hope that American labor will follow.
Somewhere along the line, the Western left may realize that it has been duped by a few anti-American slogans into supporting a regime that is dedicated to destroying whatever progressive ideals it once espoused.
Haleh Esfandiari in an undated handout photo. Iran's state television on Monday broadcast images of two detained Iranian-American academics, including Esfandiari, apparently confessing to accusations of acting against the Islamic state's national security and spying. REUTERS/Woodrow Wilson Center/Handout
IRAN: THE CONSPIRACY THAT WASN'T
. . . THOUGH IT DOES SEEM A FINE IDEA
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
July 20, 2007
Esfandiari: Hardly a "foreign plotter." Esfandiari
July 20, 2007 -- EVER since its creation in 1979, the Islamic Republic in Iran has been obsessed with conspiracy theories, especially "foreign plots" to topple it. This paranoia was demonstrated again Wednesday with the televised confessions of two U.S. citizens of Iranian origin arrested in Tehran and accused of working for the "Great Satan."
To most Iranians who watched the sordid show, the two "enemies of Islam" seemed unlikely heroes of an international conspiracy. Haleh Esfandiari-Bakhash, 67, is a petite grandmother who works for a Washington think tank; Kian Tajbakhsh, a 40-something researcher working for a foundation created by billionaire George Soros.
According to Tehran state-controlled media, the two went to Iran as part of a U.S. plot to promote a "velvet revolution." Yet their TV confessions were so obviously forced that even the Public Prosecutor's Office in Tehran has distanced itself from them. A spokesman for the office told reporters: "The confessions must be regarded as a television production. . . . What the accused said on TV is not related to actual charges against them."
What is really going on?
Frequent visitors to Iran, the two had never been molested before. Both belong to groups opposed to regime change in Iran and critical of the Bush policy of challenging the Islamic Republic.
Esfandiari works for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars - whose director, ex-Rep. Lee Hamilton, has championed normalization with the Islamic Republic for decades. He was a key member of the Iraq Study Group, which urged the opening of a dialogue with Tehran practically on terms demanded by the mullahs.
And Hamilton built his position partly on Esfandiari's advice. The Woodrow Wilson Center has organized numerous workshops on Iran, but seldom invited regime opponents. Its guiding principle was that the Islamic Republic is what most Iranians want, and that America should help the "moderate faction" in Tehran.
Esfandiari's writings on Iran over three decades could be described as sympathetic to the Islamic revolution, although critical of some regime policies, especially on women's issues.
Soros, meanwhile, is an open opponent of Bush's policy on Iran. He has met a number of "moderate Khomeinists," indicating support for their faction. In 2004, he poured $15 million into support for Sen. John Kerry's presidential hopes. Soros would be the last person to want to overthrow the mullahs and hand Bush his biggest victory.
Both Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have always denounced the anti-mullah opposition as nostalgia-stricken monarchists, residual leftists or worse. Both always refused to grant interviews to Iranian-opposition TV and radio shows beamed from Los Angeles, or to even the U.S.-funded Voice of America. Whatever the two were up to, they did not go to Iran to help liberate it from the Khomeinists.
Some have tried to pin the arrests on feuds within the regime. In this analysis, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his radical faction feared that the two Americans were looking to help the "moderate faction" (led by ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani) make a comeback in next year's general election.
Yet Esfandiari hasn't lived in Iran for more than 32 years; she hardly knows enough people to create a "network" for any conspiracy. Similarly, Tajbakhsh hasn't lived in Iran since his teens.
In fact, the two were easy prey for a predatory regime that, unsure of the popular mood, increasingly fears its own shadow. Their illegal arrest and inhuman treatment is part of a broader campaign by the radical revolutionary faction to terrorize its enemies inside Iran and confuse adversaries abroad.
* In recent weeks, some 150,000 women and young men have been arrested, fined, beaten up or kept in prison for days on charges of contravening the Islamic Dress Code enacted last May.
* A massive purge of the universities is under way, with thousands of students, teachers and faculty deans shown the door for allegedly "un-Islamic" sentiments. Over 400 students and teachers are reportedly held in various parts of the country without being charged.
* A state of emergency has been declared in parts of four western provinces, where ethnic minorities live, and in parts of the southeast bordering Pakistan.
* At least 30 trade unionists have been arrested and one of Iran's best-known labor leaders, Mansour Osanloo, abducted by agents of the regime. A news agency covering labor in Iran has been shut down and its assets seized.
* Dozens of newspapers and magazines have been shut and the black list of authors and books has been extended to include hundreds more names and titles.
* Several prominent figures of the rival faction, including a brother of ex-President Muhammad Khatami, face show trials on charges resembling those against Tajbakhsh and Esfandiari.
* Ahmadinejad's faction has also launched a campaign of blackmail against Rafsanjani and his entourage, including Khatami, by threatening to publish details of their alleged corruption and misuse of public funds between 1989 and 2005.
When Tajbakhsh and Esfandiari traveled to Iran a few months ago, they may have believed it would be just another visit to their former homeland. They didn't appreciate the fact that Ahmadinejad means what he says: His "second revolution" is preparing for war against the Iranian middle classes at home and the Western democracies abroad.
The episode underscores two facts: First, no dialogue is possible with a regime that demands nothing short of total submission at home and abroad. Second, the regime feels weak enough to fear a "velvet revolution" led by women, workers, students and, ultimately, even the more moderate clergy. Hmm . . . maybe someone will try it, even though the two captive Americans did not.
IRAN ABDUCTS UNION MAN
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
July 12, 2007
July 12, 2007 -- ONE of Iran's most popular civil-society leaders was ab ducted in Tehran on Tues day after chairing a meeting of trade unionists.
Mansour Osanloo, the 48-year-old president of the Union of Bus Drivers (SKSV), had just stepped off a bus when a group of bearded men emerged from a gray Peugeot and attacked him with clubs and knuckle-dusters.
Shouting, "You are an enemy of Islam," the attackers pushed him into the car and drove away. Witnesses said Osanloo was severely beaten, and his attackers continued to beat him even after they had forced him into their car.
Passengers on the bus, which had halted, tried to restrain the attackers but were held back at gunpoint.
Osanloo's friends and relatives say that secret-service agents had followed him round the clock since his return from Europe last month. On that visit, he addressed a number of international labor meetings in London, Brussels and Geneva.
In 2004, Osanloo helped create one of the first independent trade unions in Iran since the mullahs' 1979 seizure of power. He has led two successful transit-worker strikes, forcing the state-owned bus company to offer concessions.
Other workers have followed his example, creating over 400 independent trade unions with an estimated 1.5 million members. Earlier this year, the independent unions set up the Workers' Organizations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC) to foster unity of action. On May 1 (International Labor Day) the WOACC held the first independent workers' marches in Tehran and 11 other major cities since 1979.
Osanloo, regarded by some as "Iran's Lech Walesa," has been abducted by paramilitaries working for the government before. He's also been imprisoned twice, including a spell at Evin, the dreaded "Islamic Alcatraz."
Osanloo has been careful not to give Iran's emerging labor movement a political coloring, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regards the union leader as a threat, for the authorities fear the growth of an independent labor movement.
Workers in independent unions are still no more than 5 percent of wage earners in Iran. Most workers are either not unionized or drafted as members of unions controlled via so-called "Islamic committees."
Osanloo especially angered the authorities with his success in mobilizing international support for the Iranian labor movement. They released him from prison earlier this, and let him go to Europe for the annual conference of the International Transport Workers Federation. His friends believe the authorities had hoped that he would stay in Europe, joining other former dissidents in exile. But Osanloo had no such intention.
In London, he made a passionate appeal to workers throughout the world to support their Iranian counterparts in their quest for decent wages, human working conditions and freedom of association. In Brussels, he met leaders of the General Council of the International Trades Union Conference and managed to "open their eyes to the realities workers' conditions in the Islamic Republic," says one of his friends in Tehran.
For a quarter-century, appeals to Western labor leaders to support their Iranian working-class brethren had fallen on deaf ears, because the Tehran regime was seen as a revolutionary set-up backed by the "toiling masses." Osanloo altered that perception, persuading at least some Western unionists that suspicion or even hatred of America shouldn't translate into support for the Iranian regime in its repression of workers.
Osanloo also convinced the leaders of the International Labor Organization (of which Iran is full member) to oppose Ahmadinejad's new draft Labor Code. This would abolish virtually every right won by Iranian workers over decades of struggle, and impose rules that WOACC calls "conditions for slave labor, not employment in a free society."
Is Osanloo's abduction related to the meeting he had just chaired? The meeting certainly did two things that the authorities do not like: It condemned the government's announcement that it had "dismissed" and taken into custody six SKSV leaders. And it refused a government demand that bus drivers assume responsibility for imposing stricter "hijab" rules by keeping women passengers limited to the two back seats and forcing women "not dressed according Islamic codes" off any bus.
Osanloo told the meeting that it was not up to the government to decide who should lead the union, and called for the immediate release of his colleagues. He also recalled that a bus driver's task was to drive his passengers to their destinations safely, not to select them according to what they wear.
Mansour Osanloo is a voice for wisdom, moderation and peaceful change in a society ridden by potentially explosive contradictions. To silence that voice would be a tragic loss for Iran's future.
LABOR BATTLES IN IRAN
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
June 27, 2007
June 27, 2007 -- SOME Western commentators have called him "the Iranian Lech Walesa," after the Polish trade unionist who helped bring down the communist empire. The mullahs ruling Iran, however, regard him as "a dangerous enemy of Islam."
The man himself - Mansoor Osanloo, a 48-year-old leader of one of the many illegal trade unions that have sprung up in Iran in the last few years - shies way from both sobriquets.
"We do not have a political agenda," he says. "All we are asking for is for Iranian workers to be treated as free human beings, not as slaves."
Osanloo first made his name in 2004 when, along with 14 fellow workers, he created the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran United Bus Company. Within weeks, most employees of the company - which is owned by the Tehran municipality and controlled by the Interior Ministry - had joined the new union. That left the so-called Islamic Workers' Council, a re- gime-sponsored organ imposed in many industries as an ersatz union, exposed and isolated.
Workers across the country soon emulated the Tehran example. On May Day, more than 400 free trade unions, boasting a membership of millions, raised their banners in the capital.
Osanloo and his colleagues were among the founders of the Workers' Organizations and Activists Coordination Council, which is emerging as the principal voice of wage earners - especially in the pubic sector, which accounts for more than 70 percent of Iran's economy.
The emergence of independent unions has meant the demise of "Islamic councils" in many workplaces and the virtual death of the so-called Workers' House set up by the mullahs to control labor. The free unions have chased away hundreds of mullahs who headed the Islamic councils, often enjoying high salaries and perks.
Osanloo was first jailed in 2005, after his union launched an original form of labor action: Tehran bus workers announced free rides for all comers. When the authorities sent in armed security men, the workers went on strike - bringing Tehran, a city of 12 million inhabitants, to a virtual halt.
The authorities then tried terror and intimidation. A group of 300 members of the Iranian branch of Hezbollah, armed with clubs and knives, attacked Osanloo and his colleagues and beat up their families, including small children. Osanloo suffered knife wounds, including a deep cut in his tongue, inflicted by a Hezbollah member who had vowed to "silence the enemy of Islam."
A partial return to work was soon interrupted when bus drivers refused to implement a new rule under which women passengers were confined to back seats on the buses - which, in practice, meant that more than 80 percent of the seats in Tehran's double-decker buses were reserved for men.
Anxious to prevent a prolonged strike, the authorities released Osanloo eight months later, only to rearrest him, again without charge.
This February, he was presented at a one-day trial held in camera. "They had a file against me running into 1,300 dense pages," Osanloo says. "I wonder how the judge could go through all that in a single day."
Released from prison in March on a bail of $325,000, (a huge fortune in the Islamic Republic), Osanloo was allowed to travel to London and Brussels earlier this month to address the annual conferences of he International Transport Workers Federation and the International Trade Unions Conference.
Having spent almost a year in Tehran's dreaded Evin Prison - known as the "Islamic Alcatraz" - on two occasions, Osanloo risks being rearrested and jailed at any moment. But if the Tehran authorities hoped that allowing him to visit abroad might tempt him to stay in exile, they'll be disappointed. He has no intention of throwing in the towel.
"We are at the start of a long struggle," he told me in Brussels. "We are fighting for what is a basic human right: the right of workers to organize themselves in free and independent trade unions and negotiate conditions under which they accept employment."
The current administration in the Islamic Republic considers such talk as "dangerous for the faith and the state." President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has unveiled a new draft labor code under which Iranian workers would lose almost all the rights they had secured over decades of struggle and as a result of Iran's membership of the International Labor Organization.
The philosophy behind Ahmadinejad's position is simple: The division of people into employees and employers is a "Jewish-Crusader" invention. In Islam, employers and employees are part of the umma (the community of faithful), bound by divine laws that can't be questioned, let alone amended.
If enacted into law, the proposed code would outlaw the formation of unions; abolish the minimum wage and allow employers to fire any worker they wished instantly and without compensation.
The avalanche loosened by the Tehran transport workers more than two years ago has continued with hundreds of strikes, sit-ins and other industrial actions throughout Iran. An estimated 100,000 workers are now on strike in a range of industries, from textile factories in the Caspian region to sugar plantations in the southwest province of Khuzestan.
"Iranian workers are discovering their power," Osanloo says. "The authorities would be wise to acknowledge that power and address the legitimate grievances of workers. At present, however, there is no sign that this is the case."
IRAN: GENERALS WHO FEAR A FIGHT
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
June 12, 2007
June 12, 2007 -- IN Persian mythology, no warrior worth his salt would enter battle before indulging in a good dose of rajaz. Put simply, rajaz translates as boasting.
The term, however, encompasses other meanings. The hero steps into the battlefield, draws his sword, swirls several times and then stops to address the adversary who has likewise taken up position. He might recite an ode recalling the martial deeds of his ancestors. Or he might declaim a satirical sonnet mocking the enemy.
In the modern military lexicon, rajaz functions as psychological warfare.
Against that background, recent statements by several key figures in the Khomeinist leadership can be seen as rajaz. These figures appear to have bought into President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's theory that a limited war against the United States is inevitable and that, once fought, will result in the Americans running away, leaving Tehran to set the agenda for the Middle East and even beyond.
What's odd, however, is that the Islamic Republic's top brass apparently don't share Ahmadinejad's belief that a duel with the United States would be short and sweet, let alone that it would end with Tehran's victory.
Take Gen. Yayha Safavi, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He has devoted his recent statements to reminding everyone that the Islamic Republic's military machine isn't prepared for a major war with the United States and its regional allies. To be sure, Safavi repeats some of the childish slogans about "humbling the Great Satan" and turning the Middle East into "the graveyard of global arrogance." If one reads between the lines, however, his message is clear: Provoking a major war could be suicidal for the Islamic Republic.
Defense Minister Muhammad Pour-Najjar, another senior Revolutionary Guard officer, echoes that message. In Tehran last week, he claimed that, if attacked, the Islamic Republic could launch "a storm of missiles" against U.S. interests in the region. But he didn't promise "the clear victory" (fatah al-mobin) that Ahmadinejad has hinted at on occasions. By rajaz standards, Pour-Najjar's statement sounded more like a cryptic call for avoiding war.
As if on cue, a similar message has come from Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the former defense minister and current chairman of the High Council of Strategic Defense. Shamkhani, also a Guard commander, has gone out of his way to deny reports that the Islamic Republic intended to launch missiles against Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, Persian Gulf states that host U.S. military bases. Shamkhani's intervention is significant because it appears to be aimed at countering one of Ahmadinejad's principal threats against Iran's neighbors.
The only senior Revolutionary Guard commander who echoes Ahmadinejad's rajaz is Brig.-Gen. Muhammad-Baqer Zulqadr, the deputy Interior minister for security and the bete noire of liberals in Tehran. In a speech over the weekend, Zulqadr boasted about the Islamic Republic's arsenal of missiles and claimed that the new generation of Shahab-III missiles has a range of up to 1,200 miles. Even Zulqadr, however - regarded as the most radical Guard commander - dropped hints that it wouldn't be in the Islamic Republic's interest to provoke an unequal war.
Why should Revolutionary Guard commanders anxiously distance themselves from Ahmadinejad? After all, the radical president, himself a former IRGC member, was their handpicked candidate in the presidential election of 2005.
Ahmadinejad's political rivals, including Hashemi Rafsanjani, the mullah whom he defeated, claim that the Revolutionary Guard filled the ballot boxes to ensure its candidate's victory. Rafsanjani also claims that the Guard engineered Ahmadinejad's victory to strengthen its hold on Iran's state-dominated economy. Guard commanders now account for a good part of Iran's entrepreneurial elite. Some analysts believe that the IRGC has replaced the Shiite clergy as the wealthiest stratum of Iranian society.
Muhammad Khatami, the mullah who preceded Ahmadinejad as president, had prepared a massive privatization program aimed at transferring state-owned assets worth $18 billion to private companies controlled by mullahs and their partners in the bazaars. The idea was to limit the IRGC's economic clout and restore the balance of economic power in favor of the clergy and the traditional merchant classes.
Ahmadinejad has redesigned the privatization scheme in order to enable the Revolutionary Guard to secure a major share. The IRGC feels grateful for the favor - but not to the point of endorsing his strategy of provoking war with the United States.
The Guard's commanders prefer a strategy of low-intensity operations and proxy wars against the United States and its regional allies, notably Israel. Shamkhani has described the strategy as one of "bleeding the enemy slowly over a long period."
Low-intensity operations and proxy wars sap the morale of the enemy without giving it a pretext for using its superior military might against the Islamic Republic. There's no guarantee that any full-scale war wouldn't transmute into regime change.
The Guard has a more specific cause for concern. It knows that, in case of a major war, it would be the principal target of U.S. attacks. The Americans could leave the Iranian regular army intact while dismantling the Guard's network of bases and strategic assets. The Guard's destruction could leave the "mullahrchy" defenseless and vulnerable to a power grab by the regular army in alliance with the political opponents of Khomeinism.
Iran might become then another Iraq, as far as the United States is concerned. But Ahmadinejad and his IRGC backers could end up where Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist cohorts did.
We're faced with a paradox. The Revolutionary Guard is behind almost all of the mischief that the Islamic Republic has accomplished in the region in the past 25 years. Right now, however, it's the key opponent of full-scale war with America. Its commanders, smoothed by years of power, are not as idealistic - which is to say, as suicidal - as Ahmadinejad.
The question is whether the Revolutionary Guard could act in time, perhaps by forcing Ahmadinejad's ouster, to prevent what it regards as the worst-case scenario for the regime.
LEBANON FIGHTING A 'MESSAGE' FROM IRAN
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
May 23, 2007
May 23, 2007 -- KUNDUZ, northern Afghanistan: A series of suicide attacks against civilians and NATO forces break the calm the city has enjoyed since 2002.
Tripoli, northern Lebanon: A little-known terrorist group called Fatah al-Islam (Victory of Islam) attacks the Lebanese army from a Palestinian refugee camp, breaking the peace that the city has enjoyed since 1990.
Mandali, eastern Iraq: Terrorists dressed in military uniforms go on a rampage, killing dozens of civilians, blowing up a few buildings and ending the peace that the city had enjoyed since May 2003.
Jask Peninsula, the Gulf of Oman: Small, unidentified boats harass a unit of Task Force 150, the 21-nation flotilla charged with a U.N. mission of stopping arms-smuggling into the Gulf region.
Gaza: Unknown gunmen break a cease-fire accord worked out by Saudi Arabia between Hamas and Fatah, triggering what looks like a burgeoning Palestinian civil war. At the same time, Islamic Jihad, which was not a party to the Mecca accord, resumes rocket attacks against Israel.
What's interesting about all these incidents is that none involved the usual suspects.
Start with Kunduz, the only Pushtun-majority city in northern Afghanistan. The attacks it has seen in recent days did not come from the Taliban, which has never had a real base of support there. The culprit was Hizb Islami, a Pushtun radical group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. And where does Hekmatyar operate from? He has been protected, armed and financed by Tehran since 1992.
What about Mandali? This Shiite-majority city has enjoyed the reputation of being the calmest place in Iraq since liberation. It's virtually impossible for al Qaeda or any other Sunni terror outfit to enter it without being spotted immediately. So how did a terror unit manage to come, kill and flee? Well, Mandali is close to the border with Iran, and it was in that direction that the terrorists escaped after their murderous operation.
As for Tripoli, the stronghold of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community, it's unlikely that the terror group could find a genuine base within the local population. Fatah al-Islam, a recent actor on the Leb- anese scene, consists almost exclusively of non-Lebanese Arab fighters.
So how did these men get into Lebanon? Well, Lebanon has two neighbors: Israel and Syria. It's not hard to imagine how these guys got to Tripoli. And is it possible that someone in Damascus would want to push Lebanon toward a new civil war without coordinating with Syria's principal ally, the Islamic Republic in Tehran?
What about the game of cat-and-mouse played by small, armed boats against the patrol boats of the U.S.-led multinational force in the Gulf of Oman?
Well, only two navies operate in that in that part of the waterway close to the Strait of Hormuz - those of of the United States and of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Wouldn't it be logical to assume that the intimidating boats operate from the Iranian coast and seek shelter there after each provocative maneuver?
The fighting in Gaza is also shrouded by mystery. It's clear that the Hamas government led by Ismail Haniyah didn't want it. But it's equally clear that Hamas' "Supreme Guide" Khalid Mishaal, who lives in Damascus and listens to Tehran, believes that a big showdown is coming between the U.S.-led "Infidel" forces and the Iranian-led "forces of Islamic revolution," and that his movement must put itself on the right side. As for Islamic Jihad, everyone knows that it was created with Iranian money in the mid-1980s and has always been Tehran's principal Palestinian client.
All this, of course, may sound like circumstantial evidence. But a careful reading of recent statements made by the Khomeinist leadership in Tehran would show that the Islamic Republic and its regional allies, including Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Hizb Islami and a dozen lesser-known radical outfits, have decided to pass on a message. The message has three themes:
* Radical Islam in the region is not controlled solely by al Qaeda and its allied groups and that the Khomeinist movement and its clients remain as potent as ever.
* The U.S.-led efforts to build a regional alliance against Tehran will provoke Khomeinist counter-attacks across the Middle East.
* Tehran regards the forthcoming negotiations with Washington as the diplomatic side of its broader campaign to destroy the Bush Doctrine and drive the United States out of the Middle East.
Strategists in Tehran appear convinced that an American retreat will take place within the next two years at most. They are also determined not to allow the United States to shape a regional alliance capable of protecting a new balance of power.
This will create a vacuum in much of the region - notably Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Tehran cannot allow rival radical groups, especially al Qaeda and the Taliban, to fill that vacuum. It is, therefore, trying to place its allies and clients in strategic positions from which to claim power in Kabul, Baghdad and Beirut, among other places.
Early signs show that a long, hot summer of conflict, perhaps even full-scale war, is ahead of us in the Middle East. The perception that the United States is divided and weak has encouraged the most radical elements throughout the region, including Tehran and Damascus.
With what was left of the so-called realists and pragmatists on the defensive everywhere, the radical agenda is unchallenged. As Ali Khamenei, the "Supreme Guide" of the Khomeinist movement, said last week, Tehran can deploy suicide-martyrdom groups, a weapon "many times stronger than the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima."
[Iranians demonstrating against poor working conditions clash with a security official, May 1, 2007.]
IRAN'S ECONOMIC CRISIS
by Amir Taheri
Wall Street Journal
May 9, 2007
For the past five weeks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Islamic Moral Brigades have been clashing with groups of young Iranians on the streets of Tehran and other major cities over the government's crackdown on "immodest dress." The crackdown is seen by many Iranians as another step toward an even more suffocating social atmosphere in the crisis-stricken country. Both Mr. Ahmadinejad and his mentor, the "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claim that the way young Iranians dress is the most immediate threat to their Islamist dystopia.
Television footage of young men and women engaged in scuffles with Moral Brigades may lead some in the West to assume that the opposition to the Khomeinist regime is mostly urban and middle class, and solely concerned with greater social freedoms. That, however, is only part of the story. While social issues continue to poison life in the Islamic Republic, it is economic issues that spell the most trouble for Mr. Ahmadinejad's struggling presidency.
Last week tens of thousands of angry workers, forming an illegal umbrella organization, flexed their muscles against President Ahmadinejad on International Labor Day in Tehran and a dozen provincial capitals. Marching through the capital's streets, the workers carried a coffin draped in black with the legend "Workers' Rights" inscribed on it. They shouted "No to slave labor! Yes, to freedom and dignity!"
Mr. Ahmadinejad centered his 2005 presidential campaign on a promise to "bring the country's oil money to every family's dinner table." After the election his position was boosted by a dramatic rise in oil prices, providing him with more than $100 million a day in state revenues. And, yet, all official statistics show that, with inflation running around 18% and unemployment jumping to more than 30%, the average Iranian is worse off than three years ago. Under the previous administration of President Mohammad Khatami, the Islamic Republic scored average annual economic growth rates of around 4%. In a nation that needs to create a million new jobs to cope with its exploding demography, that kind of growth was certainly not enough to point to any Eldorado anytime soon. But it was enough to prevent the economy from sinking. Under President Ahmadinejad, however, the growth rate has dropped to around 3% -- and that despite rising oil revenues.
Because it controls the oil revenue, which comes in U.S. dollars, the Islamic state has a vested interest in a weak national currency. (It could get more rials for the same amount of dollars in the domestic market.) Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to exploit that opportunity by printing an unprecedented quantity of rials. Economists in Tehran speak of "the torrent of worthless rials" that Mr. Ahmadinejad has used to finance his extravagant promises of poverty eradication. The result has been massive flights of capital, mostly into banks in Dubai, Malaysia and Austria. Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, the Islamic Chief Justice, claims that as much as $300 billion may have left the country since President Ahmadinejad was sworn in.
According to Abbas Abdi, a Tehran researcher and loyal critic of the regime, Iran is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the late 1970s. The effects of this are seen in the slowdown in real-estate prices -- the first since 1997, even in Tehran's prime districts. Printing money and spending on a no-tomorrow basis are not the only reasons for the crisis. President Ahmadinejad's entire economic philosophy seems to be designed to do more harm than good.
The president's favorite catchword is "khodkafa'i" or "self sufficiency." To the horror of most Iranians, especially the millions connected with the bazaars, who regard trade as the noblest of pursuits, Mr. Ahmadinejad insists that the only way Iran can preserve its "Islamic purity" is to reduce dependence on foreign commerce.
"Whatever we can produce we should do ourselves," the president likes to say. "Even if what we produce is not as good, and more costly." His rationale goes something like this: The global economic system is a Jewish-Crusader conspiracy to keep Muslim nations in a position of weakness and dependency. Thus, Muslims would do better by relying on their own resources even if that means lower living standards.
One of President Ahmadinejad's first moves was to freeze a six-year-old policy designed to help the Islamic Republic become a member of the World Trade Organization; in his book the WTO is just another "Jewish-Crusader" invention to cement the inferior position of Muslim economies. It was with reference to "khodkafa'i" that Mr. Ahmadinejad decided to harden the regime's position on the nuclear issue, even if that meant United Nations sanctions and war with the U.S. The Iranian president claims that the seven countries currently capable of producing nuclear fuel plan to set up a global cartel and control the world market for enriched uranium, once mankind, having exhausted fossil fuels, is forced to depend on nuclear energy.
Convinced that Islam is destined for a "clash of civilizations" against the "Infidel" -- led by the U.S., of course -- President Ahmadinejad is determined to preserve what he regards as the Islamic Republic's "independence." One of his favorite themes is the claim that, forced to choose between freedom and independence, good Muslims would prefer the latter.
Khodkafa'i has had catastrophic results on many sectors of the Iranian industry. Unable to reduce, let alone stop, imports of mass consumer goods (including almost half of the nation's food) controlled by powerful mullahs and Revolutionary Guard commanders, President Ahmadinejad has tightened import rules for a range of raw materials and spare parts needed by factories across the nation. The policy has already all but killed the once-buoyant textile industry, destroying tens of thousands of jobs. It has also affected hundreds of small and medium-size businesses that, in some cases, have been unable to pay their employees for months.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has also used khodkafa'i as an excuse to freeze a number of business deals aimed at preventing the collapse of Iran's aging and semi-derelict oil and gas fields. He has also vetoed foreign participation in building oil refineries, forcing the Islamic Republic to import more than 40% of the refined petroleum products consumed in Iran. The prospect of a prolonged duel with the U.N., and possible military clash with the U.S., has also hurt the Iranian economy in the past six months.
One result of the president's weird policy is the series of strikes that have continued in Tehran and at least 20 other major cities since last autumn. Last year, one major strike by transport workers in Tehran brought the city of 15 million to a standstill for several days. Right now tens of thousands of workers in industries as diverse as gas refining, paper and newsprint, automobile, and copper mining are on strike.
President Ahmadinejad, however, is determined to impose what looks like a North Korean model on the Iranian economy. He has already dissolved the Syndicate of Iranian Employers (SKI) as a capitalist cabal, and plans to replace it with a government-appointed body. He is also pushing a new Labor Code through the Islamic Majlis (parliament) to replace the existing one written with the help of the International Labor Organization in the 1960s and amended in 1991.
The proposed text abolishes most of the rights won by workers throughout the world as a result of decades of social struggle and political reform. President Ahmadinejad believes that Western-style trade unions and employers' associations have no place in a proper Islamic society where the state, representing the will of Allah, can keep the "community of the faithful" free of class struggle, a typical affliction of "Infidel" societies.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's next coup will likely be a major privatization scheme affecting more than 40 public corporations across the country. He has promised to help the employees buy up to 10% of the shares. The rest will go to rich mullahs and Revolutionary Guard officers and their business associates, using low interest loans from state-owned banks. By the time the scheme is ready, however, the Islamic Republic may be facing too deep an economic crisis for anyone -- even greedy mullahs and corrupt Revolutionary Guardsmen -- to want to invest even a borrowed rial there.
HOSTAGE CRISIS A DISTRACTION?
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
April 5, 2007
April 5, 2007 -- WAS the crisis over the cap ture of the British host ages part of a smoke screen for a crackdown on dissidents in Iran?
The question is posed in Tehran as the establishment debates the future of the regime's foreign and domestic policies.
The crackdown is beginning to gather pace. Several publications critical of government have been shut down, and numerous officials regarded as "not revolutionary enough" elbowed out, especially in the provinces. And now the regime seems to be setting the stage for show trials that recall the worst days of Stalinism in the Soviet Union.
Last month, a member of the Majlis, the regime's ersatz parliament, was sent to prison for six years on trumped-up charges. The real "crime" of Salaheddin Ala'i: He had criticized the killing of dissidents in Iran's Kurdistan province.
Next week, it will be the turn of former Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, who'll stand trial on charges of undermining the security of the Khomeinist state.
Tajzadeh is one of the establishment's most interesting figures. A man with impeccable revolutionary credentials, he has always insisted that the regime cannot ensure its future by silencing or murdering critics.
The next on the block is expected to be Muhammad Reza Khatami - a brother of former President Muhammad Khatami - who also has an impressive revolutionary resume.
In 1979, he was one of the two dozen or so "students" who raided the United States' Embassy in Tehran and seized its diplomats hostage. Later, he built a career in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and solidified his revolutionary credentials by marrying a granddaughter of Ruhallah Khomeini, the ayatollah who created the Islamic Republic. During his brother's presidency, Muhammad Reza acted as deputy speaker of the Majlis.
Yet, he too, is targeted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's new radical administration - charged with "activities that undermine the Islamic system."
Ahmadinejad believes that people like these three represent dangers for the system - if only because they insist that the authorities should obey the laws set by their own regime. In his view, a revolutionary regime, because it stands outside the normal framework of history, simply cannot be bound by any law.
According to dissident sources in Tehran, the regime's security apparatus is preparing show trials for scores of others. The chief targets: thousands of middle-class elements who joined the Khomeinist revolution because of a misunderstanding. Ahmadinejad calls them "the half-pregnant ones" - people who dream of being revolutionaries but also crave for a comfortable, Western-style bourgeois life.
Ahmadinejad's supporters speak of a "third revolution" - which, in practice, would amount to a purge of dissidents within the establishment.
Many actual or would-be dissidents have already left Iran for what they hope will be temporary exile in Europe or America. They include a dozen former Cabinet ministers and hundreds of lesser functionaries and apologists. If the looming crackdown gathers pace, thousands more may join them.
To prepare the ground for his "third revolution," Ahmadinejad has worked on three schemes.
* First, he has radicalized political discourse.
Under his two predecessors, Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami, the regime had gradually changed its vocabulary by abandoning the revolutionary terminology and borrowing terms of ordinary politics.
Those two mullah-presidents spoke of economic development, civil society and a dialogue of civilizations. They also allowed some space for non-revolutionary (though not overtly counter-revolutionary) expression in such fields as art, cinema and literature.
Yes, both also banned hundreds of newspapers and magazines, and imprisoned scores of critics. They also organized the murder of numerous real or imagined opponents inside and outside Iran. But they targeted the regime's own children.
They divided Iranians into two categories: khodi (our own) and biganeh (outsider).
Rafsanjani and Khatami allowed khodi some latitude to criticize the regime - and also used these critics as safety valves to reduce tension in society.
The biganeh, however, were allowed no space for expression. Their writings were blacklisted by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, and their names banned from the media or used only in vilification campaigns. When perceived as too much of a threat, they were murdered, their corpses thrown in the streets - as was the case under President Khatami.
The radicalization of discourse under Ahmadinejad makes it hard for the "half-pregnant" to speak with forked tongues.
Khatami was able to tour the world, speaking of a dialogue of civilizations while allowing no dialogue inside Iran. Ahmadinejad recognizes the fact that a revolution is, primarily, a monologue - or even a soliloquy, addressed to itself.
* Second, Ahmadinejad aims to link any criticism of the system with foreign powers.
In the decisions to close newspapers or put "khodi" figures on trial, the authorities drop hints about illicit relations with "foreign enemies of Islam." This amounts to a return to classical revolutionary lore in which anyone who criticizes the regime must be an agent of a foreign enemy.
* Ahmadinejad's third and perhaps most important scheme is to revive the regime's pretension of sacredness. He claims to receive periodic instructions from the Hidden Imam - a Mahdi-figure who, according to Shiite lore, went into hiding in 940 A.D. and will someday return to preside over the end of the world. He has thus restored the concept of the Hidden Imam to a central position within the Khomeinist doctrine.
The concept was pure fiction from the start, and most leaders of the Islamic Republic realized that retaining it posed insurmountable theo-political problems. This is why the Hidden Imam was given a back seat under Rafsanjani and Khatami, although both are Shiite clerics.
By restoring the Hidden Imam, Ahmadinejad makes it impossible for anyone to claim that Shiism, let alone Islam, admits of a range of interpretations. In this version of the Khomeinist doctrine, Islam is equated with Shiism, Shiism with the Hidden Imam - and the Hidden Imam with the Khomeinist regime.
THE "half pregnant" had hoped that "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi might, would, at some point, restrain Ahmadinejad. Earlier this month, however, Khamenehi, in his Iranian New Year message, paid glowing tribute to Ahmadinejad, and endorsed his strategy.
The "half-pregnant" are now forced to choose between becoming full-blown revolutionaries - or joining the counter-revolution.
IRAN: 'BIG FISH' GONE MISSING
ARE TEHRAN'S FOES GETTING TOUGH?
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
March 9, 2007
March 9, 2007 -- 'A VERY big fish" - so Tehran sources de scribe former Deputy Defense Minister Ali-Reza Askari (sometimes called "Asghari" in the West), who disappeared in Istanbul on Sunday.
Askari's disappearance fits an emerging pattern. Since December, the United States and its allies appear to have moved onto the offensive against the Islamic Republic's networks of influence in the Middle East:
* Jordan has seized 17 Iranian agents, accused of trying to smuggle arms to Hamas, and deported them quietly after routine debriefing.
* A number of Islamic Republic agents have been identified and deported in Pakistan and Tunisia.
* At least six other Iranian agents have been picked up in Gaza, where they were helping Hamas set up armament factories.
* In the past three months, some 30 senior Iranian officials, including at least two generals of Revolutionary Guards, have been captured in Iraq.
All but five of the Islamic Republic agents seized in Iraq appear to have been released. One of those released was Hassan Abbasi, nicknamed "the Kissinger of Islam," who is believed to be President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's strategic advisor.
Among those still held by the Americans is one Muhammad Jaafari Sahraroudi, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander wanted by the Austrian police in connection with the murder of three Iranian Kurdish leaders in Vienna in 1989.
All this looks like a message to Tehran that its opponents may be moving on to the offensive in what looks like a revival of tactics used in the Cold War.
But let us return to the "big fish."
A retired two-star general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Askari had just led a military mission to Damascus, the Syrian capital. He was making a private "shopping stopover" in Turkey on his way back to Tehran.
The Iranian mission's task was to lay the foundations for a Syrian armament industry, licensed to manufacture Iranian-designed weapons. The 30 or so experts that had accompanied Askari remained in Syria to work out the technical details.
According to some reports, Askari had stopped over in Istanbul to meet with an unidentified Syrian arms dealer who lives in Paris.
Having at first denied reports of the general's disappearance, Tehran authorities eventually came out with a confirmation. The Islamic Republic's police chief, Gen. Ismail Ahmadi-Muqaddam, issued a statement Tuesday claiming that the missing general had been abducted by a Western intelligence service and taken to "a country in northern Europe."
Foreign Ministry sources in Tehran, however, said that Askari might have defected, possibly to the United States, where he has relatives. Some reports in the Iranian and Arab media suggest that the Israeli secret service Mossad and the CIA are behind Askari's disappearance.
Israel has denied involvement in the general's disappearance, but The London Daily Telegraph speculated on Monday that Askari could have been abducted by Israel to shed light on the whereabouts of Israel Air Force Lt.-Col. Ron Arad, missing since 1986, who might have been held at one point by Iran. Askari was involved in a deal to transfer Arad to Tehran after his capture by the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted Monday as saying Iran was "taking necessary steps" to solve the case: "A director-general from the [foreign] ministry has traveled to Turkey . . . We have asked Turkey to investigate Askari's case."
According to Iranian sources, Askari, in his late 50s, joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRG) at its very start in 1979. He was an associate of Mostafa Chamran, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who returned to Iran when the mullahs seized power in 1979 and helped found the IRG. When Chamran was appointed defense minister two years later, Askari became one of his advisers.
Always in the shadows, Askari was in charge of a program to train foreign Islamist militants as part of Tehran's strategy of "exporting" the Khomeinist revolution.
In 1982-83, Askari (along with Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Mohatashami-Pour) founded the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah and helped set up its first military units. The two men supervised the 1983 suicide attacks on the U.S. Embassy and on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut - killing more than 300 Americans, including 241 Marines. Iranian sources say Askari was part of a triumvirate of Revolutionary Guard officers that controlled Hezbollah's armed units until the end of the '90s.
Askari led the 500-man Iranian military mission in Beirut from 1998 to 2000 before returning home to work for the Strategic Defense Procurement Committee. In that capacity, he often traveled abroad to negotiate arms deals.
Tehran sources claim that Askari was also involved in Iran's controversial nuclear program, which, although presented as a civilian project, is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. They also say that last November he was appointed a member of the Strategic Defense Planning Commission set up by Ali Khamenei, the "Supreme Guide."
Indeed, Iran is rife with rumors about the case: Askari has been transferred to Romania, where he is being debriefed by the Americans; he had documents with him, mostly related to Iran's military purchases abroad; Israeli efforts to see him (in connection with his years of running Hezballah) have so far failed to meet with success . . .
Whether he defected or was abducted, Askari is a big catch with a mine of information about the activities of the Revolutionary Guard and its elite arm, the Quds Corps, which controls Arab and Turkish radical groups financed by Tehran. Last month, the United States accused the Quds Corps of supplying special projectiles to terrorists in Iraq to kill GIs.
Iranian-born journalist and author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.
Askari is a big catch, with a mine of information about the activities of the Revolutionary Guard.
IS BIN LADEN DEAD OR ALIVE?
by Amir Taheri
March 14, 2007
Last Saturday marked Osama Bin Laden's 50th birthday. However, instead of the fugitive cutting any cakes in the company of friends, the occasion inspired fresh speculation about his fate.
"May God have mercy upon him," commented one of his nephews, using the Arab formula reserved only for reference to the dead.
When the Pakistani military captured Mullah Obaidallah Akhund recently, one of their first questions was: Where is Osama Bin Laden?
The mullah should have known. As defence minister in the Taliban government, he had been Bin Laden's controller until December 2001 when the terror mastermind vanished.
According to Pakistani sources, Obaidallah claimed that Bin Laden was "alive and well". However, when asked whether anyone had seen him, the mullah was less certain.
"I know of no one," he replied.
Obaidallah is not alone in speculating about the fate of the Saudi-born fugitive. Seif Al Adl, Al Qaida's senior military commander until 2001, is certain that Bin Laden is dead.
Hiding in Iran along with his father-in-law, Mustafa Hamid (aka Abu Walid Al Masri) a theoretician of the "Arab-Afghans", Al Adl insists that Bin Laden could not be alive and yet refuse contacting his associates.
"He has either abandoned the cause or died," Al Adl said in a telephone interview from Tehran. The last time Bin Laden, or whoever pretends to be him, was heard of was April 2006 when an audiotape message was broadcast by the Qatari TV channel, Al Jazeera.
Had Bin Laden been alive he would not have allowed former associates, including the Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri, to alter his strategy.
It is clear that the man in charge of whatever is left of Al Qaida is Al Zawahiri. It is also clear that he has a different strategy.
Bin Laden based his strategy on the theory of ghazva or holy raids, spectacular attacks against "infidel" powers, notably the United States, designed to break their will.
The strategy worked in the 7th century when Muslim ghazis (holy raiders) launched spectacular attacks against Byzantine and Persian empires, bringing them down in a matter of years. The theory was that Byzantines and Persians had become fat, corrupt and afraid of death, while Muslims did not fear death because they would go to paradise.
Bin Laden believed that the strategy helped defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and would lead to the destruction of the United Sates and its European satellites. The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York was a major test of that theory.
Bin Laden's strategy had critics from the start.
One was the "Godfather of Jihad", Palestinian-Saudi Abdullah Al Azzam who insisted that "holy warriors" should focus on Muslim lands rather than attacking "infidel" territory. In 1989, Al Azzam was murdered in Pakistan - a crime his relatives blamed on Bin Laden.
Between 1989 and 2001, Bin Laden was the sole architect of jihadist strategy, tested in dozens of attacks including 9/11 in the United States. Bin Laden dubbed his strategy Qat'e al-Raas, (chopping off the head), meaning that the global system must be defeated by attacking its head, ie the US.
Al Zawahiri, however, has revived Al Azzam's strategy of focusing on Muslim lands. He calls his strategy Khal'ee Al-Yadd (chopping off the hand), designed to destroy the tentacles of the "infidel" in Muslim countries.
He divides Muslim countries into five circles of "possibilities". The first consists of Afghanistan and Iraq which Al Zawahiri believes Al Qaida can capture, once the Americans run away.
In the second circle, are Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, along with Algeria.
The third circle includes Israel-Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
In the fourth circle are Chechnya, Uzbekistan, East Turkistan (Xingjian) and Thailand.
The fifth circle includes all other Muslim states, or states with large Muslim minorities such as India and the Philippines, which Al Zawahiri hopes to conquer.
Al Zawahiri has taken other measures that indicate that Bin Laden is either dead or no longer in control.
He has replaced key commanders of Al Qaida linked groups, including in Iraq and Algeria, by Egyptians close to himself and with no history of ties to Bin Laden.
"You could say the Egyptian mafia has taken over," says one expert. Al Zawahiri has acknowledged Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, as Emir Al Momeneen (commander of the faithful) and caliph of a putative Islamic empire. This ends Bin Laden's position as the "shaikh" and ultimate authority for jihadists.
Bin Laden's name has almost disappeared from jihadist propaganda.
Al Zawahiri has also abandoned Bin Laden's rule of never making deals with Shiites, whom he regarded as heretics and Sunni Salafists such as the Muslim Brotherhood whom he branded as "compromisers".
Adopting a more pragmatic approach, Al Zawahiri has evoked tactical alliances with the Islamic Republic in Iran and its clients such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He has also sent feelers to Hamas, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, to coordinate strategies.
Politically, Bin Laden and his strategy appear to be dead. Physically, however, although there are indications that the fugitive is dead, no one can be sure.
The evidence that he might be dead includes:
* No one claims to have seen Bin Laden since December 3, 2001 when he slipped through the American net in Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan
* His long-time Pakistani doctor, Anwar ul-Haq, issued a statement on December 12, 2001 announcing Bin Laden's death and burial on December 5.
* Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf claimed on two occasions, in 2001 and 2003, that the fugitive had died. (Later Musharraf retracted, stating that he was not sure.)
* The one videotape and three audiotapes attributed to Bin Laden since December 2001, remain a matter of controversy among experts. Some believe these were made from old material.
* Between 1990 and March 2001, Bin Laden received an average of $700,000 a month from his mother. That stopped in 2001 and Bin Laden's share of the family fortune transferred to his sons in Saudi Arabia.
* Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, son of the Libyan ruler, has referred to some of Bin Laden's wives and children, who have received refuge in Libya, as "widows and orphans", implying that the terrorist is dead.
Bin Laden could be the latest of a series of Islamist luminaries who have hidden in the mountains of North Waziristan, part of an autonomous region close to the Himalayas. The most notorious was the Akhund of Swat, whose followers fought the British for decades in the 19th century, long after he had disappeared, presumed dead.
The part of Waziristan, where Bin Laden may be hiding, covers an area of 5,600 square kilometres and has a population of 250,000. Despite the physical difficulty of the terrain, however, it is hard to hide a fugitive such as Bin Laden in so small a territory without someone hearing something.
This is why many regional experts believe that Bin Laden has passed away. Some conspiracy theorists, however, suggest that he may be in Iran, Yemen, or even the United Sates under an assumed identity!
The man maybe dead, but the myth lives.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.
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