Nuclear Weapons in Iran - Plowshare or Sword?
New York Times - By William J. Broad
May 25, 2004
A recurring fear haunts the West's increasingly tense confrontation with Iran: Is its work on civilian nuclear power actually a ruse for making a deadly atomic arsenal, as has been the case with other countries?
Next month, the United Nations plans to take up that question at a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna. The diplomatic backdrop includes possible sanctions and even the threat of war.
"If Iran goes nuclear, you worry that Hezbollah goes nuclear," said Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, a private group in Washington, referring to the Iran-backed terrorist group.
The Iranian crisis, and related ones simmering in North Korea and also around Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani expert who recently confessed to running nuclear black markets, are giving new urgency to limiting proliferation, a central danger of the atomic era. Recently, international inspectors discovered that North Korea may have clandestinely supplied uranium to Libya, demonstrating how an aspiring state can secretly reach for nuclear arms.
The development of such arsenals is often hard to hide, because it takes place in large industrial complexes where nuclear power and nuclear weapons are joined at the hip - using technologies that are often identical, or nearly so. Today, with what seems like relative ease, scientists can divert an ostensibly peaceful program to make not only electricity but also highly pure uranium or plutonium, both excellent bomb fuels.
Experts now talk frankly about a subject that was once taboo: "virtual" weapon states - Japan, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Taiwan and a dozen other countries that have mastered the basics of nuclear power and could, if they wanted, quickly cross the line to make nuclear arms, probably in a matter or months. Experts call it breakout.
The question now, driven largely by the perception that the world is entering a dangerous new phase of nuclear proliferation, is whether the two endeavors can be separated. And as difficult as that may seem, new initiatives are rising to meet the challenge.
Last year, North Korea stunned the world by withdrawing from the Nonproliferation Treaty. It was the first time a nation had dropped out of the 1968 pact, setting a grim precedent and prompting warnings of the accord's demise.
If another virtual power crosses the line, experts fear, it could start a chain reaction in which others feel they have no alternative but to do likewise.
Yet a country like Iran can retain its virtual-weapons status - and the threat of breakout - even if the International Atomic Energy Agency gives it a clean bill of health. That kind of quandary is driving the wider debate on ways to safeguard nuclear power, especially given that the world may rely on it increasingly as worries grow about global warming and oil shortages.
"We can't give absolute guarantees," said Graham Andrew, a senior scientist at the agency. "But there will be technological developments to make the fuel cycle more proliferation-resistant."
Other experts agree. "The future looks better than the past in terms of this whole problem," said Rose Gottemoeller, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "At the moment, it's a very, very fast-moving arena that a lot of people are into and thinking about."
The central compact of the nuclear age - what critics call a deal with the devil - is that countries can get help from other nations in developing nuclear power if they pledge to renounce nuclear arms. That principle was codified in the 1968 treaty and has produced a vast apparatus of the International Atomic Energy Agency that not only helps nations go peacefully nuclear but also monitors them for cheating.
But surveillance has proved far from perfect, and states have proved far from trustworthy.
"If you look at every nation that's recently gone nuclear," said Mr. Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute, "they've done it through the civilian nuclear fuel cycle: Iraq, North Korea, India, Pakistan, South Africa. And now we're worried about Iran."
The moral, he added, is that atoms for peace can be "a shortcut to atoms for war."
Moreover, the raw material is growing. The world now has 440 commercial nuclear reactors and 31 more under construction.
Experts say Iran provides a good example of the breakout danger. With the right tweaks, its sprawling complex now under construction could make arms of devastating force. Recently, mistrust over that prospect soared when inspectors found that Iran had hidden some of its most sensitive nuclear work as long as 18 years.
In the central desert near Yazd, the country now mines uranium in shafts up to a fifth of a mile deep.
At Isfahan, an ancient city that boasts a top research center, it is building a factory for converting the ore into uranium hexafluoride. When heated, the crystals turn into a gas ideal for processing to recover uranium's rare U-235 isotope, which, in bombs and reactors, easily splits in two to produce bursts of atomic energy.
Nearby at Natanz, Iran aims to feed the gas into 50,000 centrifuges - tall, thin machines that spin extraordinarily fast to separate the relatively light U-235 isotope from its heavier cousin, U-238. It recently came to light that Iran had gained much help in making its centrifuges from Dr. Khan and his secretive network.
Iran says it wants to enrich the uranium to about 5 percent U-235, the level needed for nuclear reactors.
But enrichment is one place that good power programs can easily go bad, nonproliferation experts say. By simply lengthening the spin cycle, a nation can enrich the uranium up to 90 percent U-235, the high purity usually preferred for bombs.
Moreover, a dirty little secret of the atomic world is that the hardest step is enriching uranium for reactors, not bombs. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, an arms control group in Washington, said the step from reactor to weapon fuel took roughly 25 percent more effort.
The whirling centrifuges at Natanz could make fuel for up to 20 nuclear weapons every year, according to the Carnegie Endowment. Others put the figure at 25 bombs a year.
The Iranians are building a large power reactor at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf meant to be fueled with low-enriched uranium from Natanz. Here too, experts say, a good program can go bad.
Normally, uranium fuel stays in a reactor for three or four years and, as an inadvertent byproduct of atomic fission, becomes slowly riddled with plutonium 239, the other good material for making atom bombs. But the spent fuel also accumulates plutonium 240, which is so radioactive that it can be very difficult to turn into weapons.
But if the reactor's fuel is changed frequently - every few months - that cuts the P-240 to preferable levels for building an arsenal. (And since less plutonium than uranium is needed for a blast of equal size, it is the preferred material for making compact warheads that are relatively easy to fit on missiles.)
John R. Bolton, the State Department's under secretary for arms control, recently told Congress that after several years of operation, Bushehr could make enough plutonium for more than 80 nuclear weapons.
Iran strongly denies such ambitions.
"That we are on the verge of a nuclear breakthrough is true," Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former president, said recently, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. "But we are not seeking nuclear weapons."
If Iran wanted to recover plutonium from Bushehr, or a different reactor under construction at Arak, it would have to extract the metal from spent fuel, a hard job because of the waste's high radioactivity. Such reprocessing plants have legitimate commercial uses for turning nuclear detritus into new fuel, as France, Britain, Japan and Russia do.
Iran, too, has announced that it wants to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle, apparently including reprocessing. Last year, President Mohammad Khatami said the country wanted to recycle power-plant fuel. "We are determined," he said in a televised speech, "to use nuclear technology for civilian purposes."
Around the globe, experts are struggling to find ways to guarantee such good intentions: not just in Iran, but everywhere.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is calling for "multinational controls" on the production of any material that can be used for nuclear arms. If accepted, that would mean no single country could enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium on its own, but only in groups where members would verify each other's honesty.
Early this month, Iran signaled that it might be interested in teaming with Russia and Europe to enrich uranium, giving arms controllers some hope of a peaceful resolution to the current crisis.
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has called for sweetening the deal by guaranteeing members of a consortium lifetime fuel supplies and spent-fuel removal if they forgo enrichment and reprocessing plants.
"What you need is an incentive," he said. One challenge, he added, would be convincing states that consortiums "won't change their minds," given that nuclear policy makers have often done so in the past.
President Bush has taken a harder line, proposing in a February speech to limit drastically the number of nations allowed to produce nuclear fuel. Only states that already have enrichment and reprocessing plants, he said, should do such work, and they in turn would service countries that aspire to nuclear power.
While many experts praise Mr. Bush's attention to the nonproliferation issue, some have faulted his specifics. "It's all sticks and no carrots," said Mr. Bunn, adding that the Bush plan would only feed global resentment toward the nuclear club. "I think you can couch this to be more carrotlike."
Down the road, a different approach involves developing new classes of reactors that would better resist nuclear proliferation, especially by making the recovery of plutonium 239 much harder. Many studies, including one last year at M.I.T., have championed better fuel cycles and security.
"There is potentially a pathway - diplomatic, technical - to see a significant global deployment" of safer technologies and strategies, said Ernest J. Moniz, a former Energy Department official who helped lead the M.I.T. study. "But it can't happen without U.S. leadership and the U.S. partnering with other countries, and that will require a re-examination of our policies."
Mr. Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute said too many of the proposals were too timid. Most fundamentally, he said, nations have to turn away from the commercial use of plutonium, which grows more abundant every day.
"Only denial and greed" can explain the world's continuing to want plutonium for peaceful uses, he said, and added, "It may take the unthinkable happening before the political process can screw up the courage to put an end to this ridiculously dangerous industry."
Friend of US and Iran has too many enemies
Ahmad Chalabi, Iraq's plausible former opposition leader now regarded as loose cannon in Baghdad
Tuesday May 25, 2004
If some in the Pentagon had got their way it would all have been different. Instead of the chaos and looting, Ahmad Chalabi would have marched into Baghdad at the head of his own "Free Iraqi" force to take over from Saddam Hussein.
At one point it looked as if that might just happen. Mr Chalabi, an urbane, plausible and apparently fearless businessman, was spirited into Iraq by the US military early in April 2003. He installed himself in Nassiriya, holding court with local dignitaries and preparing for what some sarcastically referred to as his "coronation".
But Mr Chalabi had already made too many enemies. Though he had charmed Congress into funding his Iraqi National Congress and was viewed by some in the Pentagon as Iraq's equivalent of the newly-installed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, the state department and CIA were suspicious of him - not least because of doubts about his organisation's accounting of the funds provided by US taxpayers.
Perceptions of Mr Chalabi in the US reflect the ongoing power struggle within the Bush administration between the neoconservatives in the defence department such as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz - both great admirers of the INC leader - and more moderate voices in the state department and elsewhere.
Another problem was that he had left Iraq in the late 1950s and had little or no popular following inside the country. Iraqis, well aware of his involvement in a Jordanian banking scandal, dubbed him "Ahmad the Thief". In 1992, Mr Chalabi was tried in his absence and sentenced by a Jordanian court to 22 years' jail on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation.
He has always maintained the charges were politically motivated, though investigations by the accountants Arthur Andersen showed that millions of dollars of depositors' money had been transferred from Mr Chalabi's Petra Bank to other parts of the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon and London, and not repaid. By the time of its crash, Petra was the third largest bank in Jordan, and the poverty stricken Jordanian government was forced to pay out $200m (£111m) to depositors who would otherwise have lost their savings, and to avert a possible collapse of the country's banking system.
Mr Chalabi, who is 59, left Jordan before he could be arrested. He later resurfaced, living in style in a London apartment off Park Lane.
Following the 1991 Gulf war, he became head of the INC, the main group opposing Saddam from outside Iraq, which acted as an umbrella organisation embracing Kurds, Sunnis and Shia, as well as several political parties. In 1995 he travelled to northern Iraq, having persuaded the Clinton administration that he could start a Kurdish insurrection which would overthrow Saddam.
It turned into a disaster. The Iraqi army did not switch sides as expected and Mr Chalabi's forces, bankrolled by the CIA, were heavily defeated.
Despite this fiasco, he persevered with drumming up political support in Washington. In 1998, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act which allocated $97m of taxpayers' money for the INC.
Over the years, the INC received about $33m from the state department and $6m from the defence intelligence agency. Part of the money was for providing the US with what was grandly portrayed as intelligence from inside Iraq. Some of this found its way into the report on Iraq's alleged weaponry that the secretary of state, Colin Powell, presented to the UN shortly before the war. It later turned out to be false.
Even before the war, others in the Iraqi opposition grumbled that the INC was lifting information from their party newspapers and selling it to the Americans as intelligence.
Mr Chalabi cultivated the Israelis, too, reportedly offering them piped supplies of Iraqi oil once he was installed in Baghdad. He also developed contacts with Iran, using his credentials as a Shia Muslim, though not a particularly religious one. Some say he gave everyone the impression - the US, Israel and Iran - that he was working for them, when most likely he was working for no one but Ahmad Chalabi.
Following the overthrow of Saddam, he became a member of the US-appointed governing council and held its rotating presidency. Conscious of his lack of a popular base, he worked to install his relatives and supporters in key positions. Increasingly, Paul Bremer and other officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority regarded him as a loose cannon.
On the face of it, cultivating relations with Iran was a natural thing for Mr Chalabi to do, though it always risked raising hackles in Washington, since the Islamic republic was one of three countries identified by President Bush as the "axis of evil".
Iran, nevertheless, is an important neighbour of Iraq and the main Shia opposition group before the war was based in Tehran. The INC maintained an office in Tehran which according to Newsweek magazine cost US taxpayers about $36,000 a month to run.
Mr Chalabi and others made regular trips to Iran which could reasonably be viewed as a normal part of their opposition activity. Contacts appear to have been stepped up after the fall of Saddam: since December, Mr Chalabi has reportedly met most of Iran's senior leaders, including supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his top national security aide, Hassan Rowhani.
The Iranian foreign ministry agrees that it had "continuous and permanent dialogue" with Mr Chalabi and other members of the governing council, but denies that confidential information changed hands.
Apart from the contacts with Iran, Mr Bremer was particularly annoyed by Mr Chalabi's behaviour during the changeover from the old Iraqi currency (which bore Saddam's face) to the new banknotes. Mr Chalabi insisted on having the old currency incinerated rather than buried, as had originally been planned - only for the incineration contract to go to one of his associates.
Last week's raid on his villa by Iraqi police and US troops was also apparently connected to the currency changeover. Coalition officials suggested that senior members of the INC (though not Mr Chalabi himself) were involved in a scam earlier this year when millions of dollars went missing during the replacement process.
Born: Baghdad 1945; left in 1956. Lived in US and London
Family: Married with four children
Career: Maths professor. Co-founder of failed Petra bank; convicted of fraud
Political career 1992: founded Iraqi National Congress; 1996: offensive against Iraqi army failed; 2003: returned to Iraq, member of governing council; 2004: US funding stopped and house raided
'Smear without substance'
By Joel Mowbray
After the raid on Ahmed Chalabi's house in Iraq last week, his allies in Washington the administration's hawks knew it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped. They were right.
Last Thursday, Mr. Chalabi was splashed across the front pages of newspapers across the country, accused of being a spy for "axis of evil" member Iran. The public line was that there was "rock solid" evidence as CBS News paraphrased "government officials" that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the United States in order to help the Iranian mullahs.
But much of what is being hurled at Mr. Chalabi probably can be explained away by old grudges, not just against him, but also against the strongest supporters of the Iraq war inside the administration.
Back in the mid-1990s, Mr. Chalabi and his group, the Iraqi National Congress, were still on speaking terms with the CIA. When a coup attempt was being cooked up against Saddam Hussein, Mr. Chalabi warned the CIA that it would fail. It did, and Mr. Chalabi was not bashful about defending his prediction slash warning.
He has been deemed an enemy of the CIA ever since.
That "intelligence officials" are now attacking Mr. Chalabi through hundreds of anonymous quotes in the press, in many respects, has not come as much of a surprise to many who understand the deep disdain in which the CIA holds him.
The same holds true for the attacks against administration hawks. The New York Times yesterday ran a story, seemingly based solely on "intelligence officials," with the headline: "U.S. Steps Up Hunt in Leaks to Iraqi Exile."
The "news" in the Times piece was that "intelligence officials" (read: CIA) are investigating "a handful of officials in Washington and Iraq who dealt regularly with Mr. Chalabi." Who are these potential traitors? Well, according to the Times, "most of them are at the Pentagon."
Perhaps not coincidentally, The Washington Post also ran a story on Monday dredging up a collection of old allegations and undisputed facts on the business activities of Richard Perle, the former head of the Defense Policy Board and a leading advocate of the Iraq war. Buried in what was more or less a hit piece was the following: "An investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general concluded last fall that Perle had not violated ethics rules."
For those just now tuning in, this is a story that has much deeper roots.
As many people with a passing knowledge of Washington affairs have noticed, there is a perceived divide between the positions of the Departments of State and Defense.
There are two main worldviews: One that stability should be our primary foreign policy goal, and the other that the United States needs to use force when necessary, but more often should employ tough diplomacy in order to push countries into reforming.
The stability side is embodied by the State Department, but it is almost as deeply held by "intelligence officials" (i.e., the CIA), and even by many of the top brass in the uniformed military. It is a view that is "safe," inasmuch as it has been the American approach to foreign policy for decades and it remains the conventional wisdom among self-appointed experts inside the Beltway.
Trouble is, it is also the worldview that prevented the United States from responding decisively during the 1990s against terrorist strikes from Khobar Towers to the East Africa embassy bombings to the USS Cole and from recognizing the need to be more forceful with the likes of the Taliban before September 11.
The relatively small number of Bush political appointees among the foreign policy team inside the administration the overwhelming majority of whom are careerists, particularly at State and the CIA are perceived as a grave threat because their worldview is anathema to the established stability-above-all-else orthodoxy.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has even led intimidation campaigns to scare his policy opponents into submission. People who Mr. Armitage dislikes have been repeatedly threatened with termination, and several people have left State because of those conditions.
Now the bullying continues. CIA and State have already started to sully the good names of the administration hawks with anonymous quotes.
To date, the White House has not stepped in to put a halt to the mudslinging. In part, that's because none of these charges against the "handful of officials" cited very publicly in the New York Times have yet been brought into the inter-agency process, which is the standard bureaucratic routine for handling dicey issues, particularly something as serious as U.S. officials compromising intelligence.
The allegations against Mr. Chalabi have not been characterized even in the most basic terms, other than that he gave to Iran, in the words of the aforementioned article in the New York Times, a "wide array" of "highly classified" secrets. Yet, why is there smear without substance? Why not even give the basics of his alleged wrongdoing?
But perhaps the most important question that must be asked is: why are ostensibly secretive "intelligence officials" waging such a high-profile public smear campaign?
Joel Mowbray writes occasionally for the Washington Times
EU and IAEA would pay if Irans cooperation fails
TEHRAN: Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi warned the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) they would have a lot to lose if their cooperation with the Islamic Republic fails, the students news agency ISNA reported Monday.
"The European side has not forgotten its commitments towards Irans nuclear case, this is a common project, that is, if Iran fails, the EU and the IAEA will suffer losses as well," Kharazi was quoted as saying. Iran pledged full transparency and cooperation with the UNs nuclear watchdog on its nuclear activities during a visit by British, French and German foreign ministers last October.
It expects the EU in return to oppose US pressures in the IAEA to take Irans nuclear programme which Washington believes is a cover for weapons development to the United Nations Security Council. "We intend to show our transparency and goodwill by handing in this 1,000 page report", Kharazi said, "and gradually everyone will realise that Iran means to use the nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and has no secret plans."
"The more transparently and honestly we cooperate with the IAEA the less excuses our critics will have to accuse us of intending to use nuclear technology for military purposes," he added.
"This is what we have done so far and hence have had good results." When asked what he thought of the forthcoming IAEA board of governors meeting due on June 14, Kharazi said: "The Americans will definitely pursue their own aims towards Iran. "My country has voluntarily accepted and implemented the additional protocol (of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, requiring full openness). Naturally our efforts will be effective, winning us more trust."
The UN nuclear watchdog is aiming to finish this week a crucial report on Irans atomic programme, after Tehran handed in an extensive declaration on Friday that it says answers US-led charges it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
US tests claims that Iran used Chalabi
By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: May 24 2004 21:18 | Last Updated: May 24 2004 21:18
US intelligence agencies are investigating whether Iran duped the US by passing false information on Iraq's weapons capabilities through Ahmad Chalabi while he was leading an Iraqi opposition group in exile, according to a former intelligence officer and US media reports.
Mr Chalabi, whose home and offices in Baghdad were raided last week by Iraqi police and plainclothes US "advisers", has defended himself over the weekend on US TV networks.
He denied passing US intelligence to Iran or false information to the US. Iraq's judiciary said it was seeking associates of Mr Chalabi on corruption and kidnapping charges. They include Aziz Habib, his intelligence officer.
Mr Chalabi accused George Tenet, CIA head, of trying to discredit him and challenged Mr Tenet to join him in testifying under oath to Congress.
Mr Chalabi has been defended by powerful supporters over the past week, including Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary, General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and Richard Perle, a prominent neo-conservative and former Pentagon advisor.
It was no secret that Mr Chalabi had a long association with Iran, which backed his Iraqi National Congress (INC) in its efforts to unite Iraqi opposition against the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Patrick Lang, former head of the Middle East section of the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), said he had learned from former intelligence colleagues that the DIA suspected Iran had used Mr Chalabi as a conduit for false intelligence to the US. The DIA, he said, also concluded that Mr Chalabi was passing information to the Iranians.
The CIA and FBI have made no comment in public, but are widely reported to be investigating Mr Chalabi.
Mr Lang said it was possible that Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a prominent Iraqi Shia opposition leader based in Ira n since 1980, was also a conduit.
The ayatollah, who was killed in a huge bomb blast in Iraq last August, told the Financial Times during the build-up to the war that his organisation - the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) - had provided the US with information on Iraq's chemical weapons capabilities.
Conservative supporters of Mr Chalabi insist he is a victim of a smear campaign and the attacks on his character a nd the INC are politically motivated. The former banker has recently been highly critical of policies pursued by the US in Iraq.
Iran Started Recruiting Volunteers Willing to Become Martyrs in Iraq
May 25, 2004
On May 28 in Teheran recruiting volunteers for conducting terrorist attacks against American and British troops in Iraq, will take place. According to Iranian radical organization, the operations of this kind are the only effective way of opposing the aggression of coalition troops and making them withdraw from Iraq soon.
"The methods of this kind proved to be effective during the war between Iraq and Iran and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict", said the Committee of the organization. Iranian radicals complain that the authorities do all possible to prevent their activity.
Iran Judge Bites the Press Representative
May 25, 2004
Iran va Jahan
In a weekly meeting between Islamic Republic judiciary and the country's press representatives, Judge Mohseni-Ezhei physically attacked Isa Saharkhiz from the press, by throwing two glass bowls at his head and then biting him on the lower abdomen.
An argument broke out in the meeting after reviewing an article printed in one of the Iranian magazines on the relationship between boys and girls. Isa Saharkhiz defended the article while judge Mohseni Ezhei hurled insults at him.
Saharkhiz took offence and said the judge's remarks were an affront not just to Saharkhiz but to the entire writers and journalists in the country. At this point judge Ezhei fed up with continuing the debate, physically attacked Saharkhiz and bit him.
Saharkhiz was sent to hospital and doctors have advised a two week rest for him.
Feeling the Heat
May 25, 2004
National Review Online
As Irans Joyless Generation awakes, the theocracy shudders.
I don't compare myself with ten years ago. I compare myself to what I could have and don't". So spoke Tannaz, a 20-year-old university student to a New York Times reporter touring Iran. "There's no joy here," she said, summarizing the feeling of the first generation of Iranians to grow up exclusively in the Islamic Republic. Iranians of Tannaz's generation and mine speak of their hopes "melting" as Iran's leaders replaced reform with a renewed revolutionary trance.
Iran's youth represent 70 percent of Iran's population of 70 million. It is the only pro-American generation in the Middle East. And, it is ready for democracy. As the Joyless Generation awakes, the theocracy shudders. And so does Islamism throughout the region. The Joyless Generation may not abandon their religion in their lives, but even in the cradle of theocracy, they do believe that it should not be in the realm of the state.
Each week since the Islamic Revolution a quarter century ago, a prominent cleric has led public prayers and delivered the official state sermon. On Friday, May 13, 2004, it was the turn of Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, secretary of the Council of Guardians. The Council of Guardians is the body that determines who can participate in an election, and who is banned from Iran's "democracy". Delivering his sermon, Jannati spoke to the new parliamentarians who owe their positions to his approval. "Creating jobs is among the economic issues of priority", Jannati told them. "If the people are hungry they would hardly resist the difficulties and enemies."
In other words, Iran's leadership no longer speaks of political reform. Instead, the clerics will concentrate on economic problems, falsely believing that Iranians will then surrender their quest for freedom. Ironically, it is Jannati and his close political allies, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who are most responsible for the Islamic Republic's economic catharsis. In the 1980s, under their stewardship, Iran experienced "one of the sharpest economic declines in the twentieth century", according to a leading analyst. Simultaneously, they encouraged a "jihad" baby boom and promoted an "autarkic Islamic economy". Two decades later, Jannati and his fellow clerics face an army of the unemployed that increases at a rate of 800,000 persons per year.
Jannati alludes to what every Iranian knows. The Islamic Republic's enemies are not external, but rather internal: The Joyless Generation. Iran's leaders are so insecure that they imprison students like Ahmed Batebi, languishing in prison for the crime of being photographed holding his own bloody shirt in the wake of a police beating. What is joy and tolerance to Tannaz and her generation is "cultural corruption" to Jannati. For all practical purposes, Jannati and Tannaz don't speak the same Persian. Tannaz's belief in the bankruptcy of the Islamic Republic's system represents the views of perhaps seventy percent of Iranian society; Jannati's uncompromising attitude is shared by only ten percent. The remaining 20 percent might still hold out some hope that the Islamic Republic is capable of reform, but this group diminishes daily.
Iran's post-revolutionary generation is aware of basic realities: the irreconcilability of theocracy with reform, whether economic as preached by Rafsanjani, or political as preached by President Mohammad Khatami. Theocracy corrupts not only the temporal sphere but also spiritual spheres. It is the Islamic Republic's ideology which prevents the Iranian people from fulfilling their desire to join the concert of nations. Such awareness is the cornerstone upon which a new Iran can be built. A free Iran can be the keystone to regional reform.
At a time when there is growing consensus to support a "Middle East forum to bring together governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations" to discuss reform, as reported by the Washington Post, acknowledgement of the waves of change in Iran would be a sure investment. Support for Iran's Joyless Generation, rather than any faction within the Islamic Republic's leadership, would bring a high rate of return in terms of both prosperity and security.
A democratic Iran in harmony with the world and its own historic and cultural heritage will be a significant step forward on the path towards stability in the Middle East. Security and democracy, intertwined with rights for men and women, are twin necessities.
Iran is experiencing a new dawn. The Iranian people are looking Westward for support. The choice is clear: Jannati or Tannaz. There can be no hybrid between the two. There can be no détente with the theocracy. There can be no Chinese model, in which the West bolsters trade but allows a small clique of rulers to stifle political change. It's time for the West to decide. Will Iran become a regional model of democracy, or will Washington's willingness to engage with theocrats cause it to lose the support of a generation?
Ramin Parham, editor of Iran Institute for Democracy, is an independent commentator based in Paris.
The Murderous Mullahs
May 22, 2004
Few Western reporters are allowed to visit Iran. In this powerful dispatch Ann Leslie paints a horrifying picture of a violent and corrupt dictatorship run by fundamentalist Muslim fundamentalists.
We in the West are rightly outraged about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Graib jail. We publicise it. We print the evidence, as the Mail does today. We interview the victims. But how many newspapers in the Muslim world, living as they do under a variety of dictatorships, would dare to publicise the appalling torture that routinely occurs in their own jails? None.
Otherwise they'll suffer the same fate as so many I've spoken to on a visit to the allegedly democratic Islamic Republic of Iran.
Take the young man I met who's been imprisoned and tortured merely for speaking out against the mullahs' Islamist regime. He will doubtless suffer more of the same for speaking to me, a Western 'infidel'. Yet he agreed to meet me secretly in a small wood in the centre of a city park.
He seemed - like every other tortured dissident I met in this bizarre country - extraordinarily fearless about our forthcoming meeting; I, on the other hand, was not. However, I'd so far managed to give my official 'minder' the slip, pleading that I was unwell and wouldn't be leaving my hotel that day.
In fact, I'd already changed hotels since arriving in the cacophonous, heavily-polluted Iranian capital Tehran. I'd been booked into a regime-controlled hotel called the Laleh, which means 'tulip' in Persian. The red tulip is the official symbol of martyrdom here, and this hotel was, I learned, bugged throughout.
The tulips of martyrdom are an obsession here: but the only 'martyrs' who are honoured in this relentless Islamist cult of death are, of course, those who've been 'martyred' on behalf of Iran's despotic (and hopelessly incompetent) clerical regime.
It's a nation controlled by Sharia law and one which many radical Muslims in the West - like the hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza - dearly wish to emulate.
As I tried to spot who, among the strollers in the Tehran park, was one of the ubiquitous secret policemen or Islamic vigilantes, I thought angrily that fanatically deluded young British Muslims should actually try living in a fundamentalist Islamist state - where stoning to death is still the official punishment for adultery (size of stones specified in the Penal Code) , and where 'ridiculing or insulting the government' is, in itself, deemed worthy of imprisonment and solitary confinement.
And where converting from Islam to any other religion is 'apostasy' - and therefore must be punished by death. 'The Prophet Mohammed said that there should be " no compulsion in religion"', I pointed out to a black-turbaned mullah in the holy city of Qom, 'yet you forbid a Muslim to convert!'.
The bearded 35 year old mullah snapped at me: 'You are mistaken. There is no compulsion in religion in Iran'. Try telling that, dear Mullah Sayeed Mir Mohammed, to the family of the young man who was hanged in public for converting to the original Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. The hanged man will not, of course, be classified as a 'martyr'.
The outside walls of office buildings everywhere in Iran are plastered with elaborate murals portraying officially-sanctioned 'martyrs', including one which I, as a mother, found particularly disturbing every time I passed it. It features the idealised portrait of a young teenage boy who was 'martyred' during the bloody eight-year-long war between Iran and Iraq. Gazing approvingly down on the image of the dead teenager, the ever-present portrait of the cruel, crafty features of the founder of Iran's 25 year old Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.
He was not only the man who sentenced Salman Rushdie to death for writing a 'blasphemous' book (which the sainted cleric hadn't even read), but who sent human waves of young boys, some as young as twelve, to clear minefields by using their own bodies.
On the way to my meeting with the dissident in the wood I reflected on the fact that radical Islamist clerics always urge other parents' children to undertake 'martyrdom missions', but somehow never get round to urging their own offspring to do the same. In Tehran, the sons and daughters of many of the ruling clerics live in luxury in the city's leafy northern suburbs in former regime houses requisitioned by the Islamic state. None of this 'martyrdom' nonsense for them, then.
Doubtless. were I to achieve the dubious 'honour' of martyrdom the cause of a free press, my grave would be unmarked, as are thousands in the two secret cemeteries, themselves unmarked, which I visited where the victims of the mullahs' mass-murder campaigns lie buried.
In one secret burial area on the outskirts of the city near a vast scrapyard, I noticed that several of the graves had been decorated with coloured shells and fresh flowers.
'If the families know where their loved ones are buried - and most do not - they come here secretly at night to place the flowers. My uncle's body lies there - he was only eighteen when they killed him', I was told by the murdered man's nephew. 'Often we find that even these small decorations have been vandalised by people like the "Helpers of God" vigilantes, who are paid by the leading mullahs'.
So here I was on a hot, sunny day in this Tehran city park, waiting to meet a 'counter-revolutionary' , and I'm feeling not only slightly nervous, but also somewhat puzzled. I've worked undercover in dictatorships before, and I've been aware in all those countries of a pervasive miasma of fear -but that miasma seems to be astonishingly absent here.
All the Iranians I've met have been extraordinarily welcoming, affable, keen to practise their English and to tell me about their favourite bootleg Hollywood movies and officially banned Western pop music- 'Oh, I LOVE Jennifer Lopez!' Satellite dishes are illegal - but most people I met seemed to have access to one.
Even in the holy desert city of Qom, which contains around 40,000 mullahs and seminarians, I was told that, if I want some alcohol (the penalty for possession is being lashed), 'you just have to go to that intersection'.
Several people I met told me raucous (and sometimes filthy) anti-mullah jokes. And all told me, in varying forms, that 'we Iranian Muslims are forced to live under a PERVERSION of Islam!'
Despite this wave of welcoming affability, I had to remind myself that this is a grotesque - and stupidly cruel - police state, which is allegedly run in the name of Allah by a gang of corrupt and murderous mullahs.
This is a state where, at the Friday prayers broadcast live on state-controlled television (which I attended in a curtained-off and segregated women-only section), the preacher, a leading Ayatollah, with a semi-automatic rifle by his side, denounced the West for its moral corruption. And where pre-positioned cheer-leaders urged the worshippers to chant 'Death to Israel!', 'Death to America!'.
The Ayatollah concerned, incidentally, is one of the most corrupt figures in the 'mullahcratic mafia'; it was he who airily justified the mass murder of jailed regime opponents in 1988 (some of whose secret graves I've visited) by joking: 'Well, we don't have enough chickens to feed them all!'.
This is a state which finances - and has itself indulged in - terrorism overseas. This is a state which is suspected of attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and which has at times given shelter to al-Qaeda militants, including to the man who had himself video-ed cutting off the head of the young American Nick Berg.
A state whose official policy is the total destruction of Israel, and who persecutes any one who speaks out in favour of rapprochement with the 'Great Satan' America.
A state which has handed down eight and nine year prison sentences to two pollsters merely for conducting polls which proved that, among other unpalatable things, around three quarters of Iranians actually want a rapprochement with America, whose 'satanic' culture they not-so-secretly enjoy.
A state which has sentenced an academic to death for 'apostasy' merely for writing an article questioning whether Iranians should blindly follow, 'like donkeys', the diktats of the ruling clerics .
A state which pretends it is an 'Islamic democracy' but whose unelected Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the equally unelected 12-member Guardian Council, can not only overrule laws passed by the Parliament but, preceding the parliamentary elections held in February, was able arbitrarily to disqualify over 2,000 prospective reformist candidates on the grounds that they were all insufficiently 'Islamic'.
But this is also a state of 68 million people, 70% of whom are under 30, which sits on some of the largest oil reserves in the world and which is, as one diplomat put it to me, 'the proverbial elephant in the living room. We all know it's there, but we try not to think about it'.
So why do we know so little about this vast and now, I believe, dangerously volatile country? For the simple reason that the mullahs don't want us to. A Canadian woman journalist who was doing what I'm doing in this park - trying to discover the grisly truth about this regime - was arrested and tortured to death last year in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
As I climbed up a small hill to meet the young dissident I almost fainted from the heat induced by my mandated Islamic Dress Code of black hejab headscarf, black socks and a long shapeless black coat. Oddly enough, I had some difficulty in buying this suffocating, impractical outfit.
Every shop I went into featured 'manteaus,' the black, baggy, figure-concealing ankle-length coats which are supposed to prevent a woman - even one of my age - from inciting the supposedly uncontrollable lust of good Muslim men. Except that the manteaus on sale were not baggy, and not black: indeed, some were remarkably short, colourful and glamorous.
A man in a shop who spoke English explained to the woman shop assistant that 'this lady wants to buy proper Islamic clothes'. The assistant, whose hejab was perched on the back of her head, showing off her well-coiffed hair (an 'un-Islamic' act, according to the regime) retorted: 'Oh, b***** Islam!' I expected the others in the shop to denounce her and summon one of the religious 'enforcer' groups. Instead of which they all - male and female - burst out laughing. The English-speaker explained: 'everyone here takes the p*** out of the mullahs: we despise them all'.
Even when I smuggled myself into a hospital to visit one of Iran's most famous dissidents, the 74 year old journalist Siamak Pourzand - who'd been brought to the ward in iron shackles from Evin prison where he's serving an 11 year sentence - I did not get the feeling that the staff wished to betray me to the authorities.
They clearly respected the proud but broken Pourzand who has been tortured and who is possibly dying. But even in his dire condition, Pourzand insisted on denouncing the regime to me.
This fundamentalist Islamic government is, despite its ferocity, beginning to lose control over its own people, not least because the cleric-run economy is in ruins. One day a bankrupt businessman, working as an unofficial taxi-driver, gave me a lift. On hearing that 'I'm an English convert to Islam' who's going out to the desert city of Qom next day, he exclaimed: 'Please, dear sister, if you go to the Holy Shrine tomorrow, pray to the saints that they rid us of the mullahs soon - as quickly as possible! They just use Islam to oppress us, to keep power and get rich - while we all suffer!'
On finally meeting up with the young man in the wood I assured him that I will disguise his identity. After all, he was first arrested four years ago as a teenage schoolboy for his anti-regime activities and has been repeatedly tortured.
'When it first happened to me I was only seventeen and I was so shocked, I really wanted to die. But now I'm inoculated, so I don't care any more'. So inoculated (a word I was to hear constantly) has twenty-one year old Kianoush Sanjari become that, with the reckless courage of so many young Iranians I met, he simply refuses to keep his mouth shut. For the 'crime' of criticising the mullahs on an international radio station, he was once again arrested and sentenced to five years in prison, reduced on appeal to one year.
And yet, by talking to me - and by insisting I use his name (as all those I interviewed did) - he was risking prison yet again. 'Yes, but international pressure on behalf of political prisoners and dissidents is the only thing that keeps us alive. The mullahs can't kill or torture us all - there are too many of us now. The regime doesn't speak for the Iranian people - we do! Our age group is in the majority!'
Was George Bush right to denounce Iran as part of 'the axis of evil'? 'Yes. In fact we're very much hoping for President Bush's re-election. Not because we want America to invade Iran - we certainly don't - but because we need support against this regime'.
Again, secretly, late at night, having slipped my hapless minder's clutches, I talked to another young dissident, Ali Afshari, a leader of the student movement. He too has been jailed, tortured and forced to make a televised 'confession'. 'The beatings and solitary confinement were not the worst thing - it was my guilty conscience for making that false confession. They completely broke down my personality and then repeatedly rehearsed me in what I had to say. It was the bitterest moment of my life. When I was released I held a press conference denouncing that forced confession, because I would never be able to look in the mirror again if I still had that burden on my soul'.
It is obvious to any outsider that it's only a matter of time before this Islamic regime implodes. Violently? Afshari shrugged: 'I'm afraid it will probably end in violence. The reform movement has reached a dead end and now there is so much frustration that it only needs the slightest spark for the whole thing to explode'.
Another secret, late-night meeting, this time with lawyer Dr. Qassem Sholeh Sa'adi, who has not only been arrested for writing an open letter attacking the Supreme Leader, but has also (he tells me) survived several assassination attempts.
'The apple is ripe and ready to fall - and, if the Americans and the British don't help us to shake the tree, I can assure you that they won't get any slice of the economic action after the regime falls!'.
We have been duly warned.
The Fattest Terrorist
National Review Online
May 25, 2004, 10:28 a.m.
The senior Shiite clerics in Najaf have savagely denounced Moqtada al Sadr, along with those who are fighting alongside him. You can find extensive excerpts on the website www.healingiraq.com, but here are some high points from the document:
"...the movement of Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr ... is losing legitimacy...The movement of Sayyid Muqtada...has encouraged the occupiers to cross the red lines. And as aside from that, the American occupiers while storming into Iraq and marching towards Baghdad through Najaf and Karbala did not commit the stupidities and insolence with regard to the sanctities in the two holy cities they have committed now.
"It is clear that the organization of Sayyid Muqtada and whoever follows the Sadrist movement were the first to violate the sanctity of the yard of Haydari Shareef (Imam Ali's shrine in Najaf) when they fired shots inside it at Sayyid Abdul Majeed Al-Kho'ei and killed Sayyid Yasiri within it and wounded Sayyid Majeed and killed Sayyid Hayder Al-Kelidar afterwards. And they are the very same who ignited the fuse of the bloody fight, whose victims among gathered believers were sacrificed over control of the shrine of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him)...
"The organization of Sayyid Muqtada is now carrying out intimidation of the general public and arrests of citizens, not only those whom they call collaborators with the occupation, the police, owners of stores selling foodstuffs to occupiers and others, but also students of religious sciences opposed to them and some of the members of the Badr organization [SCIRI], in addition to raiding offices of the Da'wa party in Kufa...
"The firing of shots at the great dome of the shrine of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) [in Najaf], according to some specialists was most likely from the weapons of Sayyid Muqtada's followers and not from the weapons of others...
"The strike on the home and office of his Excellence Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani happened within the security perimeter whose every span was controlled by the organization of Sayyid Muqtada, and the office of Marji' Ali [Sistani] was in the immediate proximity to the center of the security perimeter of Sayyid Muqtada's organization [office], well guarded, and especially so in the vicinity of both of their offices, and so how can it be conceived that this stringent security perimeter was breached by an unknown organization, which carried out a protracted strike on the home of the Sayyid Marji' [Sistani] and then retreated without the cognizance of the organization of Sayyid Muqtada...."
In other words, Moqtada is an illegitimate religious leader, his movement is a bunch of thugs, he tried to have Sistani killed (and I can tell you that the ayatollahs in Tehran are desperate for this to happen), and then lied about it, and he, not the Coalition forces, fired on the holy sites in Najaf.
This is decidedly not coming from "our side," it's coming from leading Shiite clerics, and it adds up to a thunderous rebuke of Moqtada. The only thing they might have added is the impressive obesity of the man. I mean, how does one explain that a religious leader of the poor and downtrodden is one of the fattest guys in the Middle East? He's certainly not calorie challenged.
Someone ought to tell the mullahs in Tehran that their money's going for food, and not for guns to kill the infidels and crusaders. My guess is that they're looking for a new horse in Iraq.