Najaf battle is struggle for leadership of Shia world
By James Drummond and Aqil Hussein
Published: August 26 2004 03:00 | Last updated: August 26 2004 03:00
In the Amirneighbourhood of Najaf, Shakir Qassim, 25, is not a happy man. The holy city of Najaf has seen sustained fighting for nearly three weeks and yet the pre-eminent leader of Iraq's majority Shia community has sought refuge thousands of miles from his people. It was only yesterday that he returned to Iraq from London.
"Sistani escaped from Najaf. There are more hospitals in Baghdad to treat the same disease but he escaped to save himself," Mr Qassim says.
Nearby, Safa Abdel Zahra, 20, agrees. "Sistani escaped from Iraq because he was afraid. There are hospitals [in Iraq] that can treat him. At the end he is a coward."
Three weeks ago such outspoken criticism of the 73-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hitherto the most influential spiritual leader in Iraq, would have been unthinkable.
Mr Sistani has consistently polled as Iraq's most popular figure. But on August 6 an ailing Mr Sistani was spirited out of Iraq for heart treatment. His supporters insist his illness is genuine but hint that he needed to leave Najaf because he was being held hostage by Moqtada al-Sadr, the renegade younger Shia cleric who has launched a bloody uprising against US forces.
By remaining all but silent through three weeks of fighting between US troops and Shia militiamen, Mr Sistani, along with fellow senior Shia scholars, has seen an erosion in his position in Iraq. Meanwhile the popularity of Mr Sadr and his more militant Islam has risen.
The struggle for Najaf's Imam Ali mosque, the holiest Shia shrine, where Mr Sadr and his militiamen have been holed up, is a high-stakes battle for control of the hawza, the Shia clerical establishment, and for leadership of the Shia world. Sixty per cent of Iraqis are Shia.
The tradition of the hawza has also been called into question. This is the process whereby students follow strict, decades-long study before emerging as mujtahids - scholars deemed able to think and argue for themselves - and possibly ayatollahs, who are sources of emulation and of guidance. This epitomises the difference between Mr Sistani - a grand ayatollah - and Mr Sadr, who is aged about 30, but who trades on the reputation of his father, who once had as much religious authority as Mr Sistani.
Mr Sistani's return yesterday appeared aimed at reasserting his authority in Najaf and placating his detractors. Popular anger has been deepened by the fact that Mr Sistani went to London rather than Iran, where he was born, or Lebanon, home to one of the Arab world's largest Shia minorities.
Britain was one of the countries that invaded Iraq last year, after all. British troops have recently been engaged in heavy fighting against Shia militiamen, Mr Sistani's constituency, in Meisan province. Up to 12 Iraqis were reported killed on Monday by British troops fighting in Amara.
The government of Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, has been keen to gain more outspoken support from Mr Sistani.
On Sunday a senior official in the Iraqi cabinet office visited Mr Sistani in hospital in London but received only Mr Sistani's "wishes for peace in Iraq especially in Najaf".
The reassertion of Mr Sistani's authority over Najaf is crucial for the Allawi government and for the US. With much of the Sunni heartland out of American or Iraqi government control, the Bush administration has relied on the ageing cleric - and changed its plans for political transition in accordance with his wishes - to keep Iraq's Shias from rising up against the occupation.
Most important, Mr Sistani and other senior clerics espouse a quietist Shia Islam that favours a separation of church and state, while Mr Sadr advocates a more politicised and militant Islam.
The split in the Shia community tends to fall neatly on class lines. The educated, be they religious or secular, support Mr Sistani, while many poor Iraqis - both Shia or Sunni - support the strongly nationalistic Mr Sadr. Back in Najaf, Mr Sistani still has his supporters, especially among the well-to-do. Ahmed Ali, 34, is a gold merchant who has been forced to close his shop. "We don't support Moqtada. If he wants to fight Americans he should fight them outside Najaf. We are followers of Sistani because he wants peace. Moqtada wants death for people."
Jassim Hussein, 22, a self-declared moderate, wants Mr Sadr to leave Najaf. "If it continues our family will die from hunger," he says. "We cannot work. We have closed our shop for the last 15 days. Suddenly you get these [mortar bombs] falling down next to your house."
* Militants have kidnapped two relatives of the Iraqi defence minister Hazim al-Shalaan and demanded that US forces leave Najaf and that Iraqi police free an aide to Mr Sadr, Al Jazeera television reported yesterday.
TEHRAN, Aug 26 (AFP) - Some 250 of Iran's Islamist militia volunteered for suicide operations against US forces in Iraq at a rally in the holy Shiite city of Mashhad, the conservative daily Kayhan said Thursday.
They expressed their hatred at US military operations in the Iraqi city of Najaf, site of the Imam Ali mausoleum, one of the holiest places for Shiites who form 90 percent of Iran's population, the report said.
Radical groups in Iran have been collecting volunteers for "martyrdom" since May but none have been known to have carried out any suicide operations in Iraq.
The Iranian government denies involvement or interference in Iraqi affairs.
Aug. 26, 2004 23:39 | Updated Aug. 26, 2004 23:49
'Little Israel' will not save world from Iran
By ARIEH O'SULLIVAN
With verbal tensions rising daily between Iran and Israel, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head Yuval Steinitz said the West should not expect "little Israel" to take pre-emptive action to save the world from Iranian nuclear weapons.
It is the free world, led by the United States, that must stand behind its pledge not to let Iran get the bomb, Steinitz said.
He warned that Iran aims at becoming a global nuclear power with long-range Shihab missiles that would put Europe and NATO forces in range.
"This is a problem of the leaders of the civilized world. One shouldn't expect little Israel to solve a global problem like this," Steinitz said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"The United States itself has said that it won't hesitate to use any means at its disposal to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. If, God forbid, the free world, led by the United States, doesn't stand behind these words, then a dark curtain will descend on the world raising the possibility of nuclear terror against us and Europe and NATO," Steinitz said.
"Iran is a totally irresponsible and unpredictable totalitarian regime that is ready to sacrifice millions of its people for its crazy ideology," Steinitz said.
His comments came after a week of nearly daily warnings by Iran against Israel for staging a pre-emptive strike against its widespread nuclear infrastructure. The rhetoric came amid reports that the IAF and commandos have completed rehearsals for attacking Iranian nuclear sites such as the reactor in Bushehr. The reports said Israel would under no circumstances allow Iran to "go critical."
After taking a back seat in the diplomatic war against Iranian nuclear endeavors, Israel has again become the loudest voice warning that Iran is trying to manufacture nuclear weapons in the guise of peaceful nuclear power industry.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who is visiting Paris this week, urged France, Germany, and Britain to intensify their pressure on Iran.
The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on its investigation into Iran's nuclear program is due to be released in the coming weeks. The White House is expecting a strong statement from the IAEA board and sanctions or nuclear weapons inspections may ensue.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who has issued daily threats against an Israeli strike, said Thursday in Manila that Iran is pushing for a nuclear-free Middle East.
Earlier this month, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned that Iran retains the option of pre-emptive strikes to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities. His warning was followed by a test of an improved version of its Shihab-3 missile, which is capable of hitting Israel.
But Steinitz said Israelis have nothing to fear from the Shihab rockets... yet.
While Israel is within the Shihab's 1,300-kilometer reach, Iran only has an arsenal of about two dozen, and they can only be armed with 700-kilogram conventional warheads.
"The missiles are very inaccurate, and are completely ineffective against a military target or the nuclear reactor in Dimona," Steinitz said. "We shall intercept most of them with our Arrow missiles."
Steinitz maintained that Iran is developing its Shihabs solely for the purpose of arming them with nuclear warheads.
"Conventional wisdom says you don't develop a missile with a range greater than 1,000 km. for conventional warheads. This is one of the signs that they are aiming to achieve nuclear capacity in the future," Steinitz added. According to military intelligence, the Iranians are currently developing the Shihab 4 and 5, with ranges of 3,000 km. and 6,000 km., putting Europe under Iranian missile threat.
Mother Jones BLOG
Keep on the lookout for signs of tension between the U.S. and Great Britain. Juan Cole wonders whether our biggest ally authorized Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's return to Iraq, over the implicit objections of the U.S. military:
Note that [Sistani] did not fly into American-controlled Baghdad but rather to Kuwait, traveling overland to Basra. Since Basra is in British hands, with a Shiite governor that seems pro-Sistani, it seems possible that Sistani's people coordinated his return with the British and with the Basra authorities rather than with the United States and the Allawi government. Indeed, America's most militant asset in Najaf, governor Ali al-Zurfi, seems dead set against Sistani returning with crowds this way.
You have to wonder if the British MI6 and military are showing some insubordination toward the Americans by allowing all this, as a mark of their disapproval of the gung-ho Marine attacks in Najaf, which have caused trouble in the British-held South and endangered the British garrisons.
It's not a bad conjecture. The British, recall, have always been leery of the U.S.'s "drop the hammer" counterinsurgency tactics -- so maybe they think that killing Sadr isn't such a great idea.
This wouldn't be the first time the British have defused an American crisis. Back in June, there was that little border incident, when U.S. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez ordered British troops to prepare for a "full-scale ground offensive" against Iran, before British FM Jack Straw stepped in and resolved matters diplomatically. But this might be the first time the British have tried to undercut the U.S. strategically, and that's big news. Is Tony Blair still simmering after Colin Powell embarrassed him by shooting down his proposal for Iraqi military autonomy? Is that why Blair won't come to the U.S. and accept his Congressional Medal of Honor? And more importantly, are we in for more bickering and backbiting?
- Bradford Plumer
Times Online - UK
MY ENEMYS enemy isnt always my friend. Sometimes hes just another enemy, as Jack Straw is now painfully discovering. In the past three months one of the major planks of British diplomacy has collapsed underneath the Foreign Secretary.
For the past three years Mr Straw has been practising a policy of constructive engagement towards Iran. He, and his advisers, believed that the regime in Tehran was uniquely placed to be wooed and won. Sandwiched, as it was, between Taleban Afghanistan and Saddams Iraq, and hostile to both, it appeared to be a valuable potential ally in the war against terrorism. As an enemy of two of Britains post-9/11 enemies, Iran seemed to be a suitable candidate for the role of New Best Friend. To that end, Mr Straw has visited Tehran five times in the past two years, making it one of his frequent-flyer destinations.
There were those, not least within the Bush Administration, who doubted the wisdom of placing so many eggs in a Persian basket. But the British diplomatic establishment was so convinced of the worth of this charm offensive that it persuaded Tony Blair to use up much of his valuable political capital in America to secure White House acquiescence for Mr Straws strategy.
The Americans not only swallowed their doubts about the wisdom of Mr Straws plan, they also kept quiet when France and Germany joined in. The EU foreign ministers soon used their policy of constructive engagement with Iran as a stick with which to beat the White House. Germany and France celebrated the potential of their subtle diplomatic footwork with Iran, claiming that the Europeans were showing those stoopid white men in the Pentagon how subtlety rather than force was the best way to win friends and influence people in the Middle East.
The Germans, British and French may well have succeeded in influencing Iranian policy by their actions. But it is hard to see how Irans actions recently can be considered friendly. Even by French standards.
In the past three months Iran has kidnapped eight British servicemen, compelling Britain to truckle for their release; used its agents to foment insurgency and unrest in Iraq; arranged a summit with Syria to discuss future terrorist co-operation; and started a process designed to secure itself an atomic bomb in defiance of international agreements. The best estimates, from European diplomats, put Iran just one year away from having the raw material for a bomb and three years from deploying a deliverable device.
Even some of those who were once most enthusiastic about the prospect of developing a constructive relationship with Iran, such as Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, have been compelled to express their great concerns at Irans activity. But Herr Fischer, like Mr Straw, still seems incapable of recognising that it has been precisely because of their policy that there is such cause for concern now.
The regime in Tehran has interpreted the EUs desire to develop a constructive relationship as Western weakness, and Americas acquiescence while she is involved in Iraq as confirmation of that weakness. Like all states that practise violence against their own people and terror against others, Iran construes weakness in other nations as a licence for further repression at home and adventurism abroad.
In the period during which Mr Straw has been visiting Tehran, the Iranian leadership has crushed even the few licensed dissenters it had once allowed a modicum of freedom and also violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations.
It is not only within its own borders that Iran has been working to subvert democracy. At the time of the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, the Iranian leadership met President Assad of Syria to review how they might further destabilise Iraqi progress towards representative government. Iranian support for Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadrs insurgency has been just one of Tehrans tactics. It is particularly ironic that Britains constructive approach to Tehran has thus allowed Iranian-backed fighters to put British soldiers in their sights.
Having argued in this space that constructive engagement with Iran was an error, since the policy began, it seems to me inexplicable that more voices have not been raised to oppose Mr Straws appeasement. The regime in Tehran has never been a plausible potential ally in the War on Terror for the simple reason that it has been one of the main sponsors of terrorism across the world since its inception.
And it has shown no signs of wishing to desist from practising terror at any point in the past 25 years. The Islamic republic, from the moment it announced its arrival on the world stage by taking the residents of Tehrans American Embassy hostage, has always signalled its contempt for the conventions of Western diplomacy and its faith in terrorism as a tool of political advance. The latest evidence of Irans implacable attachment to terror comes in the findings of the congressional investigation into 9/11, which demonstrates complicity between Iran and al-Qaeda.
There is no longer any excuse for Mr Straw to cling to the corpse of a failed policy, nor for others to acquiesce silently in his folly. We need to work now to support the appetite for democracy among the Iranian people just as we gave hope to Soviet dissidents and Polish trade unionists in the 1980s by backing those who broadcast the truth to the oppressed, funding those who will organise for change and showing those who are really the Wests friends that we know a shared enemy when we see one.
Many on the left, most visibly Presidential contender John Kerry, often claim that the "coalition of the willing" is weak and that participation from the international community has been minimal if anything. Opponents of President Bush use such claims in order to discredit the legitimacy of this noble endeavor for freedom. It may not be such a bad idea to look at the state of our coalition, not in an effort to attack President Bush, but rather to conduct a healthy reassessment and critique of the coalition and our allies.
Several weeks ago, Michael Rubin returned from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, and upon his return resigned from the Pentagon. In recent weeks Mr. Rubin has expressed his views regarding the region, most notably illustrating the many links between the Islamic clerical regime in Iran and much of the violence that has broken out across Iraq, evident in the actions of Al Sadr and his fanatical brigade who have reportedly received millions of dollars in funding from the mullahs in Iran.
An article published in the Telegraph of London yesterday quoted Mr. Rubin's sentiments that "British officials clearly had little interest in pursuing the White House vision of a democratic Iraq, a keystone of its foreign policy, and were too 'soft' in confronting dissent." The article goes on to say that "many US officials had been startled at their British counterparts' attempts to capitalize on their presence in southern Iraq for a 'freelance' fostering of ties with Iran, one of Washington's most implacable enemies." The article also discusses the tension between Paul Bremer and his British counterpart, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, by quoting a provisional authority insider who said, "There was an understanding in the CPA that Bremer and Greenstock didn't like each other. It personified the differences between the two views. Greenstock thought Bremer was naive; Bremer thought Greenstock was pursuing the wrong policies."
It is no big surprise to many who have followed the region's history and the mullahcracy's economic ties with nations who proclaim to be supporters in the War on Terror, that such concerns are now gaining visibility. Because we cannot continue to escape the truth by thinking of this historic conflict in the same superficial light the media shines on it, we are obliged to look carefully at the fact that the British government has been a staunch supporter of the regime in Iran since the early days of the Islamic Republic, although this relationship has scarcely been mentioned until now. Mr. Rubin's statements represent some of the first high-level public acknowledgments of this worrisome arrangement.
Michael Rubin's resignation is not the first of its kind. Richard Perle, a strong supporter of freedom throughout the Middle East, resigned from the Defense Policy Board in February. These resignations and statements that have recently surfaced all raise the question: are the so-called "neocons", or those who believe in America's duty to nurture and defend freedom throughout the world, including Iran, unhappy with the direction in which the Bush administration is now headed, and is it perhaps even plausible to suggest that the ideology of the Richard Armitage/Colin Powell types, who believe Iran is a "sort-of" democracy, gaining ground?
We cannot forget that the the British have contributed around 10,000 troops to the Iraqi theater, but as Americans, should we really be thankful? British deployments have been exclusively located in regions of Iraq that have been uncannily stable since the fall of Saddam's regime, a region that is also heavily Shiite. Dozens of reports have been issued that explain the influx of Islamic-regime sponsored agents and clerics since the US invasion, but why aren't British forces who occupy Shiite regions in southeastern Iraq, an ideological safe haven and staging ground for the Mullah's agents, experiencing the same sort of turbulence that American soldiers are experiencing elsewhere? Of course these are all questions, but they are questions that need to be asked, because if it is determined that there is some correlation between resistance that certain coalition forces (American soldiers) are facing and British trade agreements with Iran, then perhaps the United States should ask the Mullahs to bestow similar kindness to American forces.
Considering the importance of this momentous effort to free the people of the Middle East (both Arabs and Persians), it is critical that the allies of liberty, human rights and justice all have the same goals and objectives in mind, because in the end there is only one kind of freedom. If it is discovered to be the case that a particular ally has objectives that are not in alignment with ours, then it is better we address this problem sooner rather than later, before we reach the point of no return.
Forward-thinking analysts and intellectuals rightfully believe that in order for Iraq to stabilize and institutions of freedom and justice to succeed, the regime in Iran must fall. A free and democratic Iraq would be a major blow to the Mullahs, which would likely result in an overthrow of the regime, and the only thing the Mullahs fear more than an all out military assault against their nuclear sites is the overthrow of their illegitimate mafia rule. They will use all means available to prevent such a scenario; they will continue to stir unrest throughout Iraq, with hopes that democracy will not rise and President Bush will not be re-elected.
Ultimately, the question we should be demanding that the Bush Administration, Congress and Senate ask themselves is: if the British have close economic ties and relationships with the regime in Iran, but are also part of the coalition to bring freedom to the peoples of the region, does such an arrangement signify a conflict of interest, and if it does, how should such a conflict be resolved? As the battle wages, the only wrong policy is to accuse the United States of being "naive" in our struggle to bring freedom to those who shed tears of blood as they await their liberation.
See how intolerant Iran is: Nobel winner Ebadi says she feels threatened
27 August 2004
TEHERAN - Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said yesterday she believed people opposed to her human rights activities were trying to intimidate her into stopping her work in the state.
Mrs Ebadi said metal fences protecting her home in Teheran had been cut without any sign of an attempt to rob her house.
They want to tell me that I am not safe even in my own house, she said by telephone.
I have always been threatened in the past because of my activities, Mrs Ebadi said. But I will not limit or stop my work.
The ingredients are well-known: sexed-up intelligence material which puts the target country in the worst possible light; moves to get the UN to declare it in "non- compliance", thereby claiming justification for going in unilaterally even if the UN gives no support for invasion; and at the back of the whole brouhaha, a clique of American neoconservatives whose real agenda is regime change.
The immediate focus for action against Iran is the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has produced five reports on Iran in the last 14 months. Part of the UN, with an international board which acts like a mini security council, the IAEA's reports have raised questions about Iran's professedly civilian nuclear programme and its desire to create its own fuel cycle which could eventually be used to produce bombs.
To satisfy its critics, Iran agreed last year to allow so-called intrusive inspections. As a confidence-building measure, it also stopped enriching uranium. In a few days' time the IAEA will issue a new report, and it is its wording which is causing the latest flurry. John Bolton, the Bush administration's point-man, has been rushing round Europe claiming the evidence of sinister Iranian behaviour is clear, even though the IAEA has consistently made no such judgment. It has called for more transparency, but prefers to keep probing and, like Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq in 2003, insists it needs more time.
Iran, meanwhile, says the IAEA should accept that nothing wrong has been found, close the dossier and let Iran receive the civilian nuclear technology - with the safeguards that go with it - which countries like Germany and France have promised.
Bolton is not, at this stage, claiming to have intelligence which the IAEA's inspectors don't. After the fiasco of the US's pre-war material on Iraq, he has not started to trumpet US sources. But he is choosing to interpret the available knowledge as harshly as possible. He is also close to the Washington hardliners in the Project for the New American Century, who created the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against unfriendly states and who favour regime change to deal with Islamist fundamentalism.
Norman Podhoretz, the arch-conservative editor of Commentary magazine, one of their house journals, said last week: "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although I wouldn't be heartbroken if it happened."
There are differences from the anti-Iraq campaign two years ago. This time the US is taking the lead in going to the UN. Bolton wants the IAEA board to say Iran has violated its commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and take the matter to the security council for a decision on sanctions or other stern action. France and Germany are resisting a move to the UN.
Second, even the US (Podhoretz excepted) is not talking about a full-scale US invasion with ground troops. It has too many soldiers tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan to spare many for a third campaign. The talk is of using US special forces or airstrikes to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, or giving a green light to Israel to do it. Slightly less impatiently, there are hints that the CIA will step up its campaign to overthrow the regime in Tehran by encouraging anti-government TV and radio broadcasts from abroad and infiltrating opposition movements.
The biggest difference, though, is in Britain's stance. Unlike with the Bush campaign against Saddam Hussein, Britain is siding this time with France and Germany. It is part of a "troika" which promotes constructive engagement rather than confrontation with Iran. Their dialogue ran into a sticky phase this summer with allegations of bad faith on both sides, but the three European states are willing to keep it going.
They have powerful arguments. The disaster of the Iraq war and the failure to bring peace, stability or order make them want no repetition in Iraq's more populous and larger neighbour. Even "limited" air-strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities would unify the country and harden hostility to the west throughout the Middle East, especially if Washington subcontracted the attacks to the Israeli air force.
Most Iraqi resistance to the Americans is based on nationalist resentment, and Iranians are no different. People of all political persuasions in Tehran support their country's right to have nuclear power, and probably even bombs. Threatening them with force is not the most intelligent way to persuade them otherwise.
The defeat of Iran's reformist MPs in this spring's unfair elections, as well as the certainty that President Mohammad Khatami will be replaced by a less liberal figure next year, have not ended the chance of dialogue with Tehran. European diplomats detect the emergence of a group of "pragmatic conservatives" in the Iranian leadership who could be easier to deal with than the beleaguered liberals of the past seven years. Many are non-clerical veterans of the Iran-Iraq war who are influenced by nationalism and economic imperatives more than the revolutionary Islamic ideology of the Khomeini generation. They want better relations with the west.
Britain's difference with Washington on Iran is remarkable. It matters more than the better-publicised splits on the Kyoto environmental protocol or the international criminal court. But does Britain's alignment with France and Germany on Iran mean that Tony Blair has really parted with George Bush on a key geo-political and military issue? Or has he not yet spotted that what he regards as the lily-livered flunkies in the Foreign Office are up to their "realist" tricks again? They also opposed the invasion of Iraq until Ol' Laser-Eyes in Downing Street focused on the file.
We will know the answer after the US election. Even if Kerry wins, European diplomats expect no major change in Washington's policy to wards Iran. Like Cuba, Iran produces special symptoms of irrationality (because of the unrevenged wound to US pride the mullahs caused when they held diplomats hostage in the embassy a quarter of a century ago).
So how will Blair cuddle up to the new president? What easier way than to break with France and Germany and show Kerry that, whether there's a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, Britain's prime minister is still best friends when it comes to being tough with Islamist bullies and taking the brave and moral route to war? Inshallah, no.
Tehran, Aug 27 - The kidnapped reporter of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Mostafa Darban, was released on Friday.
Iraqi security have arrested Dabran on August 9 in Baghdad.
Darban was held at Iraq's interior ministry, the Iraqi officials finally said after Iran have launched a massive hunt for the missing reporter.
Russia has been building the Bushehr plant in southern Iran since the early 1990s despite strong criticism from Washington which says Tehran can use it to make a nuclear bomb.
According to the latest start-up schedule seen by Reuters, Bushehr is due to come on stream next year and reach full capacity in 2006. But on Sunday, Asadollah Sabouri, Iran's senior nuclear official, said the plant would not start working until October 2006.
"I don't know what that is all about. We have not been officially notified of any delays. In fact, there are no delays," said Nikolai Shingaryov, a spokesman for the Russian Atomic Energy Agency.
"We intend to start it up in 2005. And we will do so."
Washington says Iran seeks weapons of mass destruction and has called on Russia to ditch the $800 million Bushehr project.
It also fears Iran would use the 1,000-megawatt plant as a cover for the transfer of other sensitive nuclear technology.
But Iran says it has no atomic weapons plans. Moscow also denies any suggestion that Tehran could make a bomb on the basis of the power station's technology.
Despite U.S. fears, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in June it was unconcerned by Russia's construction of the plant.
To allay U.S. concerns Iran could extract plutonium, which can be used in atomic bombs, from spent fuel at Bushehr, Russia has pledged to sign a deal with Iran to oblige it to return all fuel to Russia after a decade of use.
Russian Atomic Energy Agency chief Alexander Rumyantsev is due to sign the document in Iran later this year.
Intervening in Iraq
As a duty of memory, it is necessary, on the eve of the presidential election, to give a clear and definitive look at one of the most crucial events of the Bush administration and understand there was no room for hesitation. Let's consider three main facts.
First, the U.S. intervention was legitimized by the U.N. Charter itself. Indeed, there are two kinds of resolutions: Those that fall under Chapter VI; and those that fall under Chapter VII. Chapter VI resolutions require a pacific settlement of disputes, without any armed-force intervention that is, for instance, resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine. Chapter VII resolutions allow, through Article 41, the use of armed force when all other means have failed this type of resolution concerned Iraq. Therefore, undertaking a military course of action was legitimate, and the United States respected the spirit and principles of the U.N. Charter.
Second, it was not a new war. Technically speaking, the 1991 Gulf War was interrupted by an armistice, which is a cease fire, not a peace treaty. Fights are on hold and may resume at any moment without a new war declaration if negotiations fail. And they did, since Saddam Hussein did not fulfill his international obligations. Saddam did not show any proof to the United Nations that he disarmed, nor did he say explicitly that he did not own any weapons of mass destruction. He then represented a clear danger. Military intervention was necessary, and even a moral obligation, to eradicate this threat.
Third, to this military threat must be added the threat to human dignity. A humanitarian situation may justify military intervention. This is legitimate because the Security Council issued (under Chapter VII) Resolution 940 in 1994 that authorized military intervention in order to re-establish democracy in Haiti. Justifying such a course of action, the Security Council stated the disastrous humanitarian situation was a threat to peace. But a similar context was found in Iraq, too: Resolution 57/232 of the U.N. General Assembly of Dec. 18, 2002, stated clearly the violation of basic human rights in Iraq. Thus the violence of Saddam's dictatorship was internationally recognized: suppression of freedoms; use of torture; the use of rape as a political tool and so on, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror. The price of non-intervention in Iraq should also be considered in the light of those acknowledged facts. Thus, leftist politicians and the media should think twice when they are questioning the U.S. intervention in Iraq.
Unfortunately, war is still waged today. But we should not ignore the analysis of it. Is the allied coalition responsible for Iraq's destabilization? Let's not forget that what we see today is the Iraqi democratic government victim of asymmetrical warfare, this new type of war led by terrorists. They conduct dramatic attacks against military or civilian targets in the sole aim of shaking the foundation of a legitimate democratic government by showing it is unable to protect its own population. Since terrorists are not responsible to any states, Iraqi authorities have no one to speak to, leaving the impression of weakness and chaos, the supreme trap of terrorists. We shall not fall into it.
Indeed, there is no room for balancing, nor for regrets. In the light of the above facts, President Bush's decision was responsible and legitimate. International law was not despised, it merely showed its limits and should be reconsidered and even rebuilt in the light of warfare changes. And at least now, there's hope for democracy in Iraq, even if the fight for it will be hard. But it is worth fighting.
Sylvain Charat is director of Policy Studies in the French think tank Eurolibnetwork and chief of staff for Alain Madelin, former secretary of finance for French President Jacques Chirac.