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Subsidies Slashed, Security Forces Deploy; Majles Council Vote: End UK Ties

19 Dec 2010 22:28No Comments

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Heavy Security on Iran Streets after Subsidy Cuts

AP | Dec 19

Iran deployed squads of riot police around the major intersections of the capital Sunday, bracing for any kind of violent backlash in the tightly controlled Islamic Republic on the day deep cuts in food and energy subsidies went into effect.

Angry taxi drivers complained as the price of fuel rose four times overnight in one of the world's leading oil producers.

"I don't know what to do," said one frustrated cab driver, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution by authorities. "I am not allowed to increase price of my service while I am paying five times more than yesterday."

A truck driver said he paid ten times more on Sunday for natural gas to fuel his vehicle.

"If I raise my prices, people will not be able to afford it. Or they may report me," said Mansour Abbasi, 43.

Before the subsidy cuts, Iran had some of the cheapest gasoline in the world.

Under the new rationing system, each personal car receives 60 liters (16 gallons) of subsidized fuel a month costing 40 cents a liter ($1.50 a gallon) -- up from the just 10 cents a liter. Further purchases of gas would run 70 cents a liter ($2.69 a gallon), up from just 40 cents.

One lawmaker said he had expected the extent of price rises overnight to happen gradually over five years.

"I am surprised. We do not know what happened," the lawmaker told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. "The price of fuel was supposed to reach about international prices within the next five years and not this year."

Iranian Riot Police Out In Force as Food and Fuel Subsidies End

Guardian | Dec 19

Opposition websites reported drivers rushing to fill petrol tanks and long queues at cash machines as Iranians withdrew money paid to poor families to compensate for the subsidy cuts. Ferries at Bandar-Abbas on the Persian Gulf were not operating in protest against the steep rise in petrol prices.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the reform the "biggest surgery" Iran's economy had experienced in half a century.

Last month he warned protesters not to exploit the situation, saying they would "regret it for ever."

The economic plan was due for a September launch but repeated delays were seen as evidence of profound anxiety among the government about the effect.

"I saw lots of riot police on my way to the university," said Behnam Visme, a student. "Everyone was worried about the rise in the taxi fares and utility bills."

Babak Shirazi, a teacher, said: "Petrol is a sensitive issue for Iranians, because most people take taxis or buses and the fares are directly related to petrol prices."

Hassan Hakimian, an expert on Iran's economy, said cutting subsidies was a far bigger challenge than countering the effect of UN and other sanctions imposed over Tehran's nuclear programme.

"The cuts will [be] unpopular but they are a necessary medicine. Most Iranian economists don't so much question the need for reforms but the manner in which they are implemented, as well as weak management and a lack of transparency," he said.

Ahmadinejad's critics have focused on his failings in this area. Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, a leading scholar in Qom, recently accused the government of lying about the economic situation. "Statistics about reducing inflation are constantly released but contradict what the people see with their own eyes," Shirazi was quoted as saying. "When state statistics don't correspond with reality, people lose confidence in government."

Iran Fuel Prices Rocket as Subsidies Cut

AFP | Dec 19

"So far no untoward incident has been reported since the implementation of the plan," Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia told Mehr news agency.

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad thanked citizens for "cooperating" in the initiative.

"I believe the Iranian nation...will move forward till the last stages of this great economic plan," state television quoted him as saying.

The conservative parliament tried to delay the changes by challenging the government's authority to decide on how to distribute among the poor savings generated from the subsidy cuts.

But on Sunday, 175 lawmakers in the 290-seat parliament thanked Ahmadinejad for moving ahead with the cuts "when enemies of the Islamic revolution are attempting to show by imposing sanctions that the economic situation of the country is turbulent and disorganised."

Mohammad Hirad Hatami, a conservative economic analyst, told AFP the plan was "undoubtedly positive as it would entice manufacturers to modernise their machinery."

He said the government also aims to "decrease the number of unnecessary private car commuters, but the price hike (on petrol) is not high enough and so crowded streets will continue to be crowded."

Subsidy Cuts Quadruple Gas Prices in Iran

New York Times | Dec 19

Policymakers have described the program as a "rationalization" or "targetization" of Iran's vast and inefficient subsidies system, but some analysts fear it could lead to high inflation and increase living costs for millions of middle and low-income households.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said that the government was spending $114 billion a year on energy subsidies. "If we can save one-quarter of that, it will amount to a vast economic transformation," he said.

He said that the prices of water, electricity and natural gas would increase "gradually," and that the subsidy for bread would also be gradually eliminated. He predicted that the bottom 60 percent of income earners would be better off under the new plan while the wealthier 40 percent would "need to economize."

Iranian governments have sought for years to rein in the expensive and unwieldy subsidy system but have feared a strong public backlash. Price supports amount to $4,000 per family per year, a recent International Monetary Fund report found.

The government tried to cushion the blow by making a one-time payment to each household of about $77. Although the funds were deposited in October, Iranians were not allowed to withdraw the money until Sunday, the day the reductions took effect.

Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad's call for Iranians to refrain from spending the money immediately in order to help prevent a sharp jump in inflation, witnesses reported that many customers were withdrawing the full amount at once.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said the government would monitor and control increases in transportation costs that arise from the subsidy cuts. In recent months, his administration has insisted that any price increases above government-ordained limits would be considered part of an "economic conspiracy" and would be dealt with by the police and judiciary.

In addition, specially appointed committees from the paramilitary Basij force, which is loyal to the Revolutionary Guards, are set to monitor the activities of Iran's guilds, a move likely to result in further tension between the government and Iran's traditional bazaar system.

"In the dark of night the subsidy targetization plan began, a plan which the government has begun to execute detached from the people, without wisdom or long-term planning, " read an article published on the Kaleme news Web site, which is associated with the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Iranians Reluctantly Accept Huge Gasoline Price Rise

Reuters | Dec 19

The [four-fold] midnight price hike [of gasoline] was accepted with grim resignation.

"Are people happy? Sure, the Iranian people always welcome high prices," said one employee at a Tehran petrol station, raising an eyebrow to emphasise the sarcasm.

"I won't be able to use my car from now on with these high prices," said a 56-year-old Tehrani, filling his Pride, a compact made by Iran's Saipa, based on the South Korean Kia model, which is the car of choice for middle-income Iranians.

"As we don't have a good public transportation system it won't be easy for people. It will be better for me to stay at home," he said.

At a Tehran gas station, a hired driver was filling up his boss's BMW, which, as a high-powered imported luxury brand, did not qualify for the subsidised fuel even before the cuts.

"I am just a driver, the new prices will change nothing for the owner of this car, but what should a person like me do?" said the 48-year-old who, like many Iranians, preferred not to be identified by name in the foreign media.

Opposition website Iran Green Voice quoted lawmaker Bahman Akhavan as saying Iran's economy could suffer if the subsidy cuts are not implemented carefully.

"If we are unable to undertake a clear and radical surgery, the reaction of this living creature would be inflation, a wave of bankruptcies and likely protests," he said.

Iranian Police on Alert as Government Cutbacks Begin

VOA | Dec 19

Nader Hashemi, who teaches Middle East politics at the University of Denver, says the subsidy cuts are risky for the government.

"This is a game of high stakes politics that can badly go wrong, with huge consequences for the regime's stability given the fact that Iran's economy is already hurting due to mismanagement and economic sanctions."

Houchang Hassan-yari, who teaches at Canada's Royal Military College, warns of inflation in the wake of the subsidy cuts.

"If the government does not control the situation, inflation is going to jump drastically. Some economists, including the former Minister of Economics Danesh-Jaffari, talk of a 25 percent jump in inflation, so if you add that to the normal [rate] of 10 to 15 percent, which in my view is optimistic, we're talking about an inflation [rate] of 40% or more."


Fariborz Raeis-Dana Detained

RAHANA | Dec 19

Fariborz Raeis-Dana, an economist and an economics researcher, has been detained at his house by the security forces.

His wife Azadeh Forghani stated that 8 agents entered their house without showing an arrest warrant.

The [...] authorities have told them that he is being taken for questioning. [The arrest was apparently prompted by an interview he gave to BBC Persian criticizing the implementation of the subsidy reform plan.]

His whereabouts are unknown.

His wife also added that the agents did not even show their identification cards.

Forghani stated that they have been treated well and the authorities have told her to refrain from interviewing the media and if she does, she should state that the behavior of the authorities has been well.

They have also signed a document since the agents have taken Raeis-Dana's laptop and CDs. Raeis-Dana is a member of the Iranian Writer's Association.

Iran MPs Push for Cut in Ties with Britain

AFP | Dec 19

An influential group of Iranian MPs on Sunday backed a motion to cut all ties with Britain after its ambassador criticised the Islamic republic on human rights, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Parliament's foreign policy and national security commission voted in favour of a draft bill to sever ties with Britain, commission member Mohammad Karami-Rad told IRNA.

"The offensive and cheap stance of their ambassador was discussed at the commission and everyone was determined about cutting ties," he said, without specifying when the 290-member parliament would put the bill on its agenda.

British ambassador Simon Gass has angered conservatives in Iran by saying that lawyers, journalists and NGO workers were "nowhere under greater threat than in Iran" and calling for prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh's release.

"Since last year human rights defenders (in Iran) have been harassed and imprisoned," he said in a blog posted on the British embassy website to mark International Human Rights Day on December 10.

Iranian Parliamentary Committee Approves Motion to Cut Ties with Britain

AP (via Winnipeg Free Press) | Dec 19

The motion requires the approval of the full parliament and a constitutional watchdog to take effect.

If approved, Karamirad said diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with London will drop to "zero," which will teach Britain a lesson about "how to deal with the great Iranian people."


The Regime's New Dread in Iran

Newsweek | Dec 19

Roozbeh, a 26-year-old university student in Tehran, considers himself a revolutionary. Never mind that he rarely leaves his room at his mother's house. "Many people of my generation hate this regime," he tells NEWSWEEK via Skype, asking that his last name be kept private. He says he spends 14 hours a day dodging government-imposed firewalls to share news with other Iranian cyberactivists inside and outside Iran. His strategy resonates with leaders of the country's opposition Green Movement, who are now shunning street protests in favor of online organizing.

Roozbeh scares Iran's current rulers. In public they deny it, of course, dismissing him and his allies as "losers with no significant power base," in the words of Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But the mockery rings false: in fact, the Revolutionary Guards have grown worried enough to establish a Permanent Soft War Secretariat, dedicated to plugging what the Guards' commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, calls "the loopholes in our soft defense mechanism." The massive demonstrations of 2009 have migrated behind closed doors, unseen by pro-regime Basij thugs, where activists spread the word of resistance via instant message, satellite television, and what authorities fear most: social networking.

Their vehicle of choice is Facebook, as evidenced by the Revolutionary Guards-produced cautionary TV program A Monster Called Facebook, in which founder Mark Zuckerberg is depicted as a Zionist spy. In coming months, the Guards are also expected to beef up their new Facebook Infiltration Task Force, which prowls the site hunting for critics of the regime and blocking ordinary Iranians' access. It's become almost routine for Iranian travelers at the Tehran airport to be stopped for questioning about their use of the world's largest social-networking site.

Iran Ex-Foreign Minister Says Sacking 'Un-Islamic'

AFP | Dec 19

Iran's former foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki has hit out at his sacking this week by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, branding the move both "un-Islamic and offensive."

"Sacking a minister while (he is) on a mission is un-Islamic, undiplomatic, offensive and outside the practices of politics," Mottaki was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency on Sunday.

Ahmadinejad announced his decision to oust Mottaki on Monday while the 57-year-old career diplomat was on an official visit to Senegal.

"I was never told about the appointment of a new person within 24 hours of my departure for the mission," Mottaki said, referring to a meeting he had with the president on the eve of his departure, Mehr reported.

The country's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi officially took over on Saturday as the Islamic republic's interim foreign minister at a function which was also a farewell ceremony for Mottaki -- who shunned the reception.

"What is more ridiculous is that (I was not told about) the date for the farewell ceremony and the introduction" of Salehi, Mottaki said.

Responding to his remarks, a top aide to Ahmadinejad reiterated the government line that Mottaki had known in advance about his dismissal.

"Mr Mottaki was told about the change last Saturday, and he too expressed his readiness" to be replaced, senior adviser Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Ex-Iranian FM Criticizes President for Sacking Him

AP | Dec 19

There was more criticism of Ahmadinejad in parliament on Sunday, after an outcry last week.

Ali Larijani, parliament speaker and a close ally of Mottaki, said during a speech in an open session of parliament that he appreciated Mottaki's service.

"The change should have happened with prudence and dignity and not during the visit," Larijani said.

Ali Motahari, one of the lawmakers opposed to Ahmadinejad, told Khabaronline news website Sunday that Mottaki learned about his dismissal from Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

"The president (Ahmadinejad) did not have such a right. I hope he will have a convincing response for this," he said.

Germany Seeks Better Cooperation with Iran

Fars | Dec 18

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle felicitated Ali Akbar Salehi on his appointment as caretaker of Iran's Foreign Ministry, and called for better mutual cooperation between Tehran and Berlin.

As regards the case with the two German nationals recently arrested by security forces for illegal activities in Iran, the German foreign minister called on Tehran officials to show more assistance on the case.

Posing as reporters, the two German nationals interviewed the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been convicted of collaboration in her husband's murder as well as adultery.

The two German nationals, who contacted the Ashtiani family disguised as journalists, were detained after a person close to the family alerted authorities of their suspicious behavior.

Meantime, a senior Iranian judiciary official announced earlier this month that the two German nationals have admitted to breaking the law.

"The two Germans have acknowledged their offence, saying that claiming to be journalists was not right," Iran's Prosecutor-General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejeii told reporters in Iran's northwestern city of Tabriz in mid October.

Ejeii said the two detainees had ties with hostile anti-Islamic Republic elements operating from outside the country.

Iranian Exile Expresses Fears for German Reporters Held in Iran

DPA (via Monsters and Critics) | Dec 19

An Iranian human rights activist exiled in Germany expressed fears Sunday that the regime in Tehran would continue detaining as a political pawn a pair of German reporters held in Iran.

The journalists for Bild am Sonntag newspaper were arrested on October 10, as they sought to interview the son and the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a woman jailed for adultery and allegedly helping to murder her husband. Both reporters were visiting Iran on tourist visas.

'I fear the regime will want to leverage this case more,' Mina Ahadi, who was to have acted as translator for the pair, and has lived in Germany since seeking refuge in 1996, said.

'I feel solidarity for these reporters. They were isolated in single cells for two or three weeks before they were moved. There is no sign of an imminent release,' she added.

Ahadi, who lives under police protection after fleeing Iran in 1996, fears that the case has placed her back in Teheran's spotlight, after she was asked to act as translator over the phone during their interview.

'My case has worsened. My entire family is acutely endangered,' Ahadi said.

Iranian Press TV television has portrayed Ahadi, who founded the activist group International Committee Against Stoning, as the real culprit, for using Mohammadi-Ashtiani's case to stir up anti-Iranian sentiment.

The dissident, once sentenced to death by Teheran for her political activities, has renounced Islam and in Cologne set up the Central Council of ex-Muslims. She works in an undisclosed location, and is convinced that she is under surveillance.

'The Islamic regime observes my activities and is using this case against me,' Ahadi told German Press Agency dpa. 'I am allegedly a terrorist. There is also an indirect appeal for my murder.'

Iran Calls on Pak to Act against Terror Group

The Hindu | Dec 19

Iran has asked Pakistan to act against a terror group accused of carrying out the recent suicide bombing in the Iranian city of Chabahar that killed 36 people, an incident which has caused fresh strain in ties between the two countries.

Iranian Ambassador Mashallah Shakeri on Saturday handed over a communique to Interior Minister Rehman Malik demanding Pakistan's cooperation in investigating the Chabahar suicide bombing that had also left over 100 people injured. The attack on a Shia procession on December 15 was claimed by the Sunni militant group Jundallah (Army of God).

Iran has often alleged that Jundullah operatives are based and trained in Pakistan. Iranian authorities said they had caught one of the bomber's accomplices at the border, apparently trying to slip back into Pakistan.

Mr Malik assured the Iranian envoy that Pakistan would extend all help for the probe.

An investigation team would be sent to Iran if the need arises and Pakistan will never allow anyone to use its soil for terrorist activities directed against another country, he said.

Details of Iran-5+1 Negotiations in Geneva

Tehran Times | Dec 19

Some details of negotiations between the Iran and the 5+1 group (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) in Geneva on December 6-7 leaked to media.

Following is an excerpt of negotiations revealed:

In contrast to the last year's talks between Iran and the 5+1 group in Geneva in which a freeze-for-freeze option (a halt to nuclear enrichment by Iran and a halt to Western sanctions on Iran) was raised, this time this option was not raised.

At the beginning of negotiations, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Iranian delegation was a guest of Europe and asked the Iranian side to start talks. In the previous negotiations, Javier Solana (Ashton's predecessor) and representatives of the 5+1 initiated the talks and this gave an opportunity to the Iranian side to assess the views of the other side.

However, Jalili, the head of the Iranian negotiating team, cleverly counteracted and directed the meeting toward a trial of the West including its tacit support for terrorists and said the Security Council resolutions shows the address for terrorism. Jalili also said the approach adopted by the West in monopolization of science is a reminiscent of the Middle Age. Mrs. Ashton who had so far kept silent about terrorist acts in Tehran, was forced to condemn it and asked the chief Iranian negotiator to continue his talks.

Jalili cited a number of issues including disarmament, non-proliferation, and the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe as a violation of the NPT and the U.S. refusal to abide to resolutions to destroy chemical weapons in a way that the meeting was directed to a scene of Iran's questions from the West.

Iran's Ahmadinejad Seeks 'Win-Win' Outcome from Iran Talks

NewsDaily | Dec 18

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday he hoped for a "win-win" outcome from talks with world powers concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions, striking an unusually conciliatory tone.

The comments, in a live television interview, echoed the stance of his new foreign minister who, earlier in the day, used his inaugural speech to call for "positive interaction" with the European Union, usually a target of Iranian hostility.

While giving no hint that Iran would change its stance in the talks, which resumed this month and are due to continue in January, Ahmadinejad said he hoped all parties could emerge with their "dignity and reputation" intact.

"The talks in Geneva, I think, were positive ones," he said, referring to two-day negotiations in early December with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P5+1). These restarted after more than a year during which international sanctions on Iran were ramped up.

Ahmadinejad called on the countries to end the sanctions and "to turn the policy of confrontation to interaction and cooperation."

"If we move toward interaction it's a win-win situation, there will be no loser. We want everyone to be a winner from the very beginning."

The softer tone from Ahmadinejad, who said last week that countries that continued to pressure Iran would suffer a fate "worse than that of pharaohs and the tyrants of history," came hours after his new foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi took office.

Salehi appeared to offer an olive branch to the 27-nation European Union, which infuriated the Islamic Republic earlier this year by imposing new sanctions.

"Despite the EU's illogical, unprincipled and unjust behavior, EU members are still seeking agreeable relations with Iran for a number of reasons including the energy issue," Salehi said, according to state broadcaster IRIB.

"If the EU speedily transforms its confrontational style into positive interaction, it would be in the interests of both parties."

Iran's 'Indian Supplier' on US Radar

Hindustan Times | Dec 18

A concerned Obama administration suspected an Indian supplier of doing business with an intermediary for the Iranian missile programme during 2007-09, reveal latest US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. According to the documents, the Indian supplier (not named) and a suspect Iranian entity were engaged in business discussions as of mid-April 2009 for supply of nuclear-grade graphite to support Tehran's efforts to build nuclear missiles.

The US urged India to investigate the matter and take steps to prevent the supply of sensitive materials to Iran.

The State Department asked the US embassy in Delhi to raise concerns about proliferation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the embassy to follow up on the supplier and forward her request for action to Indian authorities.

The unnamed Indian firm had beeped on the US radar in the past too.

The cables revealed that in October 2007, the US had shared with India information pertaining to the supply of high-density MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime)-controlled graphite by the Indian firm to Iran's Ward Company.

India was advised that the intended end-user of the graphite was Sahand Aluminium Parts Industrial Company, a cover for Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, Iran's primary developer of liquid-fueled ballistic missiles.


Hadi Heydari, Fatemeh Arabsorkhi, Mohammad Shafeai and Alireza Taheri Arrested

RAHANA | Dec 19

Hadi Heydari, Fatemeh Arabsorkhi, Mohammad Shafeai and Alireza Taheri who had been summoned to the Prosecutor's Office in Evin Prison have been arrested.

According to the RAHANA reporter, the police forces raided the house of Fatemeh Arabsorkhi, a reformist figure, last month and took her computer, picture, notes and personal belongings. They presented her with a summons order on that day.

The detain[ed] activists been transferred to the Evin Prison but the reason for the arrests has not been disclosed.


Student Activist Farzad Eslami Severely Beaten to Make False Confessions

RAHANA | Dec 19

Farzad Esmali, a law student at Tehran University and a former secretary of the Muslim Students Committee, has been severely beaten and has been put under extreme pressure in [Evin Prison in] recent days to admit to unfounded crimes he has been accused of.

According to RAHANA, the interrogators have asked him to admit to the serious charges brought against him.

The interrogators have not presented any evidence for the accusations. Eslami has denied the charges.

Eslami had previously been sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for 3 years, for anti-regime propaganda since he had participated in a gathering on October 13, 2009 in Tehran University of Technology.

He was once arrested on November 3, 2009 and was held in Ward 240, a security ward, for 15 days. The Disciplinary Committee of Tehran University has suspended him for 3 semesters for "persuading and motivating' other students.

He was detained on December 5th, right before the student day.


Iran to Loan More Artworks to Foreign Museums

Mehr (via Payvand) | Dec 19

The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMCA) curator has said that the museum plans to loan three other works of art to exhibitions at foreign museums.

"The Museum of London has applied for [the] loan of Paul Gauguin's 'Still Life with Japanese Print'," Mahmud Shaluii told the Persian service of the Fars News Agency on Monday.

"We are currently investigating their application for the loan of the painting," he added.

He said that they also plan to lend two other works to exhibits in two countries, the names of which will be announced later.

In April 2009, the TMCA rejected a request by the National Gallery of Art in Washington for a loan of Gauguin's "Still Life with Japanese Print" for an exhibition.

"The request was rejected due to their untrustworthiness and lack [of] necessary qualifications for safeguarding the artwork," Shaluii said.


WikiLeaks: Iran Preys Upon Iraq

Justin Vela (AOL News) | Dec 18

As the United States wonders how its legacy in Iraq will play out, documents released by WikiLeaks show how the country's two most powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey, are seeking to exert influence in a land that threatens to again disintegrate into widespread violence.

The content of the cables, raw reporting done by U.S. diplomats, may have been meant to be assessed in Washington in order to correctly influence policy. Yet the missives hint at the future contours of the Middle East conflict, which appears to be headed in a direction where further clashes are impossible to avoid.

"Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- Quds Force (IRGC-QF) officers are active in Iraq, conducting traditional espionage and supporting violent extremists as well as supporting both legitimate and malign Iranian economic and cultural outreach," wrote U.S. Charge d'Affaires Patricia A. Butenis in a classified diplomatic cable from April 2009.

According to the cables, Iran is spending between $100 million and $200 million yearly to exert influence over the political, religious, social and economic landscape of Iraq.

"The Iranians had been working for months to achieve a deal which would return [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] to office for a second term, along with the Shiite religious parties who were his major supporters. They achieved this end, and now they're in a position to take advantage of this as we go forward toward the end of 2011 and the ultimate U.S. withdrawal from the country," said Charles W. Dunne, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, in an interview with the Council for Foreign Relations.

The Iranian regime reportedly has even gone so far as to send assassins to kill members of the Iraqi air force who bombed Iran during the 1980-88 war between the two countries, the cables reveal. The cables also report that Iran used the Iranian Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross, to smuggle agents and weapons into Iraq and around the world during conflicts in Lebanon and the Balkans, as well as during the Iran-Iraq war. "With the war underway, [NAME REMOVED] says the number of Qods officers seeking IRC cover increased and was between ten and 30," reads a cable from last month.


Iran's Lake Urmia Is Drying Up Fast

Jennifer Hattam (TreeHugger) | Dec 19

Though the nearby city of Urmia's name means "city of water," irrigation projects and extended drought have shrunk Lake Urmia (Orumiyeh) to half its former size, according to a recent Financial Times report.

The number of flamingos and other migratory waterfowl in the area has dropped by at least 70 percent as the increasing salinity of the lake, the largest in the Middle East and an important saltwater wetland, has decimated their aquatic food sources. The lake is now believed to be saltier than the Dead Sea, and, the Financial Times writes, "Many Iranians fear Lake Orumiyeh could go the way of Central Asia's Aral Sea, which has virtually disappeared after Soviet-era irrigation projects deprived it of water," sending salt storms across the country and into Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey. Up to 13 million people in this important grape-growing region could be displaced if the lake, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, dries up.

The Iranian government has allocated $1.7 billion over the next five years to redistribute water resources in the region and redesign irrigation systems, a plan it hopes will save Lake Urmia and the people and wildlife that depend on it -- before it's too late.


Mohammad Nourizad's Family Sends Bold Letter to Iran's Supreme Leader

Letter by the Nourizad Family to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Nourizad.net via Persian2English) | Dec 18

It has been days since there has been any news on Mohammad Nourizad; days since his three minute trial in which he was insulted and his prison sentence increased. With no one else to turn to, Nourizad's family have now written a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, referencing a young girl who long ago had the courage to stand up and criticize the Supreme Leader in his presence. Although the young girl's action at the time met with the criticism from those close to the Supreme Leader, she nevertheless received a direct response from the Supreme Leader on that day. In this letter, Nourizad's family told the Supreme Leader of an Ashura in which security agents humiliated and removed the hejab [head scarf] from the head of Mrs. Nourizad, and with Zeynab [sister of Imam Hossein, in commemoration of the Muslim holiday Ashura], dragging her away on the floor into Evin prison. Will their oppressed and silenced voices be heard this time?

In the name of the loving and merciful God,

To the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran,

We write to you today because even though we have exhausted all legal avenues and procedures with regards to the arrest and detention of Mohammad Nourizad, we are wounded and at a loss for words, with our questions still unanswered. We would have liked to have addressed you as "father", but given the difficult circumstances we have endured and continue to endure, we come to you like all ordinary citizens, hoping to find some relief for our endless pain.

Mr. Khamenei, do you recall a young girl with trembling hands who approached you so many years ago amidst a large crowd of citizens who looked at you lovingly? She said: "Sir, I'm not sure how to address you. Some refer to you as my as my Imam Ali, others call you Seyed, Moghtada or Supreme Leader. How should I address you?" You responded: "Call me Khamenei" The young girl said: "Mr. Khamenei, I am here to criticize you, but I wish for you to read this letter yourself rather than give it to the two men present here, because they don't want anyone to criticize you." You looked at her endearingly, took the folded letter from her hand and placed it under your cloak. You left without realizing what the security agents and the two brothers present did to this young girl. She shivered and cried while being interrogated, but in her heart she was glad because Mr. Khamenei had said he would read her letter.

Mr. Khamenei, the young girl had written the following in her letter: "... On the day of the Qods demonstrations, I heard your speech on the national television station [Seda Sima]. I recall you speaking of Imam Ali, of those who were never phased by long periods of worship, those whom at the peak of power and bitter moments of isolation were hospitable to the orphans and never broke anyone's heart. I recall a man standing up. It looked as though he had a letter for you and yet you bitterly ignored him in front of thousands of people. May God forgive me if I insult you in any way. My intention is not to insult, but rather to ask one question. Perhaps it was not the best of circumstances for this person to approach you, but he will for ever feel as though he has been excluded and ignored by the Supreme Leader and the Islamic government. This man's only error was his bad timing and loud voice. Please excuse me for saying this, but you erred in your role as the Guardian of the Islamic Jurist and while speaking of Imam Ali..." The young girl then stated without any particular reason at the end of her letter: " I don't view you as Mehdi, the last Imam. Even though my letter was addressed to the Office of the Supreme Leader, there is no procedure in place to make sure that letters actually reach you..."

Mr. Khamenei, we realize that you receive many letters. We are aware that you frequently receive complaints, cries and pleadings by post, but only a few have actually succeeded in receiving responses to their letters. With her courageous act, however, this young lady became a part of our history. She had presented a simple, direct and bold criticism that was surprisingly answered. Your response to her was as follows: " My dear young girl, I thank you for your note and hope that God will forgive all of us for our numerous small and large mistakes. I provide no defense against the issues you have reminded me of in your letter. At times, because of their bitter tone, the narrators become less aware than those who are listening to them speak. In this case, we must all ask almighty God to correct the speaker of these words and if possible point her in the right direction. As such, I too ask almighty God for your happiness and success."

Mr. Khamenei, that young girl no longer has the opportunity to boldly address you as she did in the past and say: "Mr. Khamenei, I would like to criticize you. A year has past since Mohammad Nourizad, the father of that young girl, was incarcerated as a result of criticizing you. His family have been deprived of the right to see him and the right to hear his voice. The honorable and beloved security agents have treated his wife and children with such grace and kindness showing no respect for the words they expressed in their numerous letters describing their difficult circumstances.

Mr. Khamenei, we have been told that you too have spent many days in prison; that you too have shivered in the cold prison cells and cried as a result of being alienated from your family. Perhaps when you were in prison you heard about dry hunger strikes. Mohammad Nourizad has been on one of these dry hunger strikes for more than a week. He has not eaten nor has he drank anything in one week. Like every other family experiencing such a nightmare, we have done everything in our power to find out about his well being. We have written to the judicial authorities and visited religious scholars, all with the hope that someone will provide us with the opportunity to hear his voice and relieve us from our never ending worry and pain.

Mr. Khamenei, the religious scholars asked us to resort to patience. At noon on Ashura, with dry lips and broken hearts we sat in front of Evin prison and as per the request of security agents quietly prayed on the sacred day of Ashura. Suddenly out of no where our honorable plain clothes brothers showed up, interrupted our prayers, removed our hejab and began beating us. Only God is witness to what they did to us and what happened at noon on Ashura! The image of our mother being dragged on the street while whispering "hail to Zeynab" remains vivid in our minds.

Mr. Khamenei, our mother was admitted to the ICU as a result of these heinous and cowardly acts and our family who was now without a mother and a father mourned the night of Ashura in tears, consoling each other and mending our wounds.

Mr. Khamenei, we only wish that when they beat and arrested the wife and children of Mohammad Nourizad, when they interrogated them and finally released them, that they had at least provided them with information on his condition, or at lease referred them to an entity or individual accountable for responding to their unanswered questions.

Mr. Khamenei, we will not address you as "father" like we address our own father Mohammad Nourizad. With your permission we will address you by your name and refer you to a heart broken mother, an old and hard working father, a veteran brother, a wounded spouse in poor health and children that have been left wondering and without answers. They still don't know who to turn to nor do they know who is responsible for their bruised and battered bodies and souls.

We seek refuge in the God of freedom,

The Nourizad Family

Joint Letter Announcing Protest in Support of Nasrin Sotoudeh

News Release by Shrin Ebadi and Six Others (ICHRI) | Dec 17

Freedom-Loving People of The World;

The life of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer and women rights activist, is in danger. Nasrin was arrested by Iranian authorities on 4th September 2010 for her activity in defending human rights in Iran and has been held in prison for more than 103 days. The prosecutor has charged her with propaganda against the state and also for actions against national security. Under Iranian law the accused can only be held in custody for a maximum of seven days without charge after the preliminary investigation has taken place.

Furthermore, under Iranian law it is illegal to hold the accused in solitary confinement after they have been charged. However, Mrs Sotodee has been held in solitary confinement since the day of her arrest and her lawyer's attempts to get bail have fallen on deaf ears. As a result, Mrs Sotoudeh has decided to go on a hunger strike, in protest against the illegitimate circumstances surrounding her arrest. From the 4th December she has moved onto a dry hunger strike (no food or water).

Unfortunately, not only have they continued to keep her against her human rights they have further accused her of crimes against Islamic dress-codes in Iran.

We, the signatories of this Declaration, are a group of women's rights activists, many of whom have worked alongside this brave lawyer or have been defended by her in the past. Blatant violation of her basic human rights and our desire to show solidarity with her have led us carry out a sit-in outside the United Nations offices in Genève from 20th December 2010.

We are appealing to all the free-thinking people of the world, women-rights activists and all the members of world human rights family to join us in our demand for freeing Nasrin Sotoudeh as soon as possible. Please support us in any way you can, from joining us in sitting-in protest to sending a protest e-mail and letter to Iranian government, organising a picket in front of Iranian embassies across the world or any other possible method. Please help us to reach the voice of our detained colleague to the world.

Shirin Ebadi, Khadijeh Mogaddam, Mansoureh Shojaee, Parvin Ardalan, Shadi Sadr, Asieh Amini, Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh

See also: "Nobel Laureate to Stage Sit-in in Defense of Detained Colleague" (ICHRI)

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