Payame Azadi

News of Iran

19.June 2000






As expected, Hojjatoleslam Medhi Karrubi, 63, was elected Tuesday as the interim Speaker of the sixth Majles (parliament) with 186 votes and 63 abstentions out of 251 present MPs who also made history as they elected for the first time a woman to the presiding Board of the 290-seats Assembly.

With the new Majles largely dominated by reformists who could easily elect Dr. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) or Mr. Behzad Nabavi, the Spokesman for the Second Khordad (23 May) Coalition Front (SKCF), the unopposed election of Mr. Karrubi was seen by analysts as a compromise reached between President Mohammad Khatami and Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic to have the legislative presided over by a "mo'ammam" (cleric) instead that a "mokkalla" (civilian).

In fact, prior to the vote taking, both Dr. Khatami, who is the younger brother of the President, Mr. Nabavi and Mr. Hasan Mar'ashi, from the "Executive of Construction Party", a brother-in-law of the defeated Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had withdrew their candidacies for the important post of Speaker.

Speaking to reporters following his elections as the Interim Speaker of the first reformist-dominated Legislative of the Islamic Republic, Mr. Karrubi, a former Speaker, pointed out that the new Majles would "go ahead with the principles of the Islamic Revolution and the path of reform".

He described the new 290-seat parliament as "complimentary to the 1997 presidential election in which the people voted for President Khatami's reforms program".

He rejected any split between the Majma'e Rohanioun Mobarez (MRM, or the Association of Militant Clergymen, an offshoot of the Majma'e Rohannyat Mobarez, the conservative-controlled Association of Combatant Clergymen) and the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) saying ''We all are friends''.

He was answering persistent speculations that the IIPP was insisting of having a non cleric as Speaker as a sign of changing times and rupture from the past, as all the fifth precedent Majles were presided over by conservatives clerics.

Dr. Sadeq Ziba Kalam, a professor of Political Sciences at Tehran University and a prominent political analyst said though the IIPP and the Second Khordadi would prefer a younger, more dynamic and progressive personality closer to theirs and Mr. Khatami's ideals and political views, yet they realised that under present circumstances and conditions, Mr. Karrubi is the only one who can also be accepted to the conservatives.

"However, the reformists insisted that the Speaker of this Majles they dominate should at least be their spokesman and defend their political platform, something that did not pleased Mr. Karrubi nor those who supports him, hence his observation that the Speaker "was not a spokesman, but one of the regime's most important personality who sits at the National Security Council and participates at important decision making meetings", he added.

In fact, if compared to his predecessor Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri or some other leading conservatives, Mr. Karrubi looks a progressive cleric, but put against Mr. Khatami, to the imprisoned Hojjatoleslam Abdollah Nuri, the former Interior Minister and Publisher of the banned "Khordad" daily Hojjatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, who is also in prison, he is a traditionalist.

On the thorny question of co-operation between the Expediency Council and the conservatives-controlled Council of the Guardians with the reformist-dominated Majles, Mr. Karrubi hoped that the "unpleasant events" that marked the Majles election, "events that were bitter for all, be forget".

He was referring to the Guardians unexplained cancellation of electoral results in several constituencies and above all the three months-long manipulations of the results for the Capital in order to place Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani among the 30 elected candidates, making a mockery of the Tehrani voters who had dealt a most humiliating blow to the former president by not electing him.

The massive, shameful rigging in favour of the Chairman of the Expediency Council badly discredited the Guardians who, under heavy pressure from the public opinion, turned to the leader who, in turn, ordered them to validate the results.

Facing mounting threats and warning from the students in the one hand and becoming certain that he would never be elected as Speaker, Mr. Rafsanjani announced his resignation from the Majles seat the Council of Guardians had illegally provided him.

Considering the fact that the reformists have listed the abolition of several unpopular laws the last Majles had hastily approved, chief among them a new press law that limits severely the already limited press freedom or the one, initiated though by the Expediency Council forbidding legislators from investigating or examining all the administrations that are under the control of the leader, analysts forecasts head on clashes between the new Majles with the Council of Guardians, the body that must make sure that all laws approved by the Majles are in full conformity with Islamic Shari'a.

In case the two bodies could not reach understanding or compromise, the difference would have to go to the Expediency Council for final arbitration.

"This is here where in his capacity as the Chairman of Expediency Council, the vindictive Rafsanjani can have the reformist bite the earth", one analyst observed.

Asked whether the temporary presiding board elected to Majles on Tuesday will remain unchanged as the permanent presiding board, he reminded that experience has showed that it remains unchanged, and in case of possible change, it will be very few.

The temporary board is in charge of running the current affairs of the parliament and it's sessions until the credentials of two thirds of the deputies are confirmed and the permanent Board is elected.

In his address to the audience as the new interim Speaker, Mr. Karrubi called for a Majlis-government co-operation for the sake of solving "people's problems", as recommended by both the leader and the president in their address to the new Majles that opened Saturday.

Mr. Majid Ansari, the leader of the reformist minority fraction in the last Majles and Mr. Abolqassem Sarhadizadeh, both deputies from Tehran belonging to the SKCF, were elected as the first and second temporary vice-speakers.

Ms Soheila Jelodarzadeh, the Spokeswoman for the Islamic Labour Party (ILP), a SKCF member, Mr. Nasser Khaleqi, Mr. Mohammad Qomi, Mr. Ali Shakouri-Rad, Mr. Esmail Jabbarzadeh and Jalal Jalalizadeh were elected as the interim secretaries.

Mr. Karrubi said election of a woman to the presiding board is an auspicious event adding that it indicated the insight of the Majlis.

"The appointment of Ms Jelodarzadeh, a textile engineer by profession, who secured 150 votes out of a total of 252 and became the first woman elected to a Majles presiding Board can pave the way for more active participation of women in parliament, particularly as a lever for the approval of more laws that could further raise their status", the official news agency IRNA commented.

A pioneer of the Islamic movement, Mr. Karrubi was a pupil of both Grand Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Hosseinali Montazeri.

He had been arrested several times and spent over four years in prison before the victory of the Islamic revolution of 1979.

A member of the executive Board of the conservative-based Majma-e Rohanioun-e Mobarez (Association of Combatant Clergymen), he joined Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Kho'einiha and some other reform seeking clerics to form the AMC, backing Mr. Khatami and the reform process.

Elected MP in the first, second and third Majles to which he became Speaker, Hojatoleslam Karrubi founded and directed the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee in Tehran in 1979 and was appointed as Chairman of the Martyrs Foundation from 1980-1993

He holds a BA in divinity and philosophy from Tehran University and has completed seminary studies up to the level of "ijtihad", or a learned person in Islamic jurisprudence.


The final composition of the presidential board of the Sixth Majles (parliament) of the Islamic Republic sums up another striking compromise between the conservatives and the reformists, according to Iranian observers.

The last voting confirmed Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi as the Speaker, but two prominent reformists in Mr. Behzad Nabavavi, the spokesman for the Second Khordad Coalition Front (SKCF) and Dr. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), the largest fraction in the new Majles respectively became the first and second deputy speakers, consecrating the predominance of the reformists in the Board.

For sure, the reformists would like to see the presidency of the new Legislative going to a younger and possibly a civilian member of the dominant fraction, but in order to avoid a show down with the defeated conservatives who keep the control of all key positions, they had to accept Mr. Karrubi, a former Speaker, as the man also accepted by the hard liners.

The fact is that the conservatives who for the first the time in the history of the Islamic regime have lost this otherwise important and strategic position were not able to place one single of their minority fraction in the new presidency organ of the Majles, that also confirmed Mrs. Soheila Jolodarzadeh, the spokeswoman for the pro-reformist Islamic Labour Party as the first woman to be elected as a Secretary of the Board.


As the economic situation of the Islamic Republic of Iran deteriorates, more Iranians looking for a job flee the country, often to the peril of their life and that of their families.

The drowning of seven Iranians, including three children in the river between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and the arrest of more than 30 others in Croatia last month sounded the alarm bells.

At about the same time, it was reported that two groups of Iranians have been arrested in a Russian port trying to embark clandestinely into a ship leaving for Japan.

Russian authorities said the number of Iranians arrested in Russian ports is increasing dramatically and for their part, the Japanese also reports the arrest of more Iranians who enters the country illegally.

There are similar accounts in Greece and in Turkey as well as in Italy.

The great numbers of the Iranians who leave Iran in the hope to find some job "anywhere", but particularly in Western and some Asian countries where the economic situation is booming are young and generally without qualification, having no political motive.

According to latest official reports, the rate of unemployment in Islamic Republic is between 12.5 to 14 percent, but in the absence of any independent research organisation, expert put the number closer to 20 per cent.

While officials express optimism concerning the economic situation of the "Mullahrchy", independent economists points out that the heavily centralised economy, probably one of the very few in the world, coupled with harsh Islamic laws are the main reason behind the lack of investments, both foreign and domestic, in industrial projects in Iran.

Mr. Mohsen Nurbakhsh, the General Director of the Central Bank of Iran said the government would end the present Iranian year (ending in March 2001) with more than 3 billions US Dollars in revenues as a result of the sharp increase in the oil prices.

He also said that the 6 per cent growth rate forecast by the third five years plan would help the government to keep with the creation of 765.000 jobs per year at a constant level.

But other Iranian experts observed that in the last 20 years, different governments have created 1.800.000 jobs only while the number of young people reaching the work age imposes the creation of around one million jobs per year.

Thus the dramatic "job drain".

To the fully, Marxist-type centralised economic system, large subsidies, wide spread corruption, inflation, continuing price rise, mostly for the basic food stuff and housing, changing and often contradictory trade and financial regulations, the existence of foundations, some of them, like the sprawling Deprived Foundation better known as "Bonyad" which presents no account of their multiple and sometimes lucrative activities to the government and many other obstacles, one has to add three consecutive years of severe drought that has devastated the Iranian agriculture, making Iran the major importer of wheat and rice among other necessities.

To this "job drain" one has to add a flight of Iranian capitals, as according to a senior Iranian economist who asked for anonymity, in the last year that marked a continuing struggle between the defeated conservatives with the reformists, more than 3000 small and medium-size firms have been created in the United Arab Emirate with Iranian capitals.


Senior western intelligence sources cautioned against an Iranian fugitive who has presented himself to the Turks and the Americans as a high ranking Iranian intelligence officer, saying at the same time that he could be genuine but not in the high position he has described himself.

Though the man, in an interview with the American CBS television has identified himself as Ahmad Behbahani, but intelligence sources noted that Iranian agents works under many different names and dresses and for this reason it is difficult for them to identify him.

Presenting himself as the man in charge of all Iranian terrorist operations in western hemisphere, Mr. Behbahani said Iran planned the 1998 downing of the Pan Am plane that exploded over Lockerbie, in Scotland, killing all the 270 passengers and crew.

The unrecorded interview was carried out by a CBS Iranian born correspondent in an apartment building Mr. Behbahani was sharing with other Iranian exiles in a refugee camp in Turkey and was presented on the "60 Minutes" News program on Sunday.

In a surprise interview with the Iranian official news agency IRNA, Hojjatoleslam Ali Yunesi, Iran's Minister of Information said since the establishment of this Ministry, no person named Ahmad Behbahani has been working with the administration.

He said the "so-called" Behbahani could be one of Iranians who, seeking asylum in Western countries, usually try to achieve their aims through libelous statements or slanders against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Mr. Behbahani told the CBS that he had crossed the border from Iran four months earlier, in fear of his life following a rift with his colleagues.

"This is not very professional, for, considering that there is a two millions US Dollars reward for anyone who would bring sound information concerning the Lockerbie explosion, he (Behbahani) should have walk directly to us. And anyway, he should have done so if he is really part of the community", one highly informed western intelligence sources told Iran Press Service.

CBS said Behbahani says he has documents to substantiate his claims. He is in the protective custody in Turkey, and is being debriefed by CIA officers who spent several hours with defector.

In the interview, Mr. Behbahani also offered some information concerning the November "chain murder" of six prominent Iranian politicians and intellectuals, naming some senior clerics as the providers of the "fatwas" (religious order) and those responsible for the assassination of Mr. Dariush Foruhar, the leader of the secularist Iranian People's Party and his wife Mrs. Parvaneh Eskandari.

According to Mr. Behbahani, it was he himself who had first suggested the plan to bomb the airliner in retaliation for the downing of an Iranian Airbus passenger plane by an American navy ship in the Persian Gulf, killing all the 290 passengers and crew and discussed the idea with Mr. Ahmad Jibril, the general secretary of the Syrian-Iranian backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Mr. Behbahani said that he brought into Iran a group of Libyans who underwent 90 days of training to prepare them to carry out the bombing.

But in a very unusual interview with the Damascus correspondent of the Iranian state-controlled Radio, Mr. Jibril dismissed these reports, saying it is part of nasty foreign propaganda against his organisation.

Two Libyan intelligence officers, Mr. Abdel Baset Ali Meghrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah, acused of the Lockerbie bombing, are currently facing trial by a Scottish tribunal at Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.

Contacted by IPS, Mr. Abolhasan Banisadr, Islamic Iran's first elected president not only confirmed the existence of Mr. Behbahani and his presence in Turkey, but also revealed that the director of the former Intelligence Minister Hojjatoleslam Ali Fallahian has also fled to Turkey "with a lot of documents".

According to Mr. Banisadr, Mr. Behbahani had accompanied the former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during his official visit to Ankara under the name of Kargar, a matter that shows how important and trusted Mr. Behbahani must have been in the before his defection.

Other reports say it was the Marxist-Islamist Mujahedeen Khalq Organisation (MKO), the Baghdad-based, Iraqi-backed, financed and equipped that "alerted" Turkish officials about the presence of such an "important fish" in a Turkish refugee camp.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described to CNN the issue of Mr. Behbahani as "interesting", but she declined to comment further, saying: "I think it is inappropriate to comment on the specifics of it, because that trial is in the process and the prosecutors are working on it."

Looking in the "Dungeon of Phantoms", -- this is the title of a best seller from the Iranian investigative journalist Mr. Akbar Ganji --, where truth and lies are mixed up, it is really difficult to establish who is Mr. Behbahani?

Is he genuine? Is he a Mujahedeen defector? Is he another "rabbit" the Islamic Republic is taking out of its sleeve? Or he is a simple employee of the security services seeking asylum in the US?

One fact is that the Iranians have nevertheless created a co-ordinating centre to mount a formidable counter Behbahani propaganda warfare by mobilising all the interested administrations, including the Radio and Television.

Iran Radio correspondents in London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Ankara and Damascus all reported Monday and Tuesday from their postings about the repercussions of Mr. Behbahani's claims, and quoting some Western press, they concluded that one must not take the issue seriously.

"Usually, the Iranian authorities do not react to such matters until it is very serious", one Tehran analyst observed.

As the pro-conservative "Tehran Times" said Tuesday that one should not doubt that the Americans can easily produce individuals such as Ahmad Behbahani, an Iranian Istanbul-based analyst observed that the man could well be another "invention" of the Iranians to discredit this time the Turkish intelligence agency MIT, "the source of all present anti-Iranian propaganda in the Turkish press".