Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Mohsen Mandegari Interviewed Mullah Omar Sept 2001

ZAHER SHAH NOT FIT TO RULE AFGHANISTAN, MOLLAH OMAR TELLS IRAN PAPER: "ZAHER SHAH NOT FIT TO RULE AFGHANISTAN, MOLLAH OMAR TELLS IRAN PAPER

TEHRAN 29 Sept. (IPS) As the United States, the European Union and the United Nations are working hard to persuade Afghan former King Mohammad Zaher Shah to enter his country’s political scene, Mollah Mohammad Omar ruled him out as a force able to fill the vacuum in case the Taleban are overthrown.

"He (Zaher Shah) has a weak health and has not the possibility (to rule Afghanistan), besides, there is no vacuum of leadership and power in Afghanistan" the ruling Taleban’s Supreme Leader told the moderate, but pro-conservative Iranian daily "Entekhab" (Choice).

The rare interview, said to be the third granted by Mr. Mohammad Omar to foreign media since the Taleban took over Kabol in 1996, was front paged Saturday, but the paper did not said when his correspondent, Mr. Mohsen Mandegari, met the secretive Afghan leader.

Not only the Islamic Republic of Iran does not recognise the Islamic Emarat of Afghanistan, but also it is one of the main supporter of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance forces.

"A puppet ruler can not last long in Afghanistan and the future of Taleban is bright thanks to God’s will", Mr. Omar said when asked to comment on the future of his regime in case the Americans succeed in installing the former King back to his throne.

The 86-years old Zaher Shah who, like the Taleban, is of Poshtoun origin and ethnic, was deposed by his cousin, Sardar Davoud Khan in a coup in 1974 while visiting Italy and stayed in Rome ever since.

In recent interviews, he has called on all Afghan warring groups to depose their arms and form an Extraordinary Loya Jirga, or the Elders Grand Assembly to name a prime minister and form a government of national union.

He also reiterated that though he was ready to "do what ever" he could to save his country, yet he would not try to reinstall the Monarchy.

In the absence of Ahmad Shah Mas’ood, the veteran and charismatic Afghan war commander who was killed in a suicide operation on 9 September, almost all Afghan and foreign analysts look to him as the only Afghan personality who could replace the Taleban, once the ultra-orthodox Islamic regime is toppled under international pressures.

A Northern Alliance delegation led by Dr. Adollah, the front’s Foreign Minister, met Saturday with Zaher Shah in Rome and discussed ways and means of convening the Extraordinary Loya Jirga.

The United States is at work to mobilise an international force against the Taleban that it accuses for providing shelter to Sheikh Osama Ben Laden, the man the American say is behind the deadly 11 September suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, killing thousands of people, mostly white collars.

Reliable Afghan sources also linked Mas’ood’s assassination to Mr. Ben Laden.

In the "Entekhab" interview, Mollah Mohammad Omar Akhound confirmed that as a young jihadi (holy warrior) fighting against the Red Army, both he and Sheikh Ben Laden, the Saudi millionaire, were helped by the United States.

"As this was a holly war, we had religious clearance (in getting help) from the United States that was also fighting Communism.

He did not condemn the 11 September operations, but said Islam was against the killing of "innocent people" in wars that not holly or against the apostates.

Asked if then he considers the men and women who were killed in the WTC towers as not being innocents, Mr. Omar corrected his answer, saying that Islam was against killing of innocent people, "even during holly wars".

He accused the United States for having closed all doors to negotiations by rejecting "arrogantly" all the (Taleban’s) conditions to settle the Ben Laden issue "It is to the aggressors to show flexibility, not the Taleban", he responded when asked if he was ready for some compromise.

Asked why the United States considers the Taleban and Ben Laden as terrorists, Mollah Omar said laconically: America is against Islam. Sheikh Ben Laden is a pretext only".

In his view, the reason that Afghanistan’s ulemas, or high-ranking religious authorities, decided to call on Mr. Ben Laden to leave Afghanistan voluntarily was to diffuse the "unfounded" American accusations.

Mollah Omar described rumours of wide spread divisions and desertions among the ruling Taleban as "wishful thinking" and assured that the United States would never succeed in dividing or toppling Taleban.

Asked about his threats that in case Afghanistan is attacked, the Taleban would take the war to neighbouring nations, Mollah Omar said "proper response and measures would be taken in time" and repeated that any country that would assist or co-operate with America would be considered as enemy "and treated as such". ENDS ENTEKHAB MOLLAH OMAR 29901"

IFEX :: Mandegari and Faghihi detained Oct 03

IFEX :: Two journalists detained: "Two journalists detained

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called for an end to the prior censorship imposed on the press by the National Security Council (NSC) and has condemned continuing arrests and questioning of journalists.


Mohsen Mandegari, chief political journalist at the daily "Entekhab" ("The Choice"), was summoned by the Teheran Revolutionary Court on 7 October 2003 and detained until 8 October, his editor-in-chief Mohamad Mehdi Faghihi said. Faghihi was also summoned and detained for several hours on the same day.

Mandegari's arrest followed the publication of an article discussing what was at stake for the regime in the signing of a protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

All discussion of this subject is banned under censorship imposed by the NSC, the body that rules on all state security issues.

The arrest of a journalist working for a moderate conservative daily is somewhat unusual. It sheds additional light on the advance censorship system set up by the NSC, headed by reformist President Mohammad Khatami but mainly made up of conservatives.

Every week the council sends all newspapers a list of banned subjects, such as student demonstrations in 1999, the resumption of dialogue with the United States, the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, or more recently anything connected with the signing of the IAEA.

It is occasionally possible to report on facts or statements made by Iranian political figures on these subjects but any analysis of the issues is forbidden.

"Entekhab" had revealed that Parliament and the presidential body officially responsible for the signing of the protocol were excluded from the process in favour of an ad hoc committee set up by the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution.

"It has been a year now that we have been subjected to pressure and censorship, which is aimed not only at the reformist newspapers," said Faghihi.

Meanwhile, the publishers of reformist newspapers "Yas-e no", "Sharq", "Hambastegi" and "Baharaneh" were summoned during the week of 5 October by the Tehran court on a complaint from the Prosecutor's Office and Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi.

A major figure in the reform movement, journalist Abbas Abdi, has just had his jail sentence increased by five years. He has already been held in solitary confinement for several months at Evin prison and has been on a hunger strike for the past 28 days.

Abdi was arrested in February for, among other things, "giving information to enemies of the Islamic regime" and sentenced to eight years in jail. His sentence was reduced to four and a half years in April. It has just been extended by five years for a count on the charge sheet that was not made public.

MORE INFORMATION:

For further information, contact Séverine Cazes-Tschann at RSF, rue Geoffroy Marie, Paris 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 84, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51, e-mail: moyen-orient@rsf.org, Internet: http://www.rsf.org
"

Mohsen Mandegari, chief political journalist at Entekhab Detained in Oct 03

Censorship bites deeper : imprimer: "Censorship bites deeper

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) has called for an end to the advance censorship imposed on the press by the national security council and condemned continuing arrests and questioning of journalists

Mohsen Mandegari, chief political journalist at the daily Entekhab (The Choice), was summoned by the Teheran revolutionary court on 7 October and detained until the following day, his editor-in-chief Mohamad Mehdi Faghihi said. He too was summoned and detained for several hours on the same day. The arrest of Mandegari followed the publication of an article discussing what was at stake for the regime in the signing of a protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All discussion of this subject is banned by censorship imposed by the national security council (the body that rules on all state security issues).

The arrest of a journalist working for a moderate conservative daily is somewhat unusual. It sheds some more light on the advance censorship system set up by the national security council, headed by the reformist President Mohammad Khatami but mainly made up of conservatives. Every week the council sends all newspapers a list of banned subjects, such as student demonstrations in 1999, the resumption of dialogue with the United States, the death of Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi and more recently anything connected with the signing of the IAEA. It is occasionally possible to report on facts or statements by Iranian political figures on these subjects but all analysis of the subjects is forbidden.

Entekhab had revealed that parliament and the presidential body officially responsible for the signing of the protocol were excluded from the process in favour of an ad hoc committee set up by the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution. « It has been a year now that we have been subjected to pressure and censorship, which is aimed not only at the reformist newspapers, » said Mehdi Faghihi.

At the same time, publishers of the reformist newspapers Yas-e no, Sharq, Hambastegi and Baharaneh have been summoned by the Teheran court this week on a complaint from the prosecutor's office and the prosecutor-general Said Mortazavi. A major figure in the reform movement, journalist Abbas Abdi, has just had his jail sentence increased by five years. He has already been held in solitary confinement for several months at Evin prison and has been on hunger strike for the past 28 days. Abdi was arrested in February for among things « giving information to enemies of the Islamic regime » and sentenced to eight years in jail. His sentence was reduced to four and a half years in April. It has just been extended by five years for a count on the charge sheet that was not made public."

The New York Times > International > Middle East > The Elections: Iraqi Campaign Raises Question of Iran's Sway

The New York Times > International > Middle East > The Elections: Iraqi Campaign Raises Question of Iran's Sway: "Iraqi Campaign Raises Question of Iran's Sway
By JOHN F. BURNS and ROBERT F. WORTH

Published: December 15, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 14 - On a list of 228 candidates submitted by a powerful Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission last week, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No. 1. It was the clearest indication yet that in the Jan. 30 election, with Iraq's Shiite majority likely to heavily outnumber Sunni voters, Mr. Hakim may emerge as the country's most powerful political figure.

Mr. Hakim, in his early 50's, is a pre-eminent example of a class of Iraqi Shiite leaders with close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs. He spent nearly a quarter of a century in exile in Iran. His political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in Tehran, and its military wing fought alongside Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war. American intelligence officials say he had close ties with Iran's secret services.

For the United States, and for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have Sunni Muslim majorities, the prospect of Mr. Hakim and his associates coming to power raises in stark form the brooding issue of Iran's future influence in Iraq.

Among the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq, the fear of a Shiite-led government influenced by Iran has helped drive a powerful insurgency. If large numbers of Sunnis boycott the elections, and pro-Iranian Shiite religious groups dominate the 275-seat national assembly the voters will select, some Iraqis fear the country could spiral into civil war. They predict conflicts between Sunni and Shiite militias, or between secular and religious Shiite parties.

Nonetheless, many Iraqis and American experts on Iraq believe those fears are overstated. They say Iraqi clerics are generally wary of the idea of religious government, partly because of an entrenched doctrinal opposition among Iraq's Shiite religious leaders to direct rule by clerics, and partly because they recognize that Iraq's Sunni Muslims would fiercely resist it.

As election campaigning formally begins Wednesday among more than 230 parties and political groups that have entered lists of candidates, the question of Iranian influence will weigh heavily.

Ghazi al-Yawar, the Sunni Arab sheik who was selected as Iraq's interim president, and King Abdullah of Jordan have both recently sounded warnings.

In a BBC interview in London on Monday, Sheik Yawar cited reports that Iran had pushed up to a million people across the 900-mile border with Iraq in a bid to influence the elections, and that Iranian money was flowing covertly to Shiite religious groups competing in the election.

"There are some elements in Iran who are playing a role in trying to influence the elections," he said.

But American and Iraqi officials say that many of the migrants crossing the largely unmonitored border are Iraqi Shiite families that fled Saddam Hussein's repression, particularly after the failed Shiite uprising that followed the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Aid groups working on Iran's side of the border have said that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been forced to return home, and that the citizenship of many other migrants remains unclear, in an area where there have been unregulated flows of tribal Arabs for centuries.

Also weighing against the prospect of an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq is that Iraqi clerics, unlike the ayatollahs who dominate the government in Iran, mostly belong to the "quietist" school of Islam that holds that clerics should not hold political power directly. A forceful exponent of that view has been Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq - an Iranian by birth - who used his pervasive influence to push rival religious groups together in the political alliance Mr. Hakim now leads.

In his rare interviews, Mr. Hakim has also spoken out against clerics filling government posts, saying that they should project their influence from the mosques, not ministries.

According to rivals of Mr. Hakim within the Shiite alliance, the close ties he forged with Iran's ruling clerics during his exile have been maintained since he and others in the Supreme Council returned to Iraq after Mr. Hussein's overthrow. Those sources say that Mr. Hakim's group and other parties in the alliance, including Dawa, are receiving political advice and financing from Teheran. American officials say that Iran, or at least powerful agencies controlled by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, have backed a wide array of parties, militias and charitable groups that act as fronts for political activities here."

Analysis: How Close Is Iran To The Bomb? By Brian Whitmore

RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY: "Analysis: How Close Is Iran To The Bomb?
By Brian Whitmore

This week, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany and EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana met with Iran's top nuclear negotiator in an ongoing attempt to convince Iran to permanently suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. Meanwhile, with each passing day, Iran could be getting closer to producing a nuclear bomb, a growing number of nonproliferation officials believe.


Since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began investigating Iran's nuclear program in February 2003, and as more and more details of Tehran's atomic activities have emerged, the sense of alarm has become increasingly widespread.

Iran has demonstrated a proven ability to enrich uranium, and has been developing an infrastructure that could eventually produce large quantities of weapons-grade material. If left unhindered by international controls, Tehran could reach the nuclear threshold in just a few years' time, officials, diplomats, and analysts say.

"They know how to drive, and now they just need to build a car," said a senior Western official in Vienna familiar with the Iranian situation. "Provided they don't hit any bottlenecks, they are about two to five years away," the official added. More conservative estimates say they could be a decade away.

Over the past two years, the international community has been trying to create as many bottlenecks as possible.

Ever since Iran admitted in October 2003 to conducting 18 years of clandestine research in uranium enrichment -- a process that produces fuel that can be used in nuclear weapons -- the nation's nuclear industry has come under unprecedented scrutiny. Some familiar with the issue say Iran appears to have already crossed a critical threshold in know-how and soon could be in position to develop a nuclear weapon

In an effort to avoid UN Security Council sanctions, Iran signed an agreement with the European Union on 14 November to suspend activities related to uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear weapons, and the IAEA agreed to monitor the freeze.

But despite the intense international spotlight, officials and diplomats familiar with the issue say Iran appears to have already crossed a critical threshold in know-how and soon could be in position to develop an atomic weapon.

"They are just sitting on a nice capability to enrich uranium," a Western official close to the IAEA said. "Right now, Iran can produce small amounts of fissile material. But once they can produce large amounts, the bomb is just months away."

Although oil-rich, Iran insists its nuclear program is solely to generate electricity.

An Emerging Nuclear Infrastructure

Among Iran's known facilities, officials are most troubled by an underground centrifuge enrichment plant in Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran, which Iran kept secret until the National Council for Resistance of Iran, an exile opposition group, exposed it in August 2002.

In February 2003, IAEA inspectors discovered highly enriched uranium there and at another site. Inspectors later discovered that Iran had also separated small amounts of plutonium, another pointer toward a potential weapons program.

Enriching uranium and separating plutonium are allowed under the nonproliferation treaty, as long as they are reported to the IAEA and open to agency safeguards and inspections to assure that they are for peaceful purposes. By covering up such activities, Iran caused many who had previously given the country the benefit of the doubt to suspect it was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Before enrichment work there was suspended and put under IAEA safeguards, a pilot plant at Natanz had approximately 200 centrifuges installed. A second large-scale plant at Natanz that is under construction could, at full capacity, house as many as 50,000 centrifuges and produce enough bomb-grade uranium for 15 to 20 nuclear weapons a year, according to some analysts.

Iran has also acquired a design for and begun research and development on the advanced P-2 centrifuge, which could enrich uranium faster than the older P-1 design used at Natanz. Officials familiar with the investigation into Iran's nuclear program say Iran got the P-2 centrifuge design from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, who also provided similar nuclear know-how to Libya and North Korea.

But what worries officials most are not the facilities they know about, but those that many suspect are still undeclared and hidden. Officials are particularly concerned about Lavizan, a military research site in northern Iran, a facility that the United States alleges housed a nuclear facility.

Satellite images showed that buildings, which had been there in August 2003, had been razed to the ground by March 2004 and that topsoil had been taken away. The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) think tank said on its website that razing the buildings was suspicious "because it is the type of measure Iran would need to take if it was trying to defeat the powerful environmental-sampling capabilities of IAEA inspectors." Environmental sampling involves samples taken to find traces of radiation.

As tension mounted over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran announced in September that it had tested what it called a new "strategic missile" and delivered it to its armed forces. Iran currently has an arsenal of Shihab-3 missiles, which according to published reports have a range of between 1,300 and 1,500 kilometers -- meaning it could hit Israel and parts of Europe -- and is capable of carrying a 700-1,000-kilogram warhead.

Responses And Consequences

The specter of a nuclear-armed Iran, which could threaten Israel, set off a dangerous arms race, and further destabilize the Middle East, is something the United States and its allies are furiously seeking to prevent.

The United States has pushed for Iran to be reported to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions, while the European Union has offered Tehran a series of economic and political incentives to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Israel has also made it clear that it will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and has strongly hinted that it may use military strikes to eliminate nuclear sites there should diplomacy fail. Israel plans to buy about 5,000 U.S.-made smart bombs, including 500 1-ton bunker busters that can penetrate 2-meter-thick concrete walls, according to recent press reports.

But many diplomats and officials fear that neither sanctions nor military strikes would solve the issue.

Should the Security Council eventually impose sanctions, an increasingly isolated Iran may pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), as North Korea did last year and Tehran has repeatedly threatened to do, and pursue a weapons program unfettered. And while Iran would stand to lose a lot in terms of trade and investment if it withdrew from the treaty, such a defiant move could boost Tehran's prestige in the region. ''If Iran dropped out of the NPT, you would have at least 30 countries, mostly in the Middle East, cheering them on," a senior Western official close to the IAEA said.

Trying to solve the issue militarily, officials say, is also fraught with peril. Officials have voiced concerns that in the event of a military strike Iran might attempt to further subvert the situation in neighboring Iraq by influencing Shi'ite Muslims there.

Moreover, U.S. military intelligence has simulated a U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear facilities but they were unhappy with the war game's outcome because they could not prevent the conflict from escalating.

Analysts have also warned it would be difficult to hit Iran's nuclear sites with absolute confidence, since they are in hardened facilities and the locations of all of them are not known.

"You could have failed to decisively set back the program but at the same time prompt Iran to take a number of steps in retaliation, including to destabilize the situation in Iraq," said Robert Einhorn, who served as the Clinton administration's assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.

Analysts say that the strongest card the international community has to play is the fact that Iran craves international respectability and badly needs increased trade and investment -- and would risk severe diplomatic ostracism, or worse, by going nuclear.

"Iran can be a pariah with nuclear weapons, or it can choose to become a respected, integrated member of the international community," Einhorn said. "Iran is not North Korea. The North Korean regime may want isolation," he added."

Some Fear the US is Handing Iraq to Iran

Iran may sway Iraq elections, some fear: "Iran may sway Iraq elections, some fear

The New York Times
December 15, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- On a list of 228 candidates submitted by a powerful Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission last week, Abdulaziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No. 1. It was the clearest indication yet that in the upcoming January elections, with Iraq's Shiite majority likely to heavily outnumber Sunni voters, al-Hakim may emerge as the country's most powerful political figure.

Al-Hakim is a preeminent example of a class of Iraqi Shiite leaders with close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs. His political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in Tehran.

The question of Iranian influence will weigh heavily as election campaigning formally begins today among more than 230 parties and political groups that have entered lists of candidates.

Ghazi al-Yawer, the Sunni Arab sheik who was named Iraq's interim president, and King Abdullah of Jordan have both sounded warnings over the past week.

In a BBC interview Monday in London, al-Yawer cited reports that Iran had pushed up to a million people across the 900-mile border with Iraq in a bid to influence the elections, and that Iranian money was flowing covertly to Shiite religious groups competing in the election.

"There are some elements in Iran playing a role in trying to influence the elections," he said.

For the United States, and for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have Sunni Muslim majorities, the prospect of al-Hakim and his associates coming to power raises in stark form the brooding issue of Iran's future influence in Iraq.

And among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, the fear of a Shiite-led government heavily influenced by Iran has helped drive a powerful insurgency."

IranMania News

IranMania News: "Gov't accused of undermining auto industry

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com

LONDON, Dec 15 (IranMania) - A senior lawmaker accused the Ministry of Industries and Mines of trying to undermine national production, stressing that the proposed reduction in car import tariffs would ultimately destroy the car industry.

Hamid Reza Katouzian, vice chairman of Majlis Industries and Mines Commission, told Mowj News Agency that production sector is and should always remain the most important segment of national economy.

Voicing his strong opposition to open the lucrative auto industry to foreign producers, the legislator said lower import tariffs will turn Iran into a big consumer market for foreign goods.

"The Commerce Ministry and the Ministry of Industries and Mines are contributing to efforts to hurl the national auto industry into a crisis by advocating further cuts in import tariffs," he said, accusing supporters of relaxed duties of pursuing personal gain at the expense of national interest.

The parliamentarian claimed advocates of car imports at lower cost are in line with "hegemonic powers who say Iran does not need production as long as it has hydrocarbon" reserves.

"They do not listen to the lawmakers and if we impeach a minister, he will be replaced by someone with the same agenda," he said, adding that some of the government's plans lack reason.
Katouzian's remarks come soon after Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari disclosed slow car imports were mainly due to mounting pressures from domestic automakers.

The minister told reporters that those who see their interests harmed by car imports have accused the Commerce Ministry of trying to transform Iran into a scrap yard for cars.

Iran's massive auto sector employs more than than 400,000 people. However, the people are very disappointed with low quality and high prices of Iran-made or assembled cars. Large sections of the society and consumer protection groups have demanded further cuts in the current 130-percent car import tariffs."

ABC News: Pro-Iran Friends Poised to Sweep Iraqi Elections

ABC News: Iran, Syria Said Backed Terrorists in Iraq: "Iran, Syria Said Backed Terrorists in IraqIraq's Defense Minister Accuses Iran, Syria of Supporting Al-Zarqawi's Terror Group
The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq Dec 15, 2004 — Iraq's defense minister on Wednesday accused neighboring Iran and Syria of supporting terrorists in his country and charged that a senior Iraqi Shiite was leading a "pro-Iranian" coalition into next month's national elections.

Concerns have been raised over rising Iranian influence in the political future of Iraq, where the majority Shiites are expected to dominate elections scheduled for Jan. 30. Campaigning for the vote began Wednesday.

Hazem Shaalann, who has previously accused Tehran of interfering in Iraq's affairs, said that Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents, plus former operatives from Saddam Hussein's security forces, are cooperating with the al-Qaida in Iraq group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "to run criminal operations in Iraq."

The Jordanian-born militant's group is believed to be leading a brutal campaign of hostage-takings, beheadings and bombings that victimize both Americans and Iraqis. U.S. officials have offered a $25 million bounty for al-Zarqawi.


Iraq Accuses Iran, Syria of Backing Terror
Note to Politicians -- Singing Can Be Dangerous
Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber
Iran and Syria have rejected U.S. and Iraqi claims they are supporting insurgents in Iraq. Damascus, however, has said it is unable to fully close its long, porous border with Iraq.

With his comments, Shaalan may have been looking toward next month's polls, the first to be held since Saddam's capture a year ago. A leading coalition of Shiite parties called the United Iraqi Alliance, some with close ties to Iran, is expected to do well in the vote and Shaalan may be trying to stir up sentiment against it.

Shaalan took a swipe at an architect of the 228-member alliance and leading member, nuclear physicist Hussain al-Shahristani, describing him as the "leader of an Iranian list" that wants to Iraq to be run similar to its Shiite-dominated neighbor.

Wednesday is the official opening of the campaign period for the vote and the cutoff day for parties or independents to lodge registrations to stand in the elections. Shaalan is running on a separate list not affiliated with the alliance.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi made his long-expected announcement to join the elections backed by a 240-member list of candidates at a Wednesday news conference meant, highlighting his appeal to Iraq's diverse and sometimes fractious ethnic and religious groups.

Surrounded by women and men variously clad in tribal garb, clerical turbans and smart suits, Allawi pledged to work for national unity and move away from "religious and ethnic fanaticism." He did not say how many members were on his list.

"By depending on God, and with a firm determination and based on strong confidence in the abilities of our people, we are capable of confronting the difficulties and challenges and of making a bright future for our honorable people," Allawi said.

Allawi said his party would push for the eventual withdrawal of multinational forces.

"Rebuilding the army and the forces of national safety enable us to work on asking for the final withdrawal of the multinational forces from our beloved country according to a set timetable," he said.

Earlier, Shaalan told reporters that Iraqi authorities obtained information about Iran's role in Iraqi's insurgency after last month's arrest of the leader of the Jaish Mohammed (Mohammed's Army) terrorist group during U.S.-led operations in Fallujah.

"When we arrested the commander of Jaish Mohammed we discovered that key to terrorism is in Iran, which this the number one enemy for Iraq," Shaalan said.

On Nov. 15, Allawi said American forces detained Jaish Mohammed members, including its leader, Moayad Ahmed Yasseen, also known as Abu Ahmed, during the military operation to uproot insurgents based in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

Allawi has said the group was known to have cooperated with al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida and Saddam loyalists and has claimed responsibility for killing and beheading several Iraqis, Arabs and foreigners in Iraq.

Shaalan accused Syria and Iran of providing funds and training for al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq.

"They are fighting us because we want to build freedom and democracy and they want to build an Islamic dictatorship and have turbaned clerics to rule in Iraq," he said.

In the latest violence, a U.S. Marine was killed in action Tuesday in Anbar province, west of Baghdad containing the battleground cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, while a U.S. soldier belonging to the 1st Corps Support Command died from gunshot wounds sustained during a convoy mission south of Baghdad.

As of Wednesday, at least 1,304 U.S. military personnel have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Police said Wednesday at least four policemen traveling in a convoy of cars traveling to Baghdad a day earlier were killed by militants in Hafriya, south of the capital.

On Tuesday, Allawi announced Iraq will bring top figures of Saddam's ousted regime to court next week for the first time since they appeared before a judge five months ago, and formal indictments could be issued next month.

The regime members face charges for crimes allegedly committed during the 35-year Baath Party dictatorship, including war crimes, mass killings and the suppression of the 1991 Shiite rebellion. Saddam, who was arrested a year ago Monday, will not be among those to appear in court next week, The Associated Press has learned.

A Western official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the hearings would be preliminary and that Saddam's notorious right-hand man, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," would be among the first to appear."