Friday, December 24, 2004

"Kharrazi: Iran doesn’t take Bush’s threats seriously
12/24/2004 5:00:00 PM GMT

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that Tehran doesn’t take the U.S. threats seriously.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters in Lebanon on Friday that Tehran doesn’t take the U.S. threats seriously.

Kharrazi also challenged U.S. and Iraqi officials to prove their allegations that his country is interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs.

"America's threats against Iran are not new and nobody takes them seriously," Kharrazi told reporters during his visit to the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

He also said that "Iran will keep striving for its goals."

“Ridiculous”

The Foreign Minister also described the accusations that Tehran is meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs as “ridiculous”.

"America attacked Iraq and interfered in its affairs to seize the country while there are no Iranian soldiers in Iraq at all," he said.

Kharrzi also praised the upcoming national elections in Iraq, planned for January 30, and warned against internal divisions in Iraq.

"We want all sects to participate in the elections as it's high time for the Iraqi people to prove that they are mature," he said.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said that Lebanon, Syria and Iran were facing international pressure but added that they would stick to their position and would seek cooperation and dialogue with other friendly nations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister is expected to discuss current events in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories with the Lebanese leadership during his two-day visit. He traveled to Beirut after he left Syria, where he held similar talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

No evidence

On Thursday, Kharrazi told journalists in Syria, which faces similar accusations from the U.S. and Iraq, that these charges were meant to “evade reality instead of discussing the crisis and trying to find solutions for it”.

"Those who release accusations should give evidence," Kharrzi said.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan alleged that Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents, along with former officials from Saddam’s security forces, were aiding Al Qaeda-linked groups in Iraq.

The U.S. President George W. Bush has also warned Iran and Syria that "meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interest."

Iraqi interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, has distanced himself from the accusations and said that Shaalan’s remarks were not government policy.

Syrian officials have also rejected Shaalan's allegations as "baseless."

Kharrazi denies Jordan’s allegations

Kharrazi also dismissed Jordanian allegations that Iran plans to build a "Shiite crescent" including Syria, Lebanon and Iraq; nations with large Shiite populations, and said that these accusations "should not be taken seriously."

Earlier this month, Jordan’s King Abdullah II claimed in an interview with The Washington Post that Iran is trying to influence the outcomes of the upcoming elections in Iraq for its own political benefits."

A singular achievement of President Bush that he invaded Iraq for the purpose of turning the country over to the Iranians

Is Iraq headed for more chaos?- The Times of India: "Is Iraq headed for more chaos?

IANS[ FRIDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2004 09:59:15 AM ]

In less than five weeks, Iraqis hope to elect their own government. But before a single vote has been cast, the results are in. The Shiites have won.

Under the direction of the powerful Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a broad electoral alliance was announced earlier this month, uniting all Shiite factions. With some 60 percent of the population, the Shiites are expected to vote en masse for the United Iraqi Alliance, guaranteeing its victory.

The Shiites intend to form a government committed to creating an Islamic state in Iraq. Its senior ranks will include men with close ties to the Shiite clerical regime in neighbouring Iran. According to the spokesman for the alliance, the first order of business for the new government will be to negotiate the withdrawal of all American and foreign troops.

Getting the Americans out is essential to the legitimacy of any claim to rule the country. The Sunni minority, which held power under the Baath regime, is the base of an anti-American insurgency clothed in nationalist and Islamist ideology. Sunni organizations threaten to boycott the election as an American-organized farce.

The Shiites, whose alliance includes a smattering of non-Shia elements, argue the vote is a means to the same end. "Elections are the ideal way to expel the occupier from Iraq," proclaimed a Shiite banner hung recently in Baghdad.

This is not what the Bush administration had in mind when it sent American soldiers charging into Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz assured the American people a month before the invasion that Iraqi Shiites are "completely different" from their Sunni brethren in Saudi Arabia, where the mullahs dictate so much of daily life. The Iraqis, he told an interviewer, "are by and large quite secular."

The Bush administration still mouths the confident belief that a secular democracy is being born in Iraq. But it has been evident for some time that by removing the Baath regime, the United States unleashed long-suppressed political forces that have very different aspirations.

Some now raise alarms that the election will create an Islamic republic of Iraq controlled by Iran. Jordan's King Abdullah told the Washington Post earlier this month that a million Iranians have crossed the border to vote and that the Iranian regime is flooding the country with money. "We've opened ourselves to a whole set of new problems that will not be limited to the borders of Iraq," he warned.

Longtime American observers of Iraq also voice those fears. "It will be a singular achievement of President Bush that he invaded Iraq for the purpose of turning the country over to the Iranians," Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador who uncovered and documented Saddam's murderous campaigns against the Kurds, told me.

There are legitimate concerns about Iran's activities in Iraq. During Saddam's reign, Shiite organizations -- including two large parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al-Dawa -- operated in exile from Iran. The Shiite militias were trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Ayatollah Sistani is himself Iranian in origin, though he has lived in Iraq for most of his life.

"The Shia identity transcends national boundaries; it transcends ethnic boundaries," says William Beeman, head of Middle East studies at Brown University.

But Beeman and most other experts consider fears of an Iranian-style Islamic state, one ruled directly by the clergy, overdrawn. Sistani does not share Ayatollah Khomeini's views on clerical rule, though he clearly is not averse to playing a behind-the-scenes political role.

The immediate danger in Iraq may be not Islamic revolution but civil war. Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite is growing daily. It may only worsen if the Sunnis see the election as illegitimate. The Kurds fear a Shiite government will threaten their national autonomy. They are ready to break away from Iraq entirely.

The Bush administration has focused on the military campaign against the Sunni insurgency. It seems as ill-prepared for the political struggle as it is for warfare. "I've never seen an administration as divorced from reality as this one," says Ambassador Galbraith.

Soon, however, it may not matter what Americans think about Iraq."

IranMania News

IranMania News: "Iran's Defense Minister Shamkhani back home

Friday, December 24, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com

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LONDON, Dec 24 (IranMania) - Iranian Defense Minister Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani arrived in Tehran after a two-day visit to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Shamkhani, talking to reporters upon arrival in Tehran, termed as "positive" the achivements of his trip to Azerbaijan and said the trip had helped recognize cooperation capacities between the two countries.

He expressed hope that mutual visits by Iranian and Azeri political and defense delegations would prevent tensions and instability in the region, according to IRNA.

Shamkhani further described the prospects of Iran-Azerbaijan as promising, stressing that the planned visit by Azerbaijan`s President Ilham Aliyev to Iran would help boost bilateral relations.

The Iranian defense minister headed a high-level political and defensive delegation in Azerbaijan upon the formal invitation of his counterpart Brigadier General Safar Abiev. While in Baku, Shamkhani conferred with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Defense Minister Safar Abiev."

Bush: "We don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now."

News: "No immediate plans for new US sanctions on Syria, Iran
12-24-2004, 08h49

Brendan Smialowski - (AFP/File)
WASHINGTON, (AFP) - Despite President George W. Bush's stern warnings to Iran and Syria against "meddling" in Iraq, Washington has shown no sign of readying new sanctions and appears to have little leverage with either state.

Bush raised eyebrows last week when he issued the threat to the two countries accused by the US-installed Baghdad government of orchestrating attacks in Iraq ahead of next month's crucial elections.

"We will continue to make it clear to both Syria and Iran that ... meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interest," the president said after talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He repeated the warning on Monday and said Washington had a variety of diplomatic and economic measures it could take against Syria, acccused of helping funnel money and manpower across the border to Iraqi insurgents.

But US officials said there was nothing currently in the pipeline beyond the sanctions imposed in May, including a near-blanket ban on US exports to Syria and a green light to freeze Syrian assets in the United States.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration was constantly reviewing the Syrian Accountability Act enacted a year ago to halt Damascus' alleged support of terrorism. "But I don't have anything new at this point," he said.

Officials said the Syrians have shown some signs of cooperating, helping to crack down on funding for anti-American insurgents and tightening their border patrols. Some 1,000-2,000 people reportedly have been arrested trying to cross over into Iraq.

Washington still has some options available to it under the Accountability Act, including downgrading bilateral diplomatic ties and imposing travel restrictions on Syrian envoys in the United States.

But the Bush administration is displaying little inclination for such heavy measures, which officials said could cut off lines of communication with Damascus and jeopardize the current level of help they are getting from the Syrians.

"The screws are on pretty good right now, but there is no talk at this point of doing anything more," said one US official, who asked not to be named.

Still, the United States continues to ratchet up its rhetoric. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage kept up the pressure Wednesday, warning Damascus its ties with the United States depended on whether it refrained from interfering in Iraq and Lebanon.

Asked in an interview with Arab journalists whether he expected relations to remain frosty, the State Department number two said: "I would hope for a much better day with Syria, but it's all up to (President Bashar) al-Assad and his colleagues."

The Americans' margin for maneuver looked equally slim with Iran, which Iraq's Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has branded the "most dangerous enemy of Iraq."

The first US sanctions imposed on Tehran date back to 1979 when militants took 52 US embassy staffers hostage. Over the next two decades virtually all trade and investment between the two countries was barred.

Even Bush, who is also seeking to persuade Tehran to rein in its nuclear weapons ambitions, realizes that his administration may have run out levers to press.

"We've sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran," he told a news conference on Monday. "In other words, we don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now."

Slow rebuilding of Iran's Bam brings complaints

IranMania News: "Slow rebuilding of Iran's Bam brings complaints

Friday, December 24, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com

LONDON, Dec 24 (IranMania) - Reconstruction of Bam a year after the Iranian city was hit by a devastating earth tremor is progressing slowly, with the historic citadel looking like it's been hit by heavy artillery and thousands of people still living in makeshift housing.

Shortly before 5:28 am (0158 GMT) on December 26, 2003 the citadel was the world's largest mud-brick edifice: a complex of mosques, traditional houses, a bazaar and surrounding ramparts, all made from a mixture of mud and straw.

Today the citadel looks like a pile of red sand.

Along with Persepolis and Isfahan, Arg-e Bam was one of Iran's most grandiose and impressive sites. Just after the quake, President Mohammad Khatami promised that the prime example of pre-Islamic architecture would be rebuilt "whatever the cost," according to AFP.

But those who hoped to see a resurrected citadel rising from the desert some time soon will be disappointed.

Unfortunately, work has been done to preserve those parts of the edifice still standing, continually threatened by aftershocks.

But removal of the debris only began three months ago, says renovation director Eskandar Mokhtari, AFP added.

"We've cleared an 800-metre (yard) swathe and it will take around two years to clear everything," he says.

And while today's authorities stand accused of taking their time to rebuild the modern city of Bam, the guilty are also past generations, as records of what the citadel used to look like are surprisingly patchy.

Nevertheless, Mokhtari says his team has been collecting ground and aerial photographs and films for months. A French digital three-dimensional mapping of the citadel and a similar Japanese project also help.

But it has yet to be decided whether the restored building should be an exact copy of what existed before or not.

Experts talk rather of a "recovery" of the complex than a "restoration" or "reconstruction". The citadel will also serve as "a school for archaeologists," says Mokhtari.

The one good thing to come out of the quake are the treasures revealed under devastated buildings, such as the tombs of children believed to have been buried during a 19th century siege and Iran's oldest irrigation system discovered by Shahryar Adle.

At the site of a sixth-century BC fort "there are so many pottery fragments that you can't walk without breaking them, the extraordinary thing is not their discovery but who could we have missed them before?" says Adle.

As a result, the citadel's revised UNESCO world heritage site now covers 25 square kilometres (10 square miles).

Without the quake which "did the job of an archaeologist" by revealing various artefacts, a new highway was set to pass close to the citadel and "urban development would have destroyed the sites," says Adle.

The modern city of Bam was similarly ruined, besides the human loss of 31,000 dead. Many were buried on the spot or simply covered in cement.

"The government promised to pay for tombstones, but we're still waiting, so I decided to do it myself," says Mohammad. He paid the small fortune of 12 mln rials ($1,300) for 13 relatives' graves, according to AFP.

"They haven't stopped lying to us," he says, adding that the cemetery and the rest of the devastated city has been tarmacked and trees and flowers planted, but only because Khatami was expected for Sunday's anniversary.

Streets have been cleared and a few houses have been constructed , but at least 37,000 inhabitants still live in temporary housing outside of town, says Bam Governor Mohammad Rafizadeh.

He says he "understands people's impatience", blaming the inadequacy of the loans system set up for reconstruction or people's refusal to move into smaller homes.

"Over 7 mln cu.m. of rubble have been removed," says Rafizadeh, adding that now that a reconstruction plan has been drawn up "things will move faster", AFP added."