January 20, 2018

Iran Watch – May 9, 2008

[spoiler title=”Iranian Exiles Aren’t Terrorist Group, British Court Says”] By JOHN F. BURNS
May 8, 2008
New York Times

LONDON – After a seven-year legal battle, Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that the British government was wrong to include an Iranian resistance group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, on its list of banned terrorist groups.

Spokesmen for the group, whose name means People’s Holy Warriors, said the ruling appeared to leave Britain’s interior minister, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, with no further legal recourse but to order Parliament to strike the group from a list of more than 20 proscribed terrorist organizations under Britain’s Terrorism Act.

The court’s ruling denied the government’s bid to carry the appeal further, seemingly closing off recourse to Britain’s supreme appellate body, the so-called Law Lords. But the British government did not say what it planned to do.

The People’s Mujahedeen has roots that go back to the Iranian resistance to Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s rule in the mid-1960s. After the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini turned against the group, executing many of its members and driving others into exile. It regrouped in Iraq in the 1980s and was listed as a terrorist group by the United States in 1997 and the European Union in 2002.

In 2002 the People’s Mujahedeen provided intelligence on Iran’s secret efforts to enrich uranium that led to United Nations sanctions against Iran and a confrontation with the West that continues today. But the group also has a record of unverifiable or erroneous claims.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the verdict as a “political ruling that lacks legal basis.”

“Senior British authorities must explain the reason behind this ruling,” a ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said in a statement faxed to news organizations. He referred to the group’s armed attacks on Iranian officials and said the ruling “would only propagate terrorism and violence.”

Amid jubilant celebrations by the Iranian group’s supporters in London, Paris and Iraq, where 3,800 members have lived since 2003 under American military guard at a vast desert encampment outside Baghdad, the group said it would seek to overturn a similar proscription as a terrorist group by the 27 nations of the European Union. Spokesmen for the group said that there was no further justification for the European ban, because it was imposed on the basis of the 2001 British finding against the group.

A three-judge panel led by Nicholas Phillips, Britain’s lord chief justice, said in a written ruling that there was “no reasonable prospect of success” for the home secretary in proceeding with the government’s appeal of a November 2007 finding by the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission, a quasi-judicial body that rules on appeals by banned groups.

In effect, the appeals court upheld the claims by lawyers for the group that it had complied with its own renunciation of violence in 2000, when it announced that it would no longer carry out terrorist attacks and would concentrate on peaceful opposition to the government in Tehran.

“The only conclusion that a reasonable decision maker could reach,” the court said, was that since American forces disarmed the People’s Mujahedeen and allied groups in Iraq in 2003, the group “has not taken any steps to acquire or seek to acquire further weapons or to restore any military capability in Iraq.”

The People’s Mujahedeen, the judges said, “has not sought to recruit personnel for military-type or violent activities,” nor engaged in “military-type training of its existing members” or sought to support other groups in attacks on Iranian targets.

“To the extent that the P.M.O.I. has retained networks and supporters inside Iran since, at the latest, 2002,” the judges said, using the abbreviation for the group’s full name, “they have been directed to social protest, finance and intelligence gathering activities which would not fall within the definition of ‘terrorism’ for the purposes of the 2000 Act.”

The People’s Mujahedeen is also on the United States’ list of banned terror groups, and Bush administration officials have said in the past that they have no plans to lift the ban. But if Britain and the Europe Union lift their bans, the group would be able to use its legalization as a basis for raising money and organizing resistance to the ruling ayatollahs in Iran.

Spokesmen for the People’s Mujahedeen in London and Paris demanded after Wednesday’s ruling that the British authorities, and the European Council of Ministers, act promptly to remove the “terrorist label” from the group, allowing it to resume normal activities. The group says it is committed to restoring democracy in Iran and opposes any attempt by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

The appeals court ruling in London was received by People’s Mujahedeen supporters with bitter rebukes of Britain’s Labor government for having imposed the ban and with adulation for the 35 members of the British Parliament, from across the political spectrum, who led the court challenge.

Maryam Rajavi, 55, the Tehran-born metallurgist and People’s Mujahedeen leader who is also president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Iranian Parliament in exile, said in a video link from Paris that the ruling ended a “grave insult” to the group.

“The terrorist label has crumbled,” she said. “The era of grave injustice to the Iranian resistance has come to an end. The mullahs and their backers are left in disgrace. This is a great victory for the Iranian people.”

Mrs. Rajavi, who had one sister who was executed under the shah and another who was tortured to death after the ayatollahs took power in Iran in 1979, demanded that the British government act immediately to comply with the court ruling, and that the European Union and the United States follow suit.

“The terrorist label against the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran must be removed now,” she said. “The terrorist label is the hallmark of the era of appeasing the mullahs’ regime. That era has come to an end.”

Her remarks were met with wild cheering and the waving of Iranian flags by supporters gathered at a London hotel, where the celebrations were linked live by video to Paris and to the People’s Mujahedeen camp at Ashraf, Iraq, about 65 miles northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border. The scene at Ashraf was one of similar jubilation, with hundreds of men in green military uniforms and women in gray robes with scarlet head scarves leaping from their seats in a huge auditorium to chant their support for the court ruling and for Mrs. Rajavi.

After participating in the overthrow of the shah, the People’s Mujahedeen quickly fell out with Iran’s ruling ayatollahs, and its members were among the primary victims of terrorist attacks that Tehran’s new rulers carried out against their opponents. Thousands of them were tortured and executed, and survivors fled, first to Europe and many later to Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein’s protection in Iraq from the mid-1980s, the groups’ military wing fought with Iraqi troops in the Iran-Iraq war and organized terrorist attacks against Iranian targets in Iran and abroad. [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Iran’s Hezbollah”] [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”British court ruling will affect Iran opposition in US: source”] (AFP) – May 7, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States will be under pressure to stop banning an Iranian opposition movement as “terrorist” following a court ruling Wednesday in Britain, a former opposition spokesman said.
The Court of Appeal ruled there were “no valid grounds” to contend that a British panel made legal errors when it ordered the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) to be removed from a terrorist blacklist.
Encouraged by the ruling was Alireza Jafarzadeh, who was spokesman for the National Resistance Council of Iran (NRCI), the PMOI’s political wing, until the State Department banned both as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 2003.
Jafarzadeh said the State Department will have to weigh the ruling in London when it conducts its scheduled five-year review of the terrorist designation for the Iranian opposition movement in October 2008.

“It’s clear pressure because here’s a credible court that looked at things and said this group — we’re talking about the same group, the same activities, everything — this group is not engaged in terrorism,” he told AFP.
The State Department will have to weigh what he said was a 22-page ruling by the Cour of Appeal as well as a 144-page ruling by a previous court which acted in favor of the Iranian group, he said. “These are going to be submitted by the members of the British parliament, by the group itself, by the members of Congress to the State Department,” he said. “They will become part of the administrative record and they (State Department) will have to take that into consideration,” Jafarzadeh said. The heat will also come from US lawmakers.

“Congress, which was putting pressure before, is going to doubly put pressure on the State Department,” Jafarzadeh said. He claimed public opinion opposed the designation in a political climate in which Washington accuses Iran of supporting Shiite militias in Iraq and of pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

“This is all pressure on the State Department to change their attitude and their characterization of the main Iran opposition group,” he said.

When asked if the ruling would affect the US review of the movement, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack replied: “I’ll have to check with our lawyers on it. We’ll see.”

View Source Here [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Iran: Ivan-Gharb residents mourn teenagers killed by regime’s forces”] NCRI – Families and local residents of Ivan-Gharb in Ilam province, western Iran, attended mourning ceremony of three teenagers killed by the special units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on 30 April 2008, in a bloody crackdown of an anti-government demonstration.

Kasra Miri, Ashkan Bibak and Milad Hassani were brutally gunned down and killed during a clash between the angry crowd who staged a protest against the mullahs’ sham election and IRGC suppressive forces.

By calling the protesters, especially the youths, as “thugs and hooligans,” Saeed Hashemi, deputy director for political and security affairs in Ilam province said, “After breaking windows of government buildings and banks in the city’s main high road, thugs and hooligans attacked the governorate’s offices where they clashed with security forces.”

Qanbari, Majlis deputy for Ilam province, acknowledged the crimes committed by government forces and said, “The government forces opened fire on people without any prior warning. There are three teenagers; 12, 16 and 17 years of age among the dead which shows that the government forces fired indiscriminately into the crowd.” [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Hezbollah accused of training Iraqis”] By Michael R. Gordon
New York Times News Service / May 5, 2008
BAGHDAD – Militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah have been training Iraqi militia fighters at a camp near Tehran, according to US interrogation reports that the United States has supplied to the Iraqi government.

A US official said the account of Hezbollah’s role was provided by four Shi’ite militia members who were captured in Iraq late last year and questioned separately.

The United States has long charged that the Iranians were training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran, which Iran has denied, and there have been previous reports about Hezbollah operatives in Iraq. But the interrogation reports provided by the Americans about Hezbollah’s role at the Iranian camp offer important details about Iranian assistance to the militias, including efforts Iran appears to be making to train the fighters in unobtrusive ways.

The account of the interrogation reports was given to the Iraqi government, along with other data about captured Iranian arms, before it sent a delegation to Tehran last week to discuss allegations of Iranian aid to militia groups.

It is not known whether the delegation confronted its Iranian hosts with the information from the interrogation reports, or how the Iranians responded.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government announced yesterday that it would conduct its own inquiry into allegations of Iranian intervention in Iraq and document any interference.

“We have experienced in the past that Iran interfered and has special groups in Iraq, but Iran also had evidence that they were participating in positive ways in security,” Ali al-Dabagah, a senior Iraqi government spokesman, said in an interview. “We would like the Iranians to keep their commitment, the commitments they made in meetings with the prime minister and with other groups that have visited them. They had made the promise that Iran would be playing a supportive role.”

President Bush and other US officials, in public castigations of Iran, have said the Iranians have long sought to arm and train Iraqi militias, which the US military has called “special groups.”

In a possible effort to be less obtrusive, however, it appears that Iran is bringing small groups of Iraqi Shi’ite militants to camps in Iran where they are taught how to do their own training, US officials say.

The militants then return to Iraq to teach comrades how to fire rockets and mortars, fight as snipers, or assemble explosively formed penetrators, a particularly lethal type of roadside bomb made of Iranian components, according to US officials. The US officials describe this approach as “training the trainers.”

The training, the Americans say, is carried out at several camps near Tehran that are overseen by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Command’s Quds Force, and the instruction is carried out by militants from the Lebanese organization Hezbollah, which has long been supported by the Quds Force. US officials say the Hezbollah militants perform several important roles for the Iranians.

First, they say, the Iranians, who are Persians, believe it is useful to have Arabs train fellow Arabs. Second, Hezbollah has considerable experience in planning operations and using explosives in Lebanon.

According to US officials, the four Shi’ite militants who provided the information on Hezbollah’s role were captured between September and December of 2007 after they returned from training in Iran. The militants provided similar accounts under questioning, the US officials said.

The captured militiamen described themselves in the accounts as part of a class of 16 militants who crossed into Iran from southern Iraq and were taken to a training camp near Tehran, where they studied in a classroom setting and in the field. Some had been in Iran several times before as part of a program that US officials said was aimed at turning them into “master trainers,” and which could last several years.

According to their interrogation reports, the militiamen believed that militants from other countries were also being trained at the camp, an impression based on hearing snippets of conversations in other dialects and languages. But the group was kept separate and was not allowed to mingle with other trainers at the camp.

US officials say they believe that similar classes have been arranged for other groups of Iraqi militants, but say that the effort appears to be compartmentalized to ensure security.

A US official said that an Iraqi who facilitated the militiamen’s travel to Iraq was also captured, and said he had been paid by an Iranian. The official summed up the information from the interrogation reports, but did not make them available. He declined to be identified because the information has not been publicly released.

Other evidence of Iranian involvement that US officials have provided to Iraqi officials includes details of captured Iranian arms, like 81mm mortars and 107mm rockets that US officials say bear markings indicating that they were manufactured in 2008.

The weapons have a particular type of fuse and are painted in a way US specialists say is unique to Iran.

The Iraqi military also captured Iranian-made weapons with 2008 markings during its operations in the southern port of Basra last month, and has captured Shi’ite militants, according to US officials.

The reports of Iran’s training program and the discovered weapons caches are politically significant. When Maliki visited Iran in August, the Iranians sought to reassure the Iraqis that they were not intervening in Iraq’s internal affairs.

The Bush administration, which has sought to draw attention to Iran’s support for militias, has cited the interrogation reports and evidence of recently manufactured Iranian arms as an indication that the Iranian officials are not keeping their word.

View Source Here [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Lebanon: Increasing Violence Raising U.S. Concerns Over Iran”]

May 09, 2008
By Charles Recknagel

Smoke billows from burning tires as a Lebanese boy flashes the victory sign at a blocked road leading to the international airport in Beirut (AFP)

Several times this year, the United States has sought to rally its allies in the Arab world against what it calls Iran’s continued meddling in the region.

“Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere,” U.S. President George W. Bush said in a speech in the United Arab Emirates in January. “So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.”

In the same speech, Bush also accused Iran of exporting terror. He did not have to specify for his audience the destinations. Washington has often charged Iran and Syria with helping to arm the Lebanese Shi’ite Hizballah and of using it to destabilize the Western-leaning government in Beirut.

At the same time, Washington repeatedly charges Iran with funding and arming radical Shi’ite militias in Iraq that attack U.S. forces, complicating U.S. efforts to stabilize the country. And Washington equally accuses Iran of helping to arm Palestinian militant groups which oppose the Western-backed Mideast peace process.

“Iran is today the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” Bush said. “It sends hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists around the world, while its own people face repression and economic hardship at home.”

Crisis Escalates

Despite the U.S. efforts to characterize Iran’s strategy, countering it has proved difficult, however. And the violence in Lebanon is likely to be seen in Washington as the latest measure of the challenge.

Latest reports from Lebanon indicate Hizballah gunmen have now seized control of large areas of western Beirut and also shut down a pro-government TV station and set ablaze the offices of a major newspaper. The unrest has closed Beirut’s international airport, as well as the port. At least 10 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting so far.

The escalation of the Lebanese crisis comes despite Washington’s increasing efforts to isolate Iran in the region, and even one milestone of success.

That success was the recent boycott by half of the Arab League’s 22 heads of state of the league’s Syrian-hosted summit in March. Syria is Iran’s closest ally in the Mideast and the conduit for Iran to project its influence not only into Syria and Lebanon but also across those states’ borders.

The concern now — for both the United States and its Arab allies — is whether the current fighting in Beirut could escalate into a prolonged conflict. And, even more so, whether Iran might regard Lebanon as a potential second hot front along with Iraq in its confrontation with Washington.

‘Instruments Of Iranian Force’

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who was a diplomat in Lebanon during its civil war in the 1970s and 1980s, recently compared the Iranian approach in both countries.

“Iran is pursuing, as it were, a Lebanonization strategy [in Iraq], using the same techniques they used in Lebanon to co-opt elements of the local Shi’a community and use them as basically instruments of Iranian force,” Crocker told a U.S. congressional hearing in April.

He added that in both Iraq and Lebanon, Iran and Syria are working in tandem to prevent a stable Western-leaning state.

The question of how to respond to the threat of a new combat zone in the Mideast is sure to dominate policy discussions in many capitals over the coming days. In Washington, it has already led some reporters to ask whether the United States intends to send arms to the Beirut government.

“We’re obviously concerned about what’s going on, but I’m not aware of any outstanding request we have from the Lebanese armed forces,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters on May 8.

The Hizballah are widely considered to have been fully re-armed by Iran and Syria following the Shi’ite militia’s war with Israel in 2006. Its weaponry includes Iranian-made guided missiles and Syrian-made rockets. The group has long controlled large parts of southern Lebanon as a virtually autonomous territory while participating in the political process in the capital.

As the political process has now collapsed, Hizballah gunmen have moved quickly to seize control of large areas of western Beirut and have attacked pro-government media facilities.

View Source Here [/spoiler]