Thursday, March 31, 2011

Iran Reinstates 20-Year Sentence against Baha’i Leaders

The Iranian authorities reimposed 20-year jail terms on seven leaders of Baha’i faith in the country after an appeal court had cut their sentences to ten years. Amnesty International called the move “outrageous.”

"Yet again, the Iranian authorities are manipulating their own justice system to persecute members of a religious minority,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Instead of doubling their sentences, the authorities should be setting the Baha’i leaders free, right now, and guaranteeing their freedom to practice their religion free from threat or persecution," he added.

“Such arbitrary and vindictive acts are a salutary reminder of why the UN Human Rights Council voted recently to create a Special Rapporteur on Iran. The Council’s decision came not a moment too soon,” Amnesty spokesman said.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kuwait Recalls Its Ambassador from Tehran

Kuwait today recalled its ambassador from Tehran a day after a Kuwaiti court condemned to death two Iranians and a Kuwaiti accused of spying for Iran. Foreign Minister Shaikh Mohammed Al Salem Al Sabah accused Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards of being behind the spy cell and said three Iranian envoys would be expelled.

Hong Kong Passes Iran Sanctions Law, Freezes IRISL Assets

Hong Kong has passed laws to comply with UN sanctions against Iran. The new laws that went into effect last Friday include asset freezes on Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and its affiliates. The US had accused 20 shipping firms in the city of ties to IRISL and of fronting Iranian businesses involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, received Beijing's approval to pass the new laws.

"The administration took time to deliberate internally on how best to implement the new and expanded sanctions," the Hong Kong government said in a statement on Wednesday [AFP, 30 March].

Saudi Call to Arms

By Nader Uskowi

This week, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former longtime director of Saudi intelligence and former ambassador to Washington, who now heads the think-tank King Faisal Center for Research, called on Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to transform GCC into an EU-type union, powerful enough after acquiring its own nuclear weapons to be at par with its regional rivals, Iran and Israel. Prince Turki’s comments should be taken seriously, as serious and thoughtful as he has always been.

There is nothing that prevents GCC from transforming itself into a unified entity similar to the European Union, Turki told a gathering of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research. He went on calling for establishing a joint army and acquiring nuclear weapons, particularly if Iran acquires its own. A nuclear future for the GCC is inevitable, he said [, 29 March].

"Wealth in the region is not sufficient to achieve stability and we ought to be effective regarding major international affairs and prevent others from dictating options on us," Prince Turki added.

The Call to Arms is now the new norm on both sides of the Persian Gulf.

Kurdish Leaders Seeking Iran’s Help Against Opposition Movement

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) greets the KDP leader Nechirvan Barzani. Tehran, 26 March 2011.

By Nader Uskowi

When Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani visited Tehran on Saturday to participate in Norouz celebrations, the man standing next to him was none other than Nechirvan Barzani, the former Kurdish premier, the nephew of Massoud Barzani and the deputy leader of Kurdistan Democratic Part (KDP). His presence alongside Talabani in meetings with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials indicated a united front of Kurdish ruling parties to seek Tehran’s help to quell the country’s growing opposition movement led by Gorran.

The Kurdish opposition includes two Islamic parties ideologically close to Iran, Komal and Yakgrtu. The Iranian government, however, maintains a close relationship with Talabani and the Kurdish ruling families and is weary of Gorran (“Change”) Movement and its popularity in all Kurdish regions and the neighboring provinces. That has put the Iranian government at odds with the two Islamic parties, so much so that the Komal and Yakgrtu parties refused Iran’s invitation to attend the same Norouz ceremonies. Barzani and Talabani were seeking Iran’s intervention with and pressure on the two Islamic parties to distance themselves from the opposition. But Komal and Yakgrtu’s refusal to attend the gathering in Tehran signaled the difficulties facing the ruling parties in Kurdistan to defeat or limit the influence of the movement for change in their region.

Photo: KDP

CBI Sets Bank Rates

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has set the bank interest rates for the new calendar year 1390. The commercial banks follow CBI’s published rates.

  • Rate with 3 months maturity: 6%
  • Rate with 9 months maturity: 8%
  • Rate with 12 months maturity: 10%
  • Maximum rate: 15%
  • Mortgage rate for a maximum loan of $25,000: 11%

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Iran Builds Diesel Locomotives

Iran National Railways (INR) today unveiled its first homemade diesel engine locomotive. INR also announced plans to build 330 of these locomotives in the next three years. These locomotives weight 3,700 kilos and their engine power rates at 1,000 kW per minute.

US Adds Four Iran Ships to Sanctions List

The US has added four more Iranian vessels, all general cargo ships, to its sanctions list:

  • Iran Darya, 3,850dwt
  • Nardis, 3,817dwt
  • Parmis, 3,839dwt
  • Patris, 3,853dwt

Since the start of the sanctions, the US government has added over 100 vessels and numerous operating companies to the sanctions list, all for their alleged ties to Islamic Republic Shipping Lines (IRISL).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Khamenei Visits Asalouyeh

Ayatollah Khamenei (center) Visiting Phase 15 Construction Site, Asalouyeh. 28 March

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today visited the country’s South Pars facilities in the Persian Gulf port of Asalouyeh. The South Pars together with North Dome field on the Qatari side of the Gulf constitute the largest natural gas field in the world. Asalouyeh is the closest land point to the field, which contains half of all Iran’s natural gas reserves.

Over the years Iran has built various plants and refineries in Asalouyeh. The original development plans had envisioned the completion of 27 phases, with some 28 refineries and 25 petrochemical complexes plus other light and heavy industrial plants. Out of these, 10 refineries and 7 petrochemical plans have been completed. Khamenei today visited Phase 15, which is the latest phase under construction.

In the past year, because of the US and EU sanctions, the Western companies have left Asalouyeh. Their technical expertise and investments was key to the completion of the remaining phases of the development and the overall operation of the existing phases. Iran’s IRGC has set up various business companies to replace the international oil and gas giants and Iran has signed an agreement with the Chinese for additional support, but it is highly unlikely that IRGC and the Chinese companies would be able to provide the level of technology required for such complex projects. The most likely outcome would be the work on the simplest projects and shelving the future phases for now.

Meanwhile, Qatar has established the most extensive and modern liquid natural gas (LNG) plants in the world to exploit the gas field from its side across the Persian Gulf. That country’s natural gas exports are now all in the form of LNG, making Qatar the world’s largest supplier of the sought-after liquid gas.

Photo: IRNA

Ahmadinejad Meets Sudanese Official

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) with Sudan's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kamal Hassan Ali. Tehran, 28 March.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today met with Sudan's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kamal Hassan Ali in Tehran and emphasized the importance of Iran’s ties to Khartoum.

“Iran and Sudan will always stand together and the enemies cannot damage the relations between the two nations,” Ahmadinejad said. “There are many areas to increase bilateral cooperation whose activation will cause increasing progress and prosperity in the two countries,” he added [IRNA, 28 March].

The Islamic Republic has had close relations with Khartoum and now in the wake of the split in the country and the growing tensions in its relationship with some African countries, which led Senegal to cut its diplomatic ties with Iran last month, its relations with Khartoum has found an added importance for its foreign policy.

Photo: IRNA

Libyan Rebels Report Capturing Sirte - UPDATED

UPDATE (29 March) – Notwithstanding the earlier claims by the rebels that they had captured Sirte, the rebels have not entered the town yet. Their forces are now gathering close to the town, where Ghaddafi forces have entrenched themselves, and a rebel attack on Ghaddafi stronghold now seems imminent.

Meanwhile, the rebel government, Transitional National Council (TNC) of Libya announced it had signed a contract with Qatar Petroleum to market crude oil produced in eastern Libyan oil fields now controlled by rebel forces. The Qatari government also became the first Arab government to recognize TNC as Libya’s legitimate government.


The Libyan rebels said today that they have captured the city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and his regime’s stronghold. The capture of Sirte (aka Surt) would be a serious loss for Gaddafi and a clear signal that the balance of power in Libya has shifted in favor of the opposition.

Only last week, Gaddafi forces had reached the outskirts of the rebel capital of Bengazi, and Gaddafi himself was threatening the city residents that his forces would go house to house and would show no mercy, killing and murdering residents. Soon after he made the threat, the coalition and NATO forces began their massive military campaign against his forces and the rebels found new life. They retook the city of Ajdabiya on Friday, and the oil terminal towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf on Saturday. On Sunday, they captured the strategic town of Bin Jawwad, where a week ago they were routed by Gaddafi forces. And now the claim of the capture of Sirte, the most important gain by the rebels since their movement started earlier this month.

Bloggers following the events in Libya are now saying that the capture of Sirte would mean the game is practically over and Gaddafi’s days are numbered.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tehran Stocks Rising

Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) index today hit a record high, ending at 24,199. TSE’s total market value is now at $115 billion.

TSE File Photo / IRNA

Japan: Google Images After and Before the Catastrophe

Please Click Here

Credit: Google /

Region Presidents in Tehran to Mark Norouz

Top to Bottom:
  • The presidents of Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran attending the Norouz (Nowruz) ceremonies marking the New Year 1390 (top two photos).
  • Emomali Rahmonov, President of Tajikistan, arriving in Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
  • Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, arriving in Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
  • Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, rriving in Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
Top Photo: Mehr News Agency
Other Photos: IRNA

Fars: Pictures of the Year 1389

The Damavand; Mohammad Azizi

Saegheh Missile; Mehdi Marizad

Golestan Forest Fires; Hamed Barchian

Caspian Shores; Mohammad Azizi

Schoolgirl in Vakeel Abad ; Ali Ramezanpour

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rebels Retake Ajdabiya

The Libyan rebels retook the city of Ajdabiya in their first major advance since the US and European airstrikes began.

Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters/NYTimes. 26 March 2011

Tehran Stocks Hit New High

Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) shares hit new high today during the first day of trading after the Norouz (Iranian New Year) holidays. The TSE closed at 23,756. The stocks driving the rally included Iran Telecom, Isfahan Mobarakeh Steel, Iran National Copper and Qadir Industries. Few stocks registered losses, including IRISL (the national shipping lines) and Shiraz Petrochemical.

Photo: Tehran Stock Exchange / IRNA

Karzai in Tehran

Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Tehran today to take part in a ceremony celebrating Norouz (Nowruz), the beginning of the New Year in Iran and the neighboring countries. Karzai who is heading a high-ranking delegation is to meet senior Iranian officials as well as the presidents of several neighboring countries who will also be attending the Norouz ceremonies in Tehran. Among the topics high in Karzai’s agenda, is the fate of many Afghan citizens imprisoned in Iran. Karzai will be attempting to have many of them freed on the occasion of Norouz.

Photo: President Karzai, wearing the green robe, arriving at Mehrabad airport in Tehran / IRNA

Friday, March 25, 2011

Winds of Change in the Middle East

Liberated Benghazi, Libya. Photo: Reuters, 18 March

An army officer raises his rifle as he joins antigovernment protesters during a rally demanding the ouster of President Saleh in Sanaa on 21 March. Photo: Reuters

An anti-government protester is carried after being shot during a demonstration in Manama, Bahrain on Friday. The protests are aimed at defying emergency rule invoked by Bahrain's monarch. Photo: AP

Anti- and pro-Assad protesters clash after Friday prayers in Damascus, Syria, on Friday. Thousands took to the streets in the most widespread civil unrest in current uprising, demanding reforms and mourning dozens of protesters who were killed during a violent, weeklong crackdown. Photo: Muzaffar Salman, AP

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Norouz Celebrations in Tehran

Presidents of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Iraq will take part in an international Norouz (Nowruz) festival hosted by Iran. Kyrgyz deputy prime minister, Qatari Crown Prince and Omani Foreign Minister will also attend the ceremonies, held in Tehran on 27 and 28 March.

Norouz, which coincides with the first day of spring on the solar calendar, is celebrated as the New Year in Iran and the neighboring countries.

Photo: Norouz’s Haft Seen set to mark the coming of the New Year / Press TV

UN to Name Human Rights Investigator for Iran

The UN Human Rights Council agreed today to establish a UN human rights investigator for Iran. The 47-member Geneva-based council approved the resolution by 22 votes in favor, 7 against, and 14 abstentions. The council voiced concern at Iran's crackdown on opposition figures and increased use of the death penalty, and called on the Islamic Republic to cooperate with the UN envoy to be named to the independent post. The Council's predecessor body, the Human Rights Commission, named a special rapporteurs on Iran in 1984, who was withdrawn in 2002 during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Karun 3 Dam

The Karun 3 dam built over the Karun in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran. The dam’s power plant has 2,280 MW capacity and generates 4,137 GWh annually. The dam itself is a concrete double arch type, 673 ft high with a width of 97 ft.

Photos by Amir Pourmand, ISNA

Oil Rising

Brent Crude future today hit $116 per barrel. The price of Iran’s Heavy, the country’s main export crude grade, is pegged to Brent, nearing $110 per barrel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HRHI Report on Political Detentions in Iran

During the Iranian calendar year 1389, which ended on 20 March, 1,256 persons were imprisoned for their opposition to the government and their political views, Human Rights House of Iran (HRHI) reported today. To read the complete HRHI report in Farsi, please click here.

Border Bazaars in Kurdistan

Bazaars in the border areas of Iran's Kurdistan province. The Kurdhish residents earn their livings by carrying cargo on their back through the difficult terrains in the mountainous region between Iran and Iraq. For more photos, please see the original post at Payvand.

Photos by Abdolrahman Hasani, Mehr News Agency

Iran Cargo Plane Kept in Turkey - UPDATE

The Turkish authorities have kept the Syrian-bound Iranian plane grounded in Diyarbakir airport. The Ilyushin civilian cargo plane was ordered to land in Turkey’s southeastern airport on Saturday on suspicion that it had illicit cargo on board. The inspectors have discovered a box containing automatic rifles and the aircraft’s seven-man crew was taken to a police station for questioning. The authorities have confiscated the weapons and are expected to allow the plane to take off en route to Syria.

UPDATE: Turkey says the plane returned to Iran Tuesday night without the seized cargo.

Tehran Police Review - Pictorial

click photos to enlarge
Bajaj 150 cc 4-stroke single police motorbikes

Motor officers clad in black leathers

Mercedes-Benz C 200 highway patrol cars

Honda highway patrol motorcycles

Iran Khodro Samand police cars

BMW R 11oo RT-P highway patrol motorcycle
(a personal favorite of the author's)

Mercedes-Benz C 200 police response cars. Note policemen issued with body armor.

Traffic speed camera in use by Tehran metro police

Mountain police equipped with Yamaha YFM400 4x4 ATVs

Mountain police issued with skiing equipment

Photos: Mohammad Hassanzadeh at Fars News Agency

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bahrain Accuses Iran Embassy of Smuggling Weapons

The Iranian Embassy in Manama has denied a report that one of its staff members was involved in smuggling weapons in Bahrain. Al Ayam daily had earlier reported that an Iranian embassy staff member was detained by Bahraini security forces while trying to smuggle weapons and communication gears out of Salmaniya Hospital in the capital city Manama. The newspaper quoting security forces said some employees of the hospital were part of the smuggling network, apparently bringing in weapons to the hospital stored in imported medical equipment boxes. The Iranian embassy said it had sent a letter to the newspaper denying the allegations, but the letter has not been published yet. The embassy did not disclose the name of its staff member and his position. It was not clear if the staff member has been freed because of his diplomatic immunity.

Growing Tension in Iran-Bahrain Relations

Iran today expelled a Bahraini diplomat stationed in Tehran after Bahrain took similar action against an Iranian diplomat posted in Manama. The diplomatic row is the latest developments in the worsening relations between the two countries. The king of Bahrain has accused Iran of being the instigator of the Shia uprising in his country, while senior Iranian leaders have harshly criticized the Bahraini government’s crackdown on peaceful protests by its people and the Saudi and UAE intervention in Bahraini affairs.

Obama Marks the Iranian New Year

President Barack Obama marked the Persian New Year with a message of solidarity to Iranian youth.

"The future of Iran belongs to the young people, the youth who will determine their own destiny," Obama said on Sunday. "Your talent, your hopes and your choices will shape the future of Iran, and help light the world. And though times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Iranian New Year 1390

Happy Norouz!

New Year starts at:
020545 on Monday 21 March in Tehran
232054 on Sunday 20 March, GMT
192054 on Sunday 20 March, Eastern Standard Time

Photo: The 7 Seen, Mehr News Agency

Iran Plane Forced to Land in Turkey

An Iranian cargo plane en route to Syria was forced to land in Turkey's southeastern Diyarbakir airport for an inspection. The plane, a civilian Ilyushin, landed on Saturday night on the orders of the Turkish authorities. On Wednesday, an IRGC cargo plane was also forced to land at the same airport for inspection, but the authorities could not find any material “contrary to international standards" [AFP, 20 March].

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Iran National Oil at 60

Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq

Sixty years ago today, Iran under the leadership of Mohammad Mossdeq nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, renaming it the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Mossadeq become premier and led the country until the British-American led coup d’état in 1953 that brought the deposed Shah back to power. And the British renamed their company the British Petroleum (BP).

Happy Anniversary!

French Fighter Jets Over Libya

The French fighter jets began enforcing the no-fly provision of the UN Security Council 1973 against Gaddafi forces. The resolution authorizes UN member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan civilians. The no-fly zone is expected to be the start of a major air campaign by an international coalition against Gaddafi’s continued rule over Libya. Strikes against Gaddafi forces are expected to start later today. The Europeans, the Arab countries and the US are expected to actively support the military action that is being led by the French.

UPDATE: European and US forces started massive air attacks against Gaddafi's air defense systems and other military target on Saturday. US forces fired more than 100 Tomahawk missiles from US warships and submarines at longer range air defense missiles as well as early warning radar sites and the command and control communication centers; while British forces struck 20 air defense targets around Tripoli and Misurata.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Iran Navy dispatches '13th Fleet' to Gulf of Aden

The Iranian Navy dispatched its 13th flotilla of warships to the Gulf of Aden to defend the country's cargo ships and oil tankers against the continued threat of attack by Somali pirates.

"The Thirteen fleet of warships, comprised of Tonb [IRINS Tonb (LSLH 513) Hengam class landing ship logistic] and Delvar [IRINS Delvar (AEL 471) Delvar class support ship] vessels is tasked with boosting security for Iranian merchant containers and oil tankers in the Gulf of Aden and north of the Indian Ocean for a period of 60 days," Commander of Iran's First Naval Zone Fariborz Qaderpanah said on Thursday.

"Over the course of the last two years, the Iranian fleet of warships has successfully managed to display its powerful presence in turmoil-stricken Gulf of Aden, and foil any attempt to impair transportation routes along the country's sea border," Qaderpanah added.

The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when Somali raiders hijacked the Iranian-chartered cargo ship, MV Delight, off the coast of Yemen.

Hengam class landing ship logistic

Delvar class support ship

File photos: Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, 15th Edition and the U.S. Navy

Malaysia Seizes Iran-Bound Cargo Ship

Malaysian police today announced that it has seized the cargo of a ship traveling from China to Iran smuggling equipment “that possibly could be used to make nuclear weapons.” National police chief Ismail Omar told reporters the Malaysian-registered cargo ship was seized two weeks ago at a central Malaysia harbor. The Sun newspaper reported Friday that the machineries onboard the ship required a special permit put in place “to curb the trafficking of nuclear weapon components” [AP, 18 March].

Thursday, March 17, 2011

UN Security Council Authorizes Force Against Qaddafi - Benghazi Erupts in Celebration

The UN Security Council today authorized its member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan civilians against Qaddafi forces. The resolution’s sweeping language and the use of the diplomatic code words “all necessary measures” in effect authorizes military action against Qaddafi, including a no-fly zone, and strikes on his air force, tanks and heavy artillery. The Qaddafi forces have advanced within 100 miles of the opposition capital of Benghazi after defeating the rebels in towns west of the city and in the process killing many anti-Qaddafi activists, sympathizers and ordinary citizens. Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. The UN resolution is numbered 1973.

Iranian C-704 missiles displayed at Ashdod

Israel has put on display the Iranian C-704 "Nasr" missiles found aboard the cargo ship Vistoria, in Ashdod.

Had these missiles been successfully delivered and deployed, they might have had an impact on the ongoing siege of Gaza. But they were not delivered and surprise has been lost, so the siege continues.

In the mid term, Gazans' best chance of relief appears to rest on an upcoming Egyptian government becoming truly representative, with a foreign policy reflective of Egyptian popular sentiment. It's a big "if" but if attained, the siege may finally be lifted.

IDF press cue, providing content details. Note the logo and translated addendum.

C-704 command and control system

Two box cannisters containing Nasr AShMs

C-704 "Nasr" missile detail (1)

C-704 "Nasr" missile detail (2)

H/T Tom Cooper at

Diverted Iranian plane in Turkey: Photo

The Iranian plane diverted to Diyarbakir airport yesterday by Turkish officials turns out to be an Ilyushin Il-76TD belonging to the Revolutionary Guard Air Force (IRGC/AF). A lengthy search found the plane was carrying 150 tons of food; it was allowed to leave on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo: Reuters
H/T Tom Cooper at

Kavoshgar-4 rocket launch into space

IRNA is reporting that Iran has launched a Kavoshgar-4 (Explorer-4) rocket carrying a test capsule into space on March 15.. All systems of the new rocket were reportedly tested including capsule separation and reentry, as well as biological support with what appears to be a mock primate.

Iran is establishing the technical means to support its publicly declared goal of sending a human into space by 2022.

Launch photos provided by IRNA

File photo: Kavoshgar-4 unveiling during 10 Day Dawn