Sunday, July 31, 2011

Oil Payment Dispute with India Resolved - NIOC

Iran announced today that the oil payment dispute with India has been resoled. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Managing Director Ahmad Ghalebani said India will pay part of its overdue invoices in the next few days, with the balance to be paid incrementally in the future. Ghalebani did not disclose the details of the payment terms.

“Following bilateral negotiations, the two sides agreed to settle the outstanding bills as soon as possible," Ghalebani said. “Part of the arrears will be paid in the next few days and the remaining part will be paid by the Indian customers gradually,” he added [SHANA, 31 July].

Ghalebani said oil exports to India will resume as usual. India buys about 400,000 barrels of Iranian crude per day.

Summer Vacations: Iranians Flock to Antalya

More than a million Iranians visit Turkey each year; most of them flock to Turkish Mediterranean resort town of Antalya. The Financial Times in a report from Tehran discusses Iranian obsession to visit Antalya. Such is the enthusiasm that hardliners in parliament have vowed to restrict the travel agencies' promotion of overseas tourist attractions.

"They [Iran's rulers] think if we do not mention the name of Antalya, people won't go. But the fact is that lots of people want to go [to Antalya] ," says a travel agent in Tehran who promotes Mediterranean packages [Financial Times, 30 July].

The Antalya resorts offer lively nightlife and access to mixed beaches that are denied to Iranians at home. Moreover, Antalya hotels generally offer better levels of service and cheaper prices than the resorts in Iran’s Caspian Sea and Kish Island. A one-week package to Antalya including flights and full-board ranges from $500 to $1,000 a person. A standard two-bed room in a top hotel in one of Caspian resorts, complete with social restrictions, costs about $200 per night. The figure for a similar room on the Gulf island of Kish in the south, is usually more than $150.

"A one-week tour package to Thailand or Malaysia or Turkey is cheaper than the same package to Kish — and the levels of service are much higher," says Mustafa Shafe'ei Shakib, a member of the Iranian Travel Agencies Guild Association.

Banned singers and dancers, most of whom live abroad, also flock to destinations popular with Iranians. Googoosh, a legendary pop singer, and Mohammad Khordadian, a renowned classical dancer, are performing in Antalya this week to sold-out crowds of visiting Iranians.

Local travel agents believe that out of the six million trips taken by Iranians overseas each year, more than one million people go to Turkey for a holiday or for shopping — or both. The figure is not much below that for the combined number of Iranian pilgrims visiting shrines in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq.

File Photo: Antalya, Turkey / AP

Ahmadinejad’s Remarks Generate Controversy

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday had held a meeting in Tehran with the members of the cabinet and their principle deputies. The content of his speech at the gathering has become a subject of dispute in the media and has raised tensions with the office of the supreme leader. The question is whether he implied that the country’s senior executives should ignore religious leaders, which presumably include Khamenei, and do what is best for the country.

The first reports of the speech carried by some of the newspapers on Thursday contained this passage: “You have to work for God; even if everyone or any religious guide disagrees with you, don’t pay any attention to them. God will take care of them and will sweep them into the dustbin of history.”

Today, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported that the passage quoted should have read: “We hesitate before we take any action, What would that person say? What would that religious guide say? God is not like us… God does not have these considerations… and will sweep anyone (not performing his duties) into the dustbin of history.”

The reference to ignoring a religious guide in performing one’s duties, however, still exists in the new interpretation offered by Fars, and is the heart of the newest controversy surrounding the president.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Iran Suspends Oil Export to India

Iran suspended crude oil exports to India. The Iranian authorities said today in Tehran that India’s debts to the country has now exceeded $7.9 billion, as India has been unable to find a way to transfer the funds to Iran [Tabnak, 30 July].

The disruption of oil export to India and Iran’s inability to use global banking system to receive the funds are the biggest effects yet of the tough and growing financial sanctions against the country. India was Iran’s second largest oil customer.

Iran to Resume Natural Gas Supplies to Turkey

Iran said natural gas export to Turkey will soon resume. On Friday, an explosion damaged Iran-Turkey natural gas pipeline, disrupting supplies to the country. Iran’s daily export of natural gas to Turkey averages 30 million cubic meters, making it the second largest supplier of natural gas to Turkey after Russia.

The explosion took place near Maku in northwestern Iran close to the Turkish border. The Iranian authorities have blamed anti-government militants active in area for the explosion.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Revolutionary Guard, love to hate...

by Amir Taheri

When all others had abandoned her, they stood by her. Using at times the bare minimum, they fought back an enemy that was funded and supplied by the West and our friendly Arab neighbors. After a devastating 8 year war they worked on rebuilding the country, with roads, schools, and factories. They project Iranian power by allegedly operating foreign bases in Lebanon, Iraq, and as far away as Latin America. With missiles pointed at those threatening Iran, they have kept a war from happening. When the US and Europe forced out companies that were building oil and gas fields in Iran and the industry looked bleak and down under, they came in and restarted or launched projects to further Iran's vast energy industry. Instead of drawing funds from the state for the military they use their economic businesses to generate profits that go towards expanding Iran's military might. They gather Iran's best minds with high paying salaries and jobs ensuring that they stay in Iran versus immigrating abroad. They have been targeted with sanction after sanction by the US and Europe, and have become Iran's boogymen. It is enough for a Guard member to step onto a plane for that airline to be sanctioned! (This recently happened with Iran Air, with the reasoning that supplies for them were carried in their cargo hold)

They certainly were not the main force suppressing protests after the election. That prize goes to the Basiji, not the Revolutionary Guard. We have heard countless times from critics, the White House, and dissidents that the Revolutionary Guard are planning/have already committed a coup and seek to usurp power for themselves with Ahmadinejad as their leader. We find this now to be not true as they have recently on countless occasions come out against President Ahmadinejad and his struggle with the Supreme Leader. So that can't be it. They are not the intelligence ministry keeping an eye on dissents. They are not the judiciary and placing people in prison. Europe and America accuse Iran of having a high capital punishment rate with a large number of drug traffickers, murderers, and rapist being hanged yearly. The Revolutionary Guard do not implement the hangings. They don't even enforce the morality rules in Iran, that is done by a branch of the police force. Through their elite al Qud's force in Iraq they, in the spiced words of President Bush, have kept the "terrorist" busy in Iraq that Iran doesn't have to deal with them at home. For those that might have missed that comment, I was referring to the American troops in Iraq being distracted. Ok, so that's a reason why the Americans would hate them.

The Revolutionary Guard are accused of gaining projects that were suddenly left by some European companies. If they were the only domestic company with vast enough experience in implementing large energy projects, what should Iran do, wait a couple of years until a new private domestic company comes along to take over the project all the while losing potential revenue? They mostly contract out some work and specialize in other areas and are known for their efficient management of projects. I have read and heard that the Revolutionary Guard go for Iran's best minds after graduating from the top schools in Iran. They certainly have the need for them with their companies doing vast projects across Iran. They offer these new employees wages much higher than the average company. In the past and even today many of Iran's best minds continue to leave this country to go work and live in the West. They are not dominating Iran's construction sector as some have said. In reality the vast majority of projects in Iran are either done by private firms like Kayson or semi-public firms that are too countless to name. A special focus is placed on projects that they work on and statements are made like, "look, here is a project that they are doing, thats evidence of dominating the economy." I could do a piece (as so many have done on the Revolutionary Guard and their "dominance" of Iran's economy). I could pick out a few dam projects, road and energy projects across Iran and then also add some thing like, "They are even working on line 7 of Tehran's metro." Pointing out a few big projects can be an attention grabber for sure. What I would fail to mention is that they did not build the 4 existing Tehran metro lines, or the 2 lines in Mashhad, or the 2 in Shiraz, with one due to open soon. They also are not building the one in Esfehan or Tabriz, or even Ahwaz for that matter.

There is the possibility of the new oil minister to be approved being the current CEO of Khatam al-Anbia, the industrial arm of the Guards. Rostam Ghasemi was quoted recently as saying "We have strong and skillful people working for Khatam al-Anbia who are capable of taking up oil-related projects". There is no secret that he would like more projects going to his firm. He has been quoted as saying that he will facilitate further projects going to Khatam Al-Anbia in the event that he becomes the new minister.

Through their border posts, they are accused of allowing smuggling of goods to illegally come across the border without paying the customary high import tariffs. There has never been solid evidence to support this but just stated everywhere as an open fact. But lets say for arguments sake that they are indeed doing this. Is it an organization wide affair or a few bad apples? If its an organization wide affair at all border posts, then it is an accepted arrangement by the government with the Revolutionary Guard and not illegal just because its not been made public knowledge. And if its a few bad apples allowing some smuggled goods, should the whole organization be held responsible? Smuggling of goods is relatively simple in Iran and with or without the Guards help, it is done at almost every port. Small boats carry goods over from Dubai and Oman. From the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan other goods come over. Surprisingly, the Guards have never been accused of facilitating the large drug flow from Afghanistan. I wouldn't be surprised if soon they will also be accused of this as well.

I know why the West loves to hate the Revolutionary Guard, they are an efficient organization earning their own money, and building Iran's asymmetric military against future attack, while projecting Iran's flag across the globe. They have defended a country under attack, then helped in reconstructing that country, and now prevent outside powers from attacking her again. So I repeat my question, I know why they hate them, but why are WE as Iranians told to hate them?

Editor’s Note: Amir Taheri is one of the authors of Uskowi on Iran. His weekly columns appear here on Fridays.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Treasury Accuses Iran of Aiding al-Qaeda in Pakistan

US Treasury Department today accused Iran of facilitating an Al Qaeda pipeline that routes cash and recruits across Iranian territory into Pakistan, the Washington Post reported. The Treasury asserts that a known al-Qaeda operative, Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, was permitted to move large sums of cash originating from countries in the Middle East as well as recruits through Iran into Pakistan. He has been reportedly working in Iran since 2005 and has ties with Iranian government officials, the Treasury report claims.

“By exposing Iran’s secret deal with Al Qaeda, allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism,” said David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial intelligence [Washington Post, 28 July].

Rezaeinejad Was Expert on High-Voltage Switches – AP Report

Possible Weapons Applications

The Associated Press in an exclusive report published today quotes an unnamed IAEA official that Darioush Rezaeinejad, the scientist shot dead on a Tehran street by motorcycle-riding gunmen last Saturday, was an expert on high-voltage switches which are key components in setting off the explosions needed to trigger a nuclear warhead. AP named the late Rezaeinejad as the co-author of an abstract on the subject, entitled “Designing, Manufacturing and Testing a Closing Switch.”

Last May, IAEA reported seven “areas of concern” related to Iran’s nuclear program. Four of those areas dealt with high-voltage switches and suspected “high voltage firing equipment and instrumentation for explosives testing” for possible weapons applications.

The AP report states that Rezaeinejad’s abstract was presented to the 16th Conference of Iranian Power Engineering in Tehran three years ago. The slain scientist reportedly claimed success during his presentation. If accurate, the technology moves Iran closer to capability of setting off a nuclear explosion if it so chooses. Nuclear warheads are triggered by a series of conventional explosions, and the switch in question is a key piece of hardware in the process.

Iran Urges Germany to Arrest PJAK Leader

PJAK Leader Rahman Haj-Ahmadi

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani today called on German authorities to arrest and prosecute PJAK leader Rahman Haj-Ahmadi who is reportedly residing in Germany.

Ahani made the request during a meeting with Boris Ruge, director of the Middle and Near East Department at the German Foreign Ministry, in Tehran.

On Saturday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the German charge d'affaires in Tehran to voice protest against the presence of Haj-Ahmadi in Germany.

The IRGC has deployed a large military force in the Kurdish regions of Iran and Iraq to fight PJAK militants. The Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) has been engaged in armed struggle against Iranian security forces and terrorist attacks inside Iran.

File Photo: Press TV

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ahmadinejad Nominates IRGC General as Oil Minister

Nomination of Four New Ministers Sent to Majlis

IRGC Brig. Gen. Rostam Qasemi

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today nominated IRGC Brig. Gen. Rostam Qasemi to head the strategic oil ministry. Gen. Qasemi is now the commander of Khatam al-Anbiya base, the massive business and industrial arm of IRGC. Qasemi as well as the Khatam al-Anbiya are on sanctions lists for alleged work on the country’s nuclear and missile development.

Ahmadinejad also nominated Mehdi Qazanfari as the minister of Industry, Mines and Commerce; Abdolreza Sheikholeslami as the minister of Labor and Social Welfare and Mohammad Abbasi as the minister of Sports.

The oil ministry has been run by the acting minister Mohammad Aliabadi since May after Ahmadinejad unsuccessfully attempted to take personal charge of the ministry, sparking a political showdown with Majlis.

Majlis has scheduled votes of confidence on the four new ministers for Wednesday 3 August. If confirmed, the appointments put to an end months of power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani on the merger of different departments and creation of new ministries as well as the ministers heading newly-enlarged departments.

Gen. Qasemi’s nomination is a clear manifestation of the growing influence of IRGC on all aspects of the Iranian life. The force, by far the most important branch of the military, also controls major sectors of the Iranian economy, from imports to construction to the oil industry. Its current and former general officers hold key political posts in the government. By combining military, business and political powers, the IRGC has become the country’s undisputed powerhouse. Its business branch, however, has given the IRGC a reputation of a corrupt mafia-type organization.

File Photo: Fars News Agency

Iran Demands UN Probe into Assassination of Nuclear Scientist

Iran submitted a letter to the UN Human Rights Commission demanding an investigation into the killing last Saturday of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran's High Council of Human Rights, blamed Israel and the West for the assassination of Daryoush Rezayienejad, who was gunned down outside his home in Tehran.

“The UN Security Council issues a resolution and makes a list of our scientists, then some terrorists who receive money from the CIA and the Mossad kill them. This is a very clear game and strong action should be taken about it," said Larijani in the letter [Fars News Agency, 27 July].

In the letter, addressed to Navi Pillay, the director of UNHCR, Larijani demanded an investigation into the killing of the scientist.

Larijani’s letter to UNHCR confirms the initial reports out of Tehran that the late Rezayienejad was indeed one of country’s nuclear scientists. On Sunday, Iran’s intelligence minister had denied Rezayienejad had any links to the country’s nuclear program and raised serious doubts that his assassination was the work of any foreign intelligence agencies.

Ahmadinejad Backs Khamenei’s Supreme Board of Arbitration

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today in Tehran that his administration will fully cooperate with the Supreme Board of Arbitration that was set up on Monday by the country’s supreme leader to resolve internal conflicts among the three branches of the government. Ayatollah Khamenei’s move came amid rising tensions in relations between Majlis and Ahmadinejad’s government.

“The government will completely cooperate with the Supreme Board and implement its decisions,” Ahmadinejad said, referring to Khamenei’s decree establishing the new arbitration body [IRNA, 27 July].

The creation of the new Supreme Board also effectively sidelines Ayatollah Rafsanjani whose Expediency Council was theoretically the highest conflict resolution authority. Earlier this year, Rafsanjani was removed from his powerful post as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts and with the creation of the new arbitration body, the former president has lost his last vestige of authority in the Islamic Republic.

Khamenei named the former head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, as the chairman of the Supreme Board of Arbitration.

From Tehran to Esfahan

By Paul Iddon

Will widespread political discontent among Tehran's subversive student population or an impending natural disaster inevitably shift the Iranian capital from Tehran to Esfahan?

Last year Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated quite bluntly that an earthquake will certainly hit Tehran in the near future. A senior cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi seemed to think that upon this revelation he'd further enlighten us, he proceeded to do so by pointing the finger at promiscuous women - blaming them for inevitably bringing on the Iran's predisposition that makes the country prone to earthquakes.

This is the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from some quaint kook hollering on the street and waving a cardboard sign whilst simultaneously pestering indifferent passer-bys, but no, the man who made this outrageously spiteful and ignorant superstitious claim wasn't some hapless hollering dingbat relegated from acceptable social norms, no Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi is a senior cleric in a state where church and government aren't separately functioning entities, meaning statements like that of his are treated as if they are credible and helpful.

But onto the very real and very palpable threat of earthquakes, as a metropolis Tehran is very densely populated with no less than 13 million people, if an earthquake were to hit the city it would be devastating and could leave upwards to a million people dead, this was one of the reasons there have been plans to move the capital of Iran from Tehran to neither Shahroud, Esfahan or Semnan which are the three main alternative capitals chosen by the Majilis.

This effort has its political implications too, as Tehran is evidently the core region populated by Iranians who seek regime change and the separation of church and state, if Tehran as the capital of Iran were to succumb to those immensely in favour of such secular democracy then the foundations of the Islamic Republic may founder.

Changing the capital from Tehran to somewhere like Esfahan would certainly limit the impact Tehran would have on these said proverbial foundations of the Islamic Republic as a whole if, in the foreseeable future the theocracy gradually loses its control and influence over large parts of the vast uncontrollable, poorly planned and vastly overpopulated city.

Tehran is by all means the centre core region of the numerous pro-democratic movements, by changing capital and moving from Tehran to a city like Esfahan (while bringing along important state firms) may be a political move on behalf of the theocracy to marginalize a lot of those who are actively conglomerating in solidarity with one another in voicing their collective qualms over the regime which directly interferes and cynically meddles in their day to day lives. This discontent is furthered by statements like that of Sedighi in the face of a potentially horrific natural disaster.

A year after President George W. Bush made his now infamous Axis of Evil speech in which he declared Iran along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and North Korea as part of this axis an earthquake struck the Iranian city of Bam and killed over 26,000 of its inhabitants, this disaster resulted in a thaw in US-Iranian relations as the United States was quick in offering direct humanitarian assistance to the other 30,000+ injured and the numerous hundreds left homeless in the wake of that deadly quake, Bam has since been undergoing a reconstruction process with seismic regulations in mind.

While the idea of relocating upwards to five million people from Tehran since the Bam earthquake has been played around with in recent years the Iranian government really needs to take more efficient action in earthquake proofing large parts of the cities civil infrastructure, in a fashion similar to that of which has been tried and tested in California (Los Angeles coincidentally enough has been Tehran's sister city since 1972), the Iranian government has an opportunity to prove it serves the Iranian peoples best interests by making a strong appeal to the UN to undergo an international program to bring world class professionals to Tehran to help in the arduous but life saving process of earthquake proofing major buildings and civil infrastructure in Tehran and other cities that would save countless lives.

However these days with such clerical lunatics and religious fanatics in positions of power it is difficult to be optimistic without seriously deluding and fooling yourself, and remaining on the topic of earthquakes do you remember the Christian fanatic Pat Robertson's remarks after the Haiti quake of 2010?
Whilst people were still trapped under the rubble of what was once their homes he blamed them for bringing it upon themselves, as they the Haitians he said had over a hundred years ago done a deal with the devil and this earthquake was Gods way of punishing them in their already wretched impoverished state, he made similar remarks on the afternoon of September 11th 2001. While the ruins of the towers were still smouldering and the search for survivors under the rubble was only getting underway he came on national television and said these attacks were America's fault for letting lesbians and pagans run amok.

Would it really be a surprise in full light of what we know about them to see some of these senior and ruling clerics make similar outlandishly kooky claims in the immediate aftermath of such a terrifically devastating earthquake in Tehran, instead of plate tectonics maybe the blame will be put on the prevalent corruption and moral degradation of Tehran that comes from Gharbzadegi, or maybe they'll choose to borrow an accusation which was made by one of their few allies Hugo Chavez, that being blaming the United States for inflicting the earthquake and effectively murdering hundreds of thousands of people.

There comes a point when what one says is self discrediting, and the present clerical regime in (for the moment anyway) Tehran has evidently well surpassed that point.

Editor’s Note: Paul Iddon is one of the authors of Uskowi on Iran. His weekly columns appear here on Wednesdays.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bandar Abbas Naval Base Review

On the occasion of Supreme Leader Khamanei's tour of Bandar Abbas Naval Base and shipbuilding facility.

click photos to enlarge
IRINS Sabalan (FFG 73) Alvand class frigate

IRINS Naghdi (FS 82) Bayandor class corvette

IRINS Yunes (SSK 903) Tareq (Kilo) class submarine

Wellington class (UCAC 106) BH.7 Mk 5 hovercraft fiited with AShM launchers

Ghadir class (SSC) submarine builds

Professional looking ship builders at Bander Abbas


Khamenei Establishes New Board to Resolve Internal Conflicts

The Status of Rafsanjani’s “Expediency Council” Not Clear

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei today issued an edict establishing a “Supreme Board of Arbitration and Adjustment of Relations among the Three Branches of Government.” He also named Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi as the chairman of the new body. Hashemi-Shahroudi will report directly to Khamenei. [IRNA, 25 July].

Khamenei urged the leaders and senior members of the three branches of the government to resolve their disputes through the newly established body.

In 1988, the Islamic Republic established the Expediency Council under the chairmanship of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Council is in charge of resolving differences and conflicts between different branches of the government. It was not immediately clear if the new “Supreme Board” would replace the “Expediency Council” or would it act as a parallel body. If the former, today’s edict by the supreme leader would effectively mean that Rafsanjani has been dumped from his last important job, that of the chairmanship of the Expediency Council.

The new Supreme Board will have five members. Its chairman, Ayatollah Shahroudi, is the former head of Iran’s Judiciary and a current member of the Guardian Council. An Iraqi-Iranian, Shahroudi once served as the leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shia political party opposing Saddam. Other members of the supreme board are Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi, Morteza Nabavi, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei and Samad Mousavi-Khoshdel.

Iran, Iraq and Syria Sign Natural Gas Agreement

Iranian Natural Gas to Iraq and Syria and On to Europe

Iran, Iraq and Syria on Monday signed a natural gas contract for the transit of Iranian natural gas from the country's South Pars field via a 5,000-kilometer pipeline to Iraq and Syria, and from there to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

The 10-billion-dollar agreement, said to be the biggest in the Middle East, was signed by Iran's Acting Oil Minister and Oil Ministers of Iraq and Syria [IRNA, 25 July].

Iraq, Syria and Lebanon will use between 30 to 40 million cubic meters of the natural gas daily between now and 2020. The pipeline daily capacity will be 110 million cubic meters. The project will take three to five years to be completed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Iran Denies Reports of Nuclear Scientist Assassination

Iran's Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said today that the slain Daryoush Rezaienejad was a 35-year old graduate student who had no links to the country’s nuclear program or the defense ministry. Moslehi also said the method of his assassination did not necessarily indicate foreign intelligence involvement.

“The assassinated student was not involved in nuclear projects and had no connection to the nuclear issue,” Moslehi said. “He (Rezaienejad) was a student who was martyred and it is not clear whether a foreign intelligence agency was involved in his assassination or not,” he added. [ISNA, 24 July].

Yesterday, major Iranian news agencies, including ISNA, Mehr and Fars, said the slain scientist was a nuclear physicist with links to nuclear and defense establishment. Today, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani said the assassination of the scientist was the work of US and Israeli intelligence. Now the minister of intelligence is denying all these reports.

Nuclear Scientist Assassinated in Tehran

Iran on Sunday blamed the US and Israel for the killing of an Iranian scientist. Darioush Rezaienejad, 35, a university professor, was shot dead by gunmen in eastern Tehran on Saturday.

“The terrorist action by American and the Zionist regime (Israel) yesterday is another example of the level of their animosity against Iran," said Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani in a speech broadcast live on state TV [IRIB, 24 July].

Mehr News Agency reported on Saturday that Rezaienejad was a physics professor with specialty in neutron physics. ISNA said that the slain professor was an expert with link to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Meanwhile, Fars News Agency reported that Rezaienejad was also associated with the defense ministry. Based on the reactions by Iranian officials, including Speaker Larijani, and the reports by the Iranian news agencies, the late professor apparently had a sensitive position within the country’s nuclear and defense establishment.

Rezaienejad was killed in front of his house and there are reports that his wife was also injured during the attack.

Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in recent years. Last November, Majid Shahriari was killed in Tehran when men on motorcycles attached a bomb to his car. The current AEOI director, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a similar assassination attempt on the same day. Another top Iranian nuclear scientist, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, was killed in a bomb blast in January 2010.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Terrorist Attacks Kill At Least 91 People in Norway

A Right-Wing Christian Fundamentalist Arrested

Two apparently coordinated terrorist attacks hit Norway on Friday, killing 91 people and injuring scores of others. At least 84 young Norwegians attending a Labor Party youth political conference outside Oslo were mascaraed by terrorists dressed in police uniform and an explosion in Oslo city center and the seat of the government killed at least seven more people and severely damaged buildings, including the prime minister’s office building. The premier was not in the building at the time of the explosion and was scheduled to address the youth conference later that day.

A Norwegian citizen with apparently strong ties to a right-wing Christian fundamentalist group was arrested at the crime scene in a holiday island near Oslo that was the site of the youth political conference. Eyewitnesses say that the suspect wore police uniform and used many heavy automatic weapons and ammunitions to shoot the youths indiscriminately. Some of the youths were drowned while trying to escape the island.

The attacks were the largest on Norwegian soil since World War II. They showed that the ugly face of terrorism come in different colors, nationalities, religions and political beliefs. Uskowi on Iran extends its deepest condolences to the peace-loving Norwegian people who lost so many during these tragic events.

Photo: The aftermath of the explosion at government headquarters in Oslo. Friday, 22 July 2011.

IRGC Commander Killed in Kurdistan

IRGC Brig. Gen. Abbas Asemi and five other officers were killed in a car explosion in the Iranian Kurdish city of Sardasht, near the Iraqi border. The city is the staging area for IRGC’s recent major offensive against PJAK militants.

"General Asemi of the Qom branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed along with five of his comrades in clashes with terrorist rebels of the PJAK in the Sardasht area," an IRGC statement said [Fars News Agency, 22 July].

General Asemi was believed to have been the most senior IRGC commander in the central city of Qom. It was not immediately clear why he was involved in clashes with PJAK in Kurdistan.

IRGC later confirmed that the casualties were the result of a car explosion.

"In recent clashes with PJAK in northwestern Iran, a car belonging to the Revolutionary Guards blew up and some members of the Guards, including Commander Asemi, were killed," the statement said [Fars News Agency, 22 July].

On Monday, IRGC announced that it had taken full control of PJAK military camps inside Iraqi Kurdistan. PJAK later denied the report and said it was involved in fierce clashes with IRGC in the border region.

Friday, July 22, 2011

IRGC Denies It Shot Down US Drone

IRGC today denied that it shot down an unmanned US drone over Fordo uranium enrichment facility, saying its air defense units had hit a test target.

“What caused the spread of the news was related to the hitting of a test air target by the IRGC air defense unit in the general region of Qom province,” IRGC said in a statement [IRNA, 22 July].

On Wednesday, the state-run Press TV, quoting a member of National Security and Foreign Policy of Majlis, reported that IRGC air defense force had shot down the US drone over Fordo, near the city of Qom, while it was gathering information on the underground nuclear site.

It is highly unusual for a senior member of the National Security committee of Majlis to make such unfounded claim, representing a “test air target,” in general vicinity of Qom, as a US drone engaged in gathering information over Fordo. And it is as unusual for the state-run Press TV to publish the report. And as unusual to take 48 hours for IRGC to deny the report.

"Driving" in Iran

by Amir Taheri

If it can be called that, "drivers" in Iran have adapted their own rules of driving in this country. At first as an outsider, you are hit with utter shock and astonishment at how cars in Iran get around town. Sitting in a taxi and navigating Iran's streets, you feel that at any moment you will hit another car on the road. Surprisingly, driving in the city, restricted from speeding due to traffic, accidents are not more than one would expect anywhere. Where Iran really sets itself apart from the world is on its highways. Iran has one of the highest accident rates and deaths per capita in the world, over 30,000 a year.

Rules of the road

On paper the rules of the road are as they are anywhere else in the world but as Iranians like to do, they go their own path! For example, driving backwards in a one-way road is acceptable if you need to get to a side road. After 12 o'clock PM, traffic lights become a recommendation and not a must. Driving through an intersection that is somewhat lighter on traffic, it is customary that one honks the horn to let another car coming that, "I am driving through so watch out!". Road lanes are seen more as a helpful hint and if traffic gets heavy, "drivers" will instantly add 1-2 additional lanes to the average 2-3 lane road. Yellow is seen as go versus a green traffic light.

The never ending honking!

The most important tool in a car in Iran, is not its brake, lights, side mirrors, but its horn. I have heard OFTEN, "I can't drive today, my horn is broken!" It is used constantly and everywhere and with no mercy! You use it to signal an approaching car or person that you are getting too close for my comfort. Don't ever upset a driver by pulling quickly in front of them, because as some like to do, they will express their anger in a 30 second long honk fest. Honking is also not always seen as a negative thing; shared taxi drivers (see my last article if you missed this) are prolific users as they honk at people on the side of the road to signal for them to scream out their destination. If it agrees with their route they will honk again to signal, get in. Cars carrying around a wedding couple will also elicit the "songs of the horn" from its convoy. As each driver passes by the slow moving convey of wedding cars, they will express their congratulations by honking a few times. In the past, cars waiting at a traffic light would honk in their boredom of waiting and a few years ago traffic police added timers showing time left to a green light and this has calmed these bored drives.

The problem

Iran's liaise faire policy on its roads and lack of coordinated management are allowing Iran's "drivers" to continue with their reckless traveling. A traffic official standing on the road usually applies fines in a pre-set list of violations, like drivers not buckling or accidents. Whereas they need to apply the full law and give out fines for every violation this is not done. Additionally, there are only random crack downs that last for a short while and then things go back to the way they were. For example, outside of Tehran helmets for motorcycles are only randomly enforced with areas set up and confiscation done of the bikes of offenders. After a few days, things go back to normal and "drivers" again avoid the hassle of wearing a helmet. Violation fees are still too low to deter bad driving. Whereas fines have recently gone up and for example, speeding has increased to as much as $200, other violations are still too low to encourage better driving. Switzerland has an innovative method of fining. It applies a fine based on ones yearly income and around a year ago gave out the world's highest speeding fine over $200,000 to a high-earner. In Iran, a large group are driving imported cars that cost them over 40,000-50,000 dollars. These individuals are not deterred by a $20 parking violation or $200 possible maximum speeding fine.

So what is being done

In cities there are a ridiculous amount of speed bumps to reduced speeds. Traffic police stand in most busy intersections either directing traffic at busy times or giving out fines. Iran has a huge fleet of tow trucks, and removes unwanted parkers at one of the highest speeds I have ever seen anywhere. These traffic towing fleet roam the roads and when spotting a parking violation, not that hard to do, they quickly swoop in and remove them. I have also even seen special cranes that remove cars that are tightly packed in-between other cars and are simply lifted up and onto the back of a heavy truck, as if it were a toy car. Many of Iran's highways are setting up camera speed detectors. A point system has been set up with increased points meaning the loss of your drivers license. In an education program on television, smart animation cartoons with 2 famous characters show wrong driving methods and often the right way. These are done with high quality and humor to grab the viewers attention and influence children. Fines have been recently increased heavily to further motivate good driving (still to low in my opinion). These steps are good and in the right direction but our officials need to use a much heavier hand in enforcing the law. There must be a constant push to keep drivers sticking to THE official rules of the road. Switzerland's approach is also not a bad idea to deter those wealthy enough to brush off a fine driving down Iran's roads with $250,000+ cars.

Editor’s Note: Amir Taheri is one of the authors of Uskowi on Iran. His weekly columns appear here on Fridays.

Photo courtesy of Travelpod

Thursday, July 21, 2011

India to Seek Saudi Crude as Iran Warns of Cutoff

Bloomberg's, quoting informed sources, is reporting that Indian refiners are seeking Saudi crude as Iran warns of an impending cutoff of its oil deliveries to the country. Iran has said in recent days that it will cutoff all deliveries by August 1 if India could not find a way to settle its outstanding bills totaling more than $5 billion. Indian refiners say the economic sanctions against Iran have made banks unwilling to transfer funds to Iran.

“Indian refiners asked Saudi Arabian Oil Co. [Saudi Aramco] for at least one additional shipment in August as a payment dispute jeopardizes Iranian cargoes, four people with knowledge of the matter said yesterday,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek said [, 20 July].

“Iran hasn’t yet given Indian refiners loading dates or shipping amounts for August, three of the people familiar said yesterday. Iran typically provides this information by the middle of each month for the following month’s supplies, they said,” the report added.

India imports more than 20 million metric tons of crude from Iran annually, at a value of nearly $10 billion, making it the country’s second-biggest supplier after Saudi Arabia.

Inflation Rising

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) today reported that the inflation rate in the country is on the rise. In the Iranian calendar month of Khordad (which ended 20 June), the inflation grew to 15.4 percent. In the first quarter of the current Iranian calendar year, the rate of inflation has increased by at least 1% each month, CBI reports [Kayhan, 21 July].

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Iran Shot Down US Drone – Iranian Media

The Iranian state-run media is reporting that Iran military has shot down an unmanned US drone over the country’s new Fordo uranium enrichment facility. and Press TV have quoted a member of National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Iranian Majlis (Parliament) as saying that IRGC's Air Defense units brought down the spy drone over Fordo. There has been no confirmation of the incident by either the US military or the CIA. The IRGC also has not produced any photos of the downed aircraft.

Fordo is built next to a military complex near the central city of Qom. Its existence was disclosed by Western intelligence agencies in 2009. Only yesterday Iran had announced that a new generation of centrifuges was being installed at one of its uranium enrichment facilities. Iran maintains two such facilities, at Fordo and Natanz. The new centrifuges, with higher quality and speed, could have been installed at Fordo.

UPDATE: Voice of America (VOA), the official external broadcasting service of the US government, reported today that senior intelligence and military officials in the US have denied the report that Iranian forces have shot down one of its drones [VOA Persian, 20 July].

AP File Photo: MQ-1 Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly referred to as a drone, used by the U.S. Air Force and the CIA. The Predator carries cameras and other sensors and can carry Hellfire missiles and other munitions.

Satellite Racket

By Paul Iddon

One of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards many ways of harassing and bullying civilians while remaining immune from any scrutiny.

Azar Nafisi's brilliant written and insightful memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran is certainly a must read for anyone interested in a well written insider critique of what it is like to live (as a woman in this case) under the Islamic theocracy in Iran which like the protagonist in the novel Lolita Nafisi asserts is guilty of the "crime of solipsizing another person`s life."

One of the darkly humorous incidents Nafisi describes in her book is one involving possession of a satellite dish in the household she lived in. One day five armed strangers started a gunfight with a neighbour from their garden and a group of Revolutionary Guards sought to use their property to apprehend these assailants. The worries of the inhabitants of Azar's home are mind boggling, she describes how they didn't fear for their lives because of the five or so gunmen, but they were in fact worried because they like a lot of normal Iranian citizens had something to hide, something they were visibly guilty over, that being the crime of possessing a satellite dish.

Today the Revolutionary Guards have a number of ways in which to confiscate or destroy peoples satellite dishes, sometimes even posing as electricity or water maintenance men to get people to let them into their apartments under the guise of letting them check their water meters etc, to then only have them burst in and neither confiscate their dishes or smash them and proceed to fine or (in some rumoured cases) arrest the owner, I've even heard that Revolutionary Guards have on some occasions abseiled down from rooftops of apartment blocks to smash satellite dishes that residents placed on the outside windows or balconies of their flats.

These said Guards have self-evidently come a long way from their conception around the onset of the Khomeini reign as Supreme Leader, today there is an estimated 220,000 of them and apart from being just a branch of the Iranian military and controlling the paramilitary Basij militia (the thugs who mercilessly beat peacefully demonstrating protesters with batons) the Revolutionary Guards have a multibillion dollar empire and do in some regards operate as if they are a state within a state, and virtually have impunity from the law with regards to consequences for a variety of actions which they undertake. They've also maintained a monopoly on smuggling operations in and out of Iran, as they arrest any form of competition. Therefore giving themselves control over the alcohol and opium rackets and other the black-markets, this brings to light a very disturbing question, are there Revolutionary Guard cells who are providing these satellite dishes the government deems to be illegal to civilians through the black market they control, and then later coming back to harass those who unknowingly brought their dishes off those same Guards in the first place?
And furthermore is this kind of activity not merely tolerated by the government but actually sanctioned by it?
With what we know and the ruling regimes reputation for constantly lowering the depths to which they will sink I somehow doubt the answer to these two questions would be “no”.

Another question that arises is what is it exactly the regime doesn't want the Iranian people to see?
One of the most successful television shows aimed at the large amount of discontented young Iranians is Parazit (Persian for static, which is an allusion to the fact that the Iranian regime has tried to jam foreign satellite transmissions) the satirical news show started by two Iranian expatriates living in Washington D.C. whose works have become very popular in Iran, viewers and fans there access it through those illegal satellite dishes (which the show is broadcast to via Voice of America), the internet or bootleg DVD's, the show regularly pokes fun at the Iranian politics and some of the absurd cultural aspects that are embodied in the Islamic Republic.

In a heart-warming and delightfully amusing interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (of which Parazit is modeled after) one of the creators in response to Jon Stewart asking how they can successfully rip on the Iranian regime on a weekly basis answered his question with this priceless statement:

“Ahmadinejad came to Columbia, one of the most respected schools of all time and he stood in front of the whole world and said there are no gays in Iran, that's all you need to have, from then on you have a show!”

This clearly sums up the regime in a nutshell, it doesn't take itself seriously, so with this in mind one wonders why we pay heed to their hateful pronouncements and sinister piffle.

Editor’s Note: Paul Iddon is one of the authors of Uskowi on Iran. His weekly columns appear here on Wednesdays.

Iran Leads the World in Drug Seizures - UNODC

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov said on Tuesday in Tehran that Iran ranks first in the world in illicit drug seizures. Iran seizes 80 percent of opium and 40 percent of heroin and morphine being seized worldwide.

“Iran is our important partner in the war on drugs,” Fedotov said [IRNA, 19 July].

Fedotov also paid tribute to thousands of Iranian security forces who have lost their lives in recent years fighting the drug traffickers. UNODC is expected to announce a new program of cooperation between the countries in the region on the war against drugs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Iran Oil

87% of Oil Revenues Spent on Imports

In the five-year period beginning in 2006 and ending in 2010, Iran has exported an average of $68 billion per year in crude oil. (The oil revenues peaked in 2008 at $87 billion). The 2010 oil revenues were at $72 billion.

During the same five-year period, the volume of imports into Iran has averaged $59 billion annually, or 87% of oil revenues.

Meanwhile, the volume of crude exported in 2010 dropped to 2.2 million barrels per day. As a result, Iran lost its long-held position as the second largest OPEC oil exporter to Nigeria. Iran is now OPEC’s third largest exporter.

Source: OPEC / Tabnak, 19 July 2011

Parsi to Replace Rial as National Currency

Rial to Lose Four Zeros to Become Parsi

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) announced today that it will send legislature to the Majlis establishing a new national currency, tentatively named parsi, by eliminating four zeros from the current rial. Based on today’s foreign exchange rates, the parsi will be worth 87 cents (0.87 USD).

The deputy governor of CBI, Hossein Qazavi, told reporters in Tehran that parsi as the proposed name for the new currency was the choice of the majority of respondents in a nationwide poll that was conducted in the past 48 hours [Fars News Agency, 19 July].

Iran Installing New Generation of Centrifuges

Higher Quality and Speed in Enriching Uranium

Iran said today it is installing new and faster centrifuges to speed up its uranium enrichment. The foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran that Iran’s new generations of centrifuges are more sufficient machines.

"The installation of new centrifuges with better quality and speed is ongoing. We have announced it and the IAEA has full supervision on them," Mehmanparast said. "This is another confirmation of the Islamic Republic's successful stride in its nuclear activities," he added [IRNA, 19 July].

Iran is expanding its production of 20 percent enriched uranium and has started a new enrichment site at Fordo. Mehmanparast did not say if the new centrifuges are being installed at Fordo.

Iran has over 8,000 centrifuges of the first generation IR-1, enriching uranium to the 3.5 percent level at the country’s original enrichment unit at Natanz. Iran reportedly has already produced four tons of LEU (low enriched uranium of around 3.5 percent) and 60 kilograms of HEU (highly enriched uranium of 20 percent).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Iran Warns India of Stopping Oil Exports

August 1 Deadline

Iran today reiterated its earlier warning to India that it will stop exporting oil to that country on 1 August if India could not finalize a way to pay its overdue invoices that exceeds $2 billion. Today’s warning was issued by a senior official at the ministry of oil and was carried by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

India is Iran’s second biggest crude oil customer and stopping the exports to the country would seriously affect Iran’s global market share in crude oil exports. It is also expected that if Iran stops oil shipments to India in less than two weeks, Saudi Arabia, already India’s largest source of oil imports, would try to raise its exports to account for the Iranian loss.

Correction: We had reported earlier that India's unpaid oil bills exceed $2 billion. Today, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran told reporters in Tehran that India’s unpaid bills are much higher, and actually exceeds $5 billion.