Monday, June 13, 2005

Bombs Threaten to Sway Iranian Agenda

Gareth Smyth, The Financial Times:
Six bombs exploded on Sunday in Iran, threatening to send security to the top of the political agenda just five days before Iranians vote for a new president. READ MORE

Two small devices went off in central Tehran early in the evening, killing one person and injuring at least three. Earlier in the day four larger bombs exploded in Ahvaz, provincial capital of Khuzestan, the oil-rich, mainly Arab province in the country's south west.

At least eight people were killed and more than 70 injured by explosions at the Ahvaz governor's office, the city's housing department and the residence of the head of provincial broadcasting.

There was no immediate evidence of links between the bombings in Tehran and Ahvaz, but such attacks have been rare in Iran since the end of the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

It is three years since the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an armed Iranian opposition group, fired mortars at regime targets in Tehran, although earlier MEK attacks coincided with parliamentary elections in 2000.

Iran's presidential election - in which eight candidates are vying to replace the reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who bows out after two terms - has gathered momentum in recent days, after initial expectations of a low turn-out.

Interest in Friday's poll has been increased by the participation of Mostafa Moein, the reformist initially excluded by an Islamic constitutional watchdog, who has promised increased rights to Iran's ethnic minorities, who make up about half the population. There has also been a lively campaign from Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the former national police chief running as a conservative moderniser.

The explosions in Tehran may increase attention on Mr Qalibaf, who at just 43 has leapt from relative political obscurity to be a serious challenger. He was a commander during the war with Iraq and has many allies in Iran's military. But while fears over security could work to his political advantage, they may come as an unwelcome disruption to a campaign building up steam.

Mr Qalibaf's call for younger blood in Iran's management has highlighted divisions among the country's conservatives based on generational and economic interests as much as politics. He is making clear headway among young people and traders in Iran's bazaars.

Reformists and aides to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the influential 71-year-old former president and conservative rival to Mr Qalibaf, have expressed concern over the rise of a new faction in Iranian politics, strong in the parliament elected last year and with links to the Revolutionary Guards.

Informal national polls put Mr Rafsanjani ahead of both Mr Qalibaf and Mr Moein, while indicating that no candidate will gain the 50 per cent needed to win outright on Friday.