Middle East News: Breaking news from Middle East - Iran

Iran

Ahmadinejad proud of Holocaust denial

Tehran - Iran's president says his country will ask the six world powers at nuclear talks next week for imports of highly enriched uranium material that the U.S. fears Tehran wants to use to arm nuclear warheads.

Iran vehemently denies having nuclear weapons aspirations and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his country was seeking to buy uranium that is highly enriched or near that level to fuel a small research reactor.

He also made clear that Iran is seeking uranium that is enriched only to 20 percent the threshold for the high-enrichment level but substantially below then 90 percent- plus grade needed for nuclear warheads.

"We are interested in purchasing it, and we'd like to offer that as an issue to expand discussions on the table for the next meeting," he told the AP on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

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Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad proud of Holocaust denial

TEHRAN, Iran Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday he was proud his denial of the Holocaust had enraged the West, as the controversial leader geared up for a United Nations trip to stress what he said would be a message of "peace and friendship."

Ahmadinejad's latest comment about the killing of millions of Jews during World War II comes as Iran is locked in a bitter dispute with the U.S. and other Western nations over its nuclear program. Even as that fight continues, his remarks were sure to earn the Iranian president an even more frigid reception when he heads to New York on Tuesday to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

"The anger of the world's professional killers is (a source of) pride for us," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

He was responding to a question about criticism from the European Union following a speech on Friday in which he questioned whether the Holocaust was a "real event." The "killers" reference appeared to be directed primarily at Israel and the U.S.

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Iran

Thousands march in Iran opposition protests

TEHRAN, Iran Hard-liners attacked senior pro-reform leaders in the streets as tens of thousands marched in competing mass demonstrations by the opposition and government supporters. Opposition protesters, chanting "death to the dictator," hurled stones and bricks in clashes with security forces firing tear gas.

The opposition held its first major street protests since mid-July, with marchers decked out in green the reform movement's color waving V-for-victory signs on major boulevards in the capital.

In some cases on several blocks away, larger crowds marched in government-sponsored rallies marking an annual anti-Israel commemoration, waving pictures of Iran's supreme leader and president and placards denouncing the Jewish state.

The commemoration, known as Quds Day, is a major political occasion for the government a day for it to show its anti-Israeli credentials and its support for the Palestinians.

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Iran

Iran replaces reformist cleric for annual sermon

TEHRAN, Iran Iran has replaced a reformist, pro-opposition cleric with a hard-liner to lead the prayer service on a key anti-Israel day this week, according to a state radio report Wednesday.

The announcement is a blow to Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful former president who sided with the opposition in Iran's post-election turmoil.

It is also an apparent move to sideline Rafsanjani ahead of anti-government rallies on Quds Day, called for by opposition activists. Authorities have warned they would crack down heavily on any anti-government protests on the occasion, which usually falls on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Rafsanjani traditionally holds the sermon on Quds Day an annual event that showcases Iran's anti-Israeli stance and is marked by government-organized rallies in support of the Palestinians and against Israel. Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem.

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Iran

Iran tries 6 more activists for demonstrations

TEHRAN, Iran Six opposition activists, including a former student leader, stood trial Monday in Tehran on charges of rioting and plotting a "velvet revolution" to topple the ruling Islamic system.

The hearing is the latest session of a mass trial that began Aug. 1 of more than 100 opposition supporters on accusations of plotting to overthrow the clerical leadership through protests over the disputed June 12 presidential election.

The trial of Abdollah Momeni and five others is part of government's efforts to choke off a persistent protest movement by Iranians who claim President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election involved massive vote fraud.

While dozens of activists and protesters were tried in previous sessions, state television said only six activists were in the dock Monday and this time around the trials were not broadcast.

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Iraq

Iran's Ahmadinejad pro-woman? Critics skeptical

BEIRUT After securing one woman on his Cabinet, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pushing for a second, defying opposition from hardline Islamic clerics who say women have no place in leadership positions.

His push for the first female Cabinet members since the 1979 Islamic Revolution may say more about Ahmadinejad's peculiar renegade position in Iran's leadership than any agenda to promote women's rights, say critics, who denounce his female nominees as reflections of his "anti-woman" policies.

The populist leader has shown a willingness to buck traditional powers even in his own conservative camp to get his way. In this case, opponents say, he wants to paint himself as a proponent of women after coming under heavy criticism for a heavy crackdown his government has waged against women's rights activists.

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Iraq

Iraq presses for tribunal for Syria bomb suspects

BAGHDAD Iraq's prime minister pressed a U.N. envoy Sunday on the need for an international tribunal to bring Syrian-based bombing suspects to trial, as Damascus refused to hand over those it called political refugees.

The dispute, triggered by devastating suicide truck bombings on government ministries in Baghdad last month, threatens to unravel steps toward better ties between the one-time adversaries.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has bluntly accused Syria of betrayal and of harboring killers, briefed the special United Nations envoy, Ad Melkert, on the intensifying dispute, Iraqi state TV reported.

Both nations have recalled their ambassadors in a serious setback to relations that had just begun to improve after years of animosity during Saddam Hussein's rule.

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Iran

Iran assembly approves most of hard-line Cabinet

TEHRAN, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a broad mandate Thursday as parliament backed his main Cabinet choices naming the first woman minister since the 1979 Islamic Revolution but showing international defiance by supporting a suspected mastermind in the bombing of an Argentine Jewish center that killed 85 people.

The conservative-dominated legislature rejected Ahmadinejad's choice for energy minister and two other women nominated for less prominent posts. The rest of his 21-member Cabinet was approved.

The broad backing was somewhat stronger than many in Iran had expected because even some of the president's fellow conservatives had criticized him for nominating unqualified ministers. Ahmadinejad is also under fire for the abuse of protesters detained following the disputed June presidential election, which the pro-reform opposition claims he stole with massive vote fraud.

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Iran's president

Iran's president defends Cabinet amid skepticism

TEHRAN, Iran Iran's president defended his proposed Cabinet ministers Sunday against accusations by lawmakers that the nominees don't have the necessary qualifications and are simply unquestioning loyalists.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance before parliament marked the beginning of what is expected to be a contentious confirmation process for the 21 Cabinet nominees that is scheduled to end with a vote on Tuesday.

Ahmadinejad is forming his new government while still under attack by the pro-reform opposition which claims his re-election in June was fraudulent. But he is also under pressure from fellow conservatives, who have long lambasted the president for hoarding power by putting close associates in key posts.

Lawmakers from both sides criticized Ahmadinejad on Sunday for choosing inexperienced ministers, signaling the president may have difficulty getting parliament's approval for some of the posts.

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Bomber Pakistani

Bomber hits key Pakistani border crossing; 19 dead

PESHAWAR, Pakistan A suicide bomber attacked the main border crossing for convoys ferrying supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 19 security officers, officials said.

The strike will raise fears the Pakistani Taliban is regrouping and making good on its word to carry out revenge attacks following the slaying of its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike earlier this month.

Also in the border region, two U.S. missiles hit a suspected militant compound, killing six people, the latest in a string of such attacks, intelligence officials said.

Pakistan's lawless border with Afghanistan is a main front in the battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban, who are destabilizing both countries. Under heavy U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military has launched ground offensives and air attacks on the insurgents in recent months, but much of the region remains under militant control.Readmore

iran

Top reformist confesses in Iran political trial

TEHRAN, Iran One of Iran's most prominent pro-reform figures admitted fomenting unrest and asked for the country's forgiveness Tuesday during the mass trial of activists detained in the postelection crackdown in a confession that the opposition said was coerced.

The courtroom statement by Saeed Hajjarian who is considered one of the reform movement's top architects and who was shot in the head in a 2000 assassination attempt was the latest dramatic confession in the month-old trial that the opposition has compared to Josef Stalin's "show trials" of opponents in the Soviet Union.

More than 100 defendants are on trial, accused of trying to overthrow Iran's clerical leadership in a "velvet revolution" by fomenting huge protests over the disputed June 12 presidential election, which the opposition says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud.

Also among the defendants who appeared Tuesday was Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American academic. The prosecutor read out charges against him including espionage, contact with foreign elements and acting against national security.Readmore

iran-larijani

Ahmadinejad rivals rise within conservative camp

CAIRO Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't have to look to the street protests or angry Web sites to get a sense of challenges ahead for his disputed second term. There's enough potential heat coming from right inside the country's leadership.

And these days, that trouble has a name: the brothers Larijani.

Ali Larijani is Iran's urbane parliament speaker and has made no secret of his annoyance with Ahmadinejad's gruff and populist style. Larijani's younger brother, the cleric Sadeq, has been appointed justice chief by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all major affairs.

Khamenei has publicly backed Ahmadinejad all during the violence and political upheavals since the June 12 presidential election. But his choice of Sadeq Larijani could indicate an attempt to rein in Ahmadinejad's reach and cement the loyalty of the powerful Larijani clan to the theocracy.

It's also part of a larger narrative of growing splits between Ahmadinejad backers including the powerful Revolutionary Guard and other hard-line factions that question whether he is a potential liability for Iran as the country tries to regain its international standing.Readmore

Iraq

Iraqi PM blames Sunni insurgents for Baghdad bombs

BAGHDAD (AP) A truck bomb exploded across the street from Iraq's Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone Wednesday, knocking out concrete slabs and windows and leaving a mass of charred cars outside as a wave of explosions around Baghdad killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 400.

A suicide truck bomber also targeted the Finance Ministry minutes earlier in the deadliest apparently coordinated attack in Iraq so far this year a major challenge to Iraqi control of Baghdad. A steady escalation of attacks following the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. troops from urban areas has heightened fears that government troops are not ready to provide security.

Iraqi officials blamed al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents, echoing U.S. military warnings that the militant group is trying to provoke new bloodshed to undermine public trust in the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

"The terrorists are trying to rekindle the cycle of violence of previous years by creating an atmosphere of tension among the Iraqi people," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement. "Our security forces must be more alert and firm. Also, the political groups must unite."Readmore

Ahmadinejad

Iran chief judge hints at trials for prison abuse

CAIRO Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has nominated hard-line loyalists to his Cabinet as he seeks to tighten his grip on power in the face of unrelenting opposition over his disputed re-election. But at the same time, rivals within his conservative base are gaining strength.

That could mean further turmoil within the conservative camp, where already Ahmadinejad has faced heavy criticism. Most notably, Sadeq Larijani was sworn in Monday as the head of the judiciary. Larijani is the brother of parliament speaker Ali Larijani, seen as the most prominent conservative rival of Ahmadinejad.

During his swearing-in ceremony, Sadeq Larijani suggested he may seek to prosecute security agents accused of abusing and torturing detainees during the postelection crackdown a move that could embarrass Ahmadinejad.

"Now you have the judiciary and the legislative branches basically dominated by these two brothers and their factions, and this could actually be problematic for Ahmadinejad down the line," said Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist with the Washington-based RAND Corp.Readmore

Dozens die in militant battle in Pakistan

Kuwait wedding fire killed 41 people in 3 minutes

KUWAIT CITY A fire that tore through a wedding tent outside Kuwait's capital killed 41 women and children in just three minutes, leaving behind shoes melted to the ground and bodies so blackened they were unrecognizable, the fire chief said Sunday.

Guests likely crushed one another in a desperate attempt to flee through the only exit, he said. The devastating fire was likely to result in restrictions on the tradition of holding celebrations in such tents, a custom which is rooted in Kuwait's nomadic heritage and endures in tribal areas of the country.

Saturday night's blaze in al-Jahra, west of Kuwait City, was the deadliest the country's fire department chief has seen in four decades of service, he said.

"It was a horrific scene with bodies and many shoes stuck to the ground at the only exit. They must have trampled over one another," Brig. Gen. Jassem al-Mansouri said.Readmore

Dozens die in militant battle in Pakistan

Dozens die in militant battle in Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - Fierce clashes between Taliban fighters and those loyal to a pro-government warlord killed at least 70 people Wednesday, intelligence officials said, a week after a CIA drone reportedly killed the top Taliban leader in Pakistan.

The battles pitched Taliban militants against followers of tribal warlord Turkistan Bitani on the fringes of the South Waziristan border region, where U.S. and Pakistani officials believe Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud died in a missile strike on Aug. 5.

Pakistan's army sent in helicopter gunships as reinforcements to pound about 300 Taliban fighters attacking Bitani's mountain stronghold, two intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The fighting raged for five hours, with militants using rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft guns against Bitani's village of Sura Ghar, the officials said. They said wireless intercepts from the area showed at least 70 people - including one woman in the village - were killed. Ten of the dead were from Bitani's stronghold, the officials said, while the rest were militants.Readmore