WAR.WIRE
Under international pressure, Iran kicks off "Sacred Defence Week"
TEHRAN (AFP) Sep 21, 2003
Iran kicks off "Sacred Defence Week" Monday, with a timely show of national unity and military might to mark the outbreak of its 1980-88 war against Iraq as the Islamic republic once again feels outside pressure.

Shrugging off an ultimatum concerning its suspect nuclear programme, the week will see a drive-by of ballistic missiles, tanks and troops Monday, followed by a series of events including photo exhibitions, film screenings and recitations of poetry.

The week is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of Iranians killed after the forces of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded in 1980.

State television has already begun drumming up memories of the bloody conflict by the intermittent carrying of historical footage from the trenches.

For the military parade, the hardline Kayhan newspaper declared Sunday that the new Shahab-3 missile -- only recently handed over for operation to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards -- would be also put on show.

With a range of some 1,500 kilometers (900 miles), the missile has already set alarm bells ringing in Israel.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields absolute power in the country, has also declared that Iran's "armed forces are dynamic and capable, and by relying on people's affections, will resolutely carry out their tough responsibilities."

"The enemies of humanity," he was quoted as telling members of the armed forces Saturday, "are now using malicious propaganda to say that the Iranian people are seeking to acquire the atomic bomb in order to present that Islamic republic as a threat to regional and world peace."

A week ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave Iran until the end of October to clear up widespread suspicions that it is using an atomic energy programme as a cover for nuclear weapons development.

The resolution, passed by the IAEA's board of governors after intensive US lobbying, demands Iran answer all the agency's questions regarding its enrichment activities, provide unrestricted access to UN inspectors and a detailed list of its nuclear-related imports.

A string of officials here, from both the reformist and conservative camps, have angrily rejected the IAEA resolution as part of a nearly 25-year-old US campaign against the Islamic regime.

But while maintaining their fierce denials that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, officials here will nevertheless be keen to show off an army that they say is an adequate deterrent to any outside invader.

"Our policy is not to make weapons of mass destruction, because such arms are not a deterrent," Defence Minister Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani was quoted as saying in Iran's media Sunday.

But he added that "today we are capable of making the most advanced weapons, such as those we export to 45 countries."

As for ballistic missile technology, he said that "missile manufacturing had now become as indigenous as the manufacture of the Paykan" -- referring to Iran's national car.

The Paykan is based on the 1960's British Hillman Hunter.

"Today, we are stronger than yesterday, and we will not be satisfied by such strength... to respond to these threats," he said.

WAR.WIRE