- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Members of Congress yesterday joined a raucous crowd of roughly 1,000 Iranians on the lawn of the Capitol to voice their support for student uprisings against Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist government.

“We are here to stand with the Iranian people, who are resisting an oppressive regime, a regime that has refused to reform,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, who led the crowd in chants of “Iran Ahh-zad,” which means “Free Iran.”

Mr. Brownback said, “Iran is not a democracy, but it will be one day soon.” He then spoke directly to viewers in Iran, who were able to watch the rally via a live broadcast by the Persian News Network.

“America supports you and will be there to help you rebuild your country. Hopefully, next July, we will celebrate our independence along with yours,” he said.

Mr. Brownback is the co-author of the Iran Democracy Act, an amendment to a State Department appropriations bill that will strengthen U.S. policy against the regime in Tehran. The bill passed yesterday.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and co-author of the Iran Democracy Act, also spoke to the crowd, along with Rep. Christopher Cox, Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, all California Republicans; and Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat.

The Coalition for International Harmony organized yesterday’s demonstrations on the fourth anniversary of the July 9 student protests that became the most violent uprising against the Iranian government since the Shah was deposed in 1979.

The nonprofit coalition, which is funded solely by individual donors, spent $500,000 to broadcast the demonstration to Iran, said Massoud Akhavi, a spokesman for the group.

Demonstrations also were held in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, but mass protests planned by pro-democracy student groups in Tehran were canceled out of concern that the government would use excessive force against them.

Even so, the streets around Tehran University were jammed by tens of thousands of protesters in cars and on foot, creating a massive traffic jam and honking their horns to protest the regime, according to Agence France-Presse.Three student leaders were arrested after a press conference at which they denounced the government.

Last month, students protested for 10 days against the government, which arrested at least 4,000 people in its crackdown. Many of those arrested are still in custody.

Iran is currently a theocratic republic, with elected president Mohammed Khatami little more than a figurehead under the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the religious leaders called “mullahs.”

At the rally, young and old Iranians stood in the sweltering heat for more than three hours, waving their green, red and white national flag and cheering loudly and persistently in response to speakers who advocated for a secular government in Iran.

The student-led opposition in Iran has “reached a boiling point where they can’t go back,” said Reza Torkzadeh, 23, a law student from San Diego, who spoke to the crowd. “All they need is encouragement and support from the outside world. Nothing else is necessary.”

Iranians have mixed opinions on U.S. intervention. Many strongly believe the use of force by the United States would unite the fragmented, but strongly nationalistic, population behind the current government. But others at the rally said if diplomatic and economic pressure fails to unseat the mullahs, they would welcome military action by the United States.