- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

AHVAZ, Iran — Iran yesterday made its first arrests in connection with a string of deadly pre-election bombings blamed on Iraq-based extremists, vowing the presidential poll would go ahead without disruption.

Up to 10 people were killed in separate attacks in the Arab-dominated city of Ahvaz and the capital Tehran on Sunday, rattling the country in the midst of a fractious election campaign.

?Some of the perpetrators of the acts have been arrested, others are on the verge of being caught,? Information Minister Ali Yusseini told reporters. ?They have foreign links,? he added, without giving further details.

Ahvaz governor Mohammad Jafar-Sarrahmi pointed the finger at the Iraq-based People’s Mujahedeen, which is Iran’s main armed opposition group, and Ba’athist supporters of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

?They want a low turnout [in the election] to show people were not present. They tried satellite TV and leaflets, but this did not work. They want to create fear,? he said. ?The elections will go ahead, with total security and confidence.?

Between six and eight people were killed and 75 others wounded in a series of four blasts outside public buildings in Ahvaz, which lies close to the Iraqi border, according to official sources.

Hours later, another blast rocked a busy square in Tehran, killing two persons and seriously wounding at least two others, official media outlets said. Two smaller homemade bombs were reported to have exploded in other parts of the capital.

Officials emphasized the violence in the two cities may not have been linked, saying the Ahvaz bombings appeared to have been organized more professionally than the relatively amateurish Tehran attacks.

Initial investigations had shown that the explosives TNT and C4 were used in the Ahvaz bombings, said the deputy interior minister in charge of security, Ali Asghar Ahmadi.

?Therefore the bombings were carried out close to the method used by Iraq’s [Saddam Hussein-era] intelligence in the Khuzestan region in the past,? he told the ISNA news agency.

The attacks came just days before Iran chooses a new president on Friday, with the authorities at pains to ensure a strong turnout after relatively weak participation marred last year’s parliamentary ballot.

The hardline prosecutor in Tehran, Said Mortazavi, also added that ?those who planted the bombs are the enemies of God and they will be executed when they are captured.?

The campaign has been heating up with regular reports of politicians coming under violent attack amid indications that front-runner and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani may not have an easy ride.

Informal opinion polls suggest that none of the eight candidates will be able to secure the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to win, forcing what would be the first runoff in the 26-year history of the Islamic republic.

According to the latest poll — subject to caution given the potentially unscientific methodology involved — Mr. Rafsanjani leads with 26 percent, hardline former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf is second with 19 percent and reformist Mostafa Moin is in third place with 15.5 percent.

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