'Millions of Iranians ready for martyrdom'

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Tehran, Oct 31: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today millions of Iranians would be ready to sacrifice themselves fighting the country's enemies, in an apparent reference to the United States and its allies.

Ahmadinejad's statement came a day after an Iranian commander said the Basij religious militia and their spirit of martyrdom could disrupt strategic Gulf oil shipping routes with a small operation.

They both spoke at annual ceremonies marking the death of a 13-year-old Basij, Mohammad Hosseini Fahmideh, who died trying to destroy an Iraqi tank in the 1980s war with Iran's neighbour.

''Enemies of the Iranian nation must know that by the passing away of martyrs like Fahmideh, the hands of the Iranian people are not empty,'' Ahmadinejad told a crowd of student Basij members in Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

''And today millions of Fahmidehs are standing fresher and more prepared,'' he said.

Iran is locked in a standoff with the West which accuses Tehran of seeking atomic bombs. The United States has said it would not rule out force if diplomacy fails to end the row.

Iran says it nuclear aims are peaceful and says it would respond to any US attack, including targeting US interests.

Brigadier General Ali Fahdavi, deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards' naval force yesterday, told a rally of Basijis: ''The area of Persian Gulf and strategic Strait of Hormuz is such that a small operation can have a big outcome.'' The Revolutionary Guards, the ideological wing of Iran's military which commands the Basij militia, has previously suggested it could, if pushed, disrupt oil flows in the Gulf and the narrow Strait of Hormuz at its mouth of the oil-rich region.

The Basijis are a paramilitary force who loyally uphold Islamic revolutionary values. In the war with Iraq, they provided much of the manpower for the front. In peacetime, they help enforce Iran's strict Islamic dress and other moral codes.


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