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Iran: Bombings In Southwest Blamed On Usual Suspect

By Bill Samii

Two explosions in the city of Ahvaz in southwestern Iran on 15 October were responsible for the death of five people, Iranian state radio reported on 16 October. Less than two hours after the explosions occurred, Al-Alam, Iran's official Arabic-language satellite news network, was connecting them with Great Britain. "Ahvaz has previously witnessed such blasts. Investigations have proved that the British troops in Iraq were involved in these," Al-Alam commented.

Indeed, explosions and other forms of unrest have been occurring in southwestern Khuzestan Province since April, and the Iranian government has often attributed these incidents to foreign sources.

To date, however, no evidence to support these allegations has been offered. Tehran may be using a foreign scapegoat to deflect attention from simmering ethnic grievances in the region, or it could be retaliating against British accusations that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with explosives. Tehran-London relations have deteriorated, furthermore, since Iran abandoned its temporary suspension of uranium-enrichment activities.

Iranians Suspect Britain

A "Mr. Shariati," identified as the deputy governor-general of Khuzestan for political-security affairs, said shortly after the bombings that they took place on Naderi and Salman Farsi streets around 5:15 p.m. local time, state television reported. Shariati said the bombs were placed in trash bins and were not very powerful, but because they went off in a crowded area, about 90 people were injured.

Suspicions of British intentions run deep in the Arab-inhabited southwest, and this was immediately apparent.

"Who could it have been but Britain?," an anonymous bystander told state television just hours after the bombings. The bystander said Britain's objective is "creating discord." He added, "In this holy month, they want to create discord between Shi'a and Sunnis."

Iranian officials contributed to these suspicions. General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij Resistance Force, said in the northwestern city of Ardabil on 16 October, "The explosions in Ahvaz are linked to elements outside the borders of the country and only the British have been involved in them," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Hejazi said Britain is trying to make Iran seem insecure.

A member of the Iranian legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaedin Borujerdi, said on 16 October, "In view of the presence of British forces near the country's borders, there is concern about their involvement in the Ahvaz explosions, just as we had information about their involvement in the previous incidents and unrest in Khuzestan." Borujerdi announced that in two days the ministers of foreign affairs, of intelligence and security, and of the interior, as well as the chief of the national police, will attend a meeting to discuss events in Ahvaz, Mehr news agency reported.

Britain Denies Accusations

The British Embassy in Tehran denied any involvement in the 15 October bombings and offered condolences, ILNA reported on 16 October. "There have been allegations of involvement of the British in Khuzestan [bombings] in the past which the British government denies," the embassy statement said. "Any involvement of the British government in these terrorist attacks is entirely baseless." The British Embassy expressed its willingness to cooperate with Tehran in bringing the culprits to justice.

Foreign sources received some of the blame for the explosions in Ahvaz in June. Explosions at three oil wells in Ahvaz on 1 September also were attributed to foreigners. Dasht-e Azadegan parliamentary representative Seyyed Nezam Mollahoveyzeh said afterward that the bombers are "provided for and guided by London," "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 September. Hamid Zanganeh, who represents Ahvaz, said on 6 September, "Undoubtedly, mercenaries of foreign powers were involved in the blasts," ILNA reported.

Yet, in early October judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad attributed them to Iranian dissidents. "The main defendants in the case of the Ahvaz blasts were refugee members of SAVAK [the Iranian monarchy's intelligence and security organization] and the families of the members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization who had been executed," "Mardom-Salari" on 6 October quoted him as saying .

Nevertheless, the accusations against the British continued in the following days. Khuzestan police commander Issa Darai said on 10 October that a four-man gang of weapons smugglers confessed that the U.K. and U.S. militaries, as well as Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, were promoting the smuggling of arms to Iran, Al-Alam and Mehr news agency reported. Darai described the seizure of handguns and Kalashnikov rifles.

An Iraqi security official identified only as "Abu Ali" said on 11 October that the British Royal Marines have a plan calling for the secession of Khuzestan Province, Fars news agency reported. The U.K. Foreign Office was reportedly involved with the training of mercenaries who later returned to Iraq to work as police in Al-Amarah. Abu Ali said the British Embassy in Tehran knows of the plan, which coincides with eavesdropping and espionage along Iraq's border with Khuzestan Province, as well as satellite imagery of the province's oil resources. He said London spent some $200 million for this plan, which includes propagating immorality, distributing weapons, cooperating with the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, and identifying rioters as freedom fighters.

Roots Of The Problem

Tehran's accusations of British interference overlook the ethnic heterogeneity of the Iranian population. Arabs make up a sizable minority in Iran (3 percent of the total population of some 69 million). Many ethnic Arabs live in the southwest, and one of their major grievances is that although much of the country's oil wealth comes from this area, they do not benefit from it. They also complain of underdevelopment, discrimination in securing jobs, and poor educational opportunities.

Nasser Sudani, a parliamentarian from Ahvaz, hinted at this in his 27 September pre-agenda speech to the legislature. "Saving Khuzestan from the existing crisis and the quagmire of problems requires everybody's support, and if we hesitate about taking required measures we will have to feel regret in the future." "Jomhuri-yi Islami" quoted him as saying the next day. "Justice requires paying special attention to this province and settling the problems facing its people," Sudani added.

Furthermore, Tehran's most recent accusations could be a reaction to British accusations of its involvement in Iraq. In early October, London complained that Iran and Lebanese Hizballah have provided Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated explosive devices that have killed a number of British troops. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 6 October that the explosives "lead us either to Iranian elements or the Hizballah, because they are similar to devices used by Hizballah that is funded and supported by Iran." And more recently, British officials accused Iran of running training camps for bombers in Iraq, "The Times" of London reported on 12 October.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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