Iran blames West

As a Shia majority country with several large ethnic groups like the Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis that follow the Sunni faith, Iran has for years been vulnerable to unrest, riots and terrorist attacks that officials routinely attribute to foreign powers. “Iranian intelligence services have acquired information that show the US, Britain and Israel have been behind the unrest in various parts of Iran, including Khuzistan, Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan in the past few years,” Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, Iran’s intelligence minister was quoted as saying by the Aftab News Agency.

A car bomb attack last month by the separatist ‘Jundullah’ (also called Popular Iranian Resistance Movement) in the south-eastern city of Zahedan, that killed 13 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), triggered clashes between security forces and guerrillas of the ‘PJAK’, a separatist Kurdish party, around the city of Khoy in north-western Iran. “In the past one and a half years and following air raids on PJAK bases in northern Iraq, clashes with the Iranian military have increased. The clashes used to occur at border points mostly, but the recent encounter was more intense and occurred inside Iranian soil,” the Aftab News Agency quoted Abed Fattahi, representative of Oroumiyeh in Parliament, as saying.

An IRGC helicopter crashed on Friday, 17 km inside the Iranian border, killing its two high-ranking commanders and seven other military staff. The guerrilla group that claimed responsibility has connections with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has bases in Turkey and northern Iraq. The same group had blown up the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline, last September. In a statement released after the crash, PJAK claimed to have downed the helicopter using SAM-7 missiles. In spite of the public hanging of a Jundullah terrorist responsible for the Zahedan bombing only a few days after the incident, calm has not returned to the region.

Ethnic conflict in Kurdistan and in the Kurdish-populated cities of West Azarbaijan province in north-western Iran date back to the days following the Islamic Revolution of 1978. In July 2005 pictures of the tortured body of a young Kurdish activist shot dead by government agents in Mahabad in north-western Iran set off riots which quickly spread to other Kurdish cities in Kurdistan and Oroumiyeh provinces. But these were quickly suppressed and more than a hundred Kurdish activists arrested. Shiite Azeris, Iran’s largest ethnic minority, have their own issues too. In May 2006, a cartoon allegedly insulting to Azeri speakers that appeared in the official government gazette spa-rked demonstrations and riots in Tabriz that quickly spread to other cities and towns and left several dead.

On one of his nationwide tours, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disclosed a secret highly guarded till then. There existed a Supreme National Security Council decree in effect for many years, Ahmadinejad said not to make any investments in western and so-uth-western Khuzistan. The decree had now been annulled, he said. Arab separatists, accused of being fostered by foreign powers, the British in particular, have long been claiming that the government was intentionally neglecting development of their native province. The Ahmadinejad disclosure was considered a proof of their allegations. — IPS