The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ahvazi Arab nationalists claim Iran bomb

Iran appears to be another of Iraq's neighbours to suffer from an overflow of violence from Iraq. Bombings in Ahvaz and Tehran earlier this week, the worst Iran has suffered in several years, have been blamed by Iranians on al-Qaeda style groups, the US, or even on their own government (the argument being that the regime is trying to scare reform-minded voters away from polling stations on 17 June). However, a vivid film posted on an Ahvazi Arab nationalist website seems to show that Arab separatists were responsible for the bombings in Khuzestan.


Khuzestan province shares a long border with Iraq, and some of the most vicious fighting in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war was along the frontier. Most of Khuzestan's ancestral population is Arab, and the region is home to most of Iran's oil fields, as well as good number of its refineries. Khuzestan only came under firm and direct control from Tehran in the 1930s; before that Arab tribal leaders treated directly with British representatives in the Gulf and oil developers. Arab-Iranians in Khuzestan have complained for many years that they do not receive a fair share of the region's oil revenues. They also argue that while many Arabs are employed in the oil industry, a glass ceiling prevents most of them from gaining the top managerial positions in the national oil company NIOC.

The resentment has bubbled away for many decades, and the central government has made sporadic and generally short-term attempts to address Ahvazi criticisms. Ahvaz saw severe protests in April 2005 when rumours circulated that the government intended to move Arabs away from the area.

It now seems that, despite border patrols that have made the Iran-Iraq border one of the most secure of Iraq's post-war borders, violent Ahvazi nationalists have been able to mount attacks in the heart of Khuzestan. It is difficult to imagine that the violence and absence of law in areas of Iraq has not made the task of such attackers easier.

Few Arab Ahvazis appear to be pursuing a separatist agenda, but the campaigns of Arab Ahvazis to secure a better deal from the Iranian government will doubtless suffer following the recent bombings and the subsequent crackdown. For the Iranian government, nationalists can now be blamed for the Ahvaz bombings. However, the Tehran bombs, and another blast in Baluchistan on 15 June, remain unsolved.