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Tehran blames the West for ethnic unrest
By Kimia Sanati
Updated Mar 21, 2007 - 10:35:00 PM

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TEHRAN (IPS/GIN) - The recent spate of hostilities between the governing Shia and the country’s large Sunni ethnic groups is being attributed to meddling by western countries.

“Iranian intelligence services have acquired information that show the United States, 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 recent IRGC helicopter crash 11 miles inside the Iranian border killed 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 blew up the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline last September.

IRGC statements said technical problems forced the helicopter to make an emergency landing after which it exploded, but, in a statement released after the crash, PJAK, a separatist Kurdish party, claimed to have downed the helicopter using SAM-7 missiles. Both sides also claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other.

“Enemies, particularly the U.S., Britain and the Zionist regime, seek to create insecurity along Iran’s south-eastern and north-western borders through their mercenaries,” Brig. Gen. Rahim Safavi, Chief Commander of IRGC, was quoted by Fars news agency as saying. “But the Iranian armed forces are fully prepared to suppress any move by the anti-revolutionaries and alien-affiliated bandits and gangs with maximum power,” Gen. Safavi said.

“Freedom of expression and freedom to use our mother language in education are among the demands of the Kurdish people. There are several million Kurds in this country, but there is not one high-ranking Kurdish government official. It is next to impossible for a Kurd, especially a Sunni Kurd, to rise in rank to high positions. And elections are never free. There is a screening procedure, not only for Kurds or other minorities, but for all citizens, that serves as a powerful tool to bar the opposition from entering elected bodies like the parliament or city and village councils,” he said.

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 sparked demonstrations and riots in Tabriz that quickly spread to other cities and towns and left several dead.

Khuzistan in south-western Iran is another problem zone. Home to two million ethnic Arabs, the province has a huge share of Iran’s oil fields. Badly stricken by the war between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988), the province is one of the less developed regions of the country and there have been several incidents of popular riots as well as terrorist bombings by Arab separatist groups in the past two years. The attacks, on oil pipelines and in urban areas, have brought about death and destruction, particularly in Ahwaz, the province capital.

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