There is mounting speculation that a string of bomb attacks across Iran was conducted by the security services seeking to terrorise the population into voting for militarist hard-liner Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in the presidential election.
At an election rally, former Education Minister Mostafa Moin, the candidate for the Islamic Iran Participation Front and one of the front-runners in the election, dismissed the notion that the Mujahideen or any other opposition group was involved in the attacks, which have killed at least 10 civilians.
In an interview with the UK's Guardian newspaper, Moin did not say who was directly responsible for the attacks in Ahvaz City, Tehran and other cities in the past few days. But when asked whether the attacks had official approval, Moin, whose party is in power in Khuzestan, said: "I do not consider it improbable. If they continue in this way, my supporters will hold an emergency meeting to study the situation and they will reconsider our participation in the election."
Moin's supporters have come under violent attack by supporters of Qalibaf and Rafsanjani, the other candidates tipped for the presidency. Election violence has mounted as Qalibaf's support has ebbed, despite backing for his bid for power by the mullahs.
The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), which lobbies on behalf of moderate Ahwazi organisations, human rights groups and the UK's 3,000-strong Ahwazi community, has dismissed reports that the bomb attacks were the work of fringe separatist groups. Ahwazi groups claiming responsibility are more likely to be seeking media attention, but do not have the military capability or organisation to conduct large bomb attacks within Iran.
BAFS has suggested that the attacks could be the work of secret police chief Hojjatol Islam Ali Younessi and his deputy Mohammad Reza Iravani, although the evidence is circumstantial. As Director of the General Directorate of Special Operations, Iravani was responsible for an attack on Imam Reza shrine which killed a number of pilgrims in June 1994, during Rafsanjani's administration. At the time, the attack was blamed on opposition groups. Iranian defectors later revealed that the attacks were a stage-managed by the DGSO in an attempt to force foreign governments into halting the activities of exiled opposition groups. The DGSO was reponsible for the murders of Christian priests, which were also initially blamed on foreign opposition groups but later revealed to be masterminded by Iravani.
BAFS spokesman Nasser Ban-Assad: "Khuzestan is being used by the military to stage these bomb attacks. Violence provides the most extreme elements within the regime an excuse to step up their campaign of persecution of Ahwazi Arabs, helps marginalise Ahwazi groups from the West and wins over support for their militarist agenda.
"Under President Khatami, the 'Reformists' failed to tackle these extremists and terrorists within the security infrastructure. Moin's party has achieved nothing for the Ahwazis in Khuzestan, despite having control over the provincial administration. The Ahwazis can only expect poverty and oppression from the regime, regardless of the puppet elected to the presidency.
"The regime has made the issue of voter turn-out into a referendum on the political system. We urge Ahwazis and other Iranians to abstain to deliver a vote of no confidence against the regime. Abstention will have a greater impact on the future of Iran than any bomb attack."