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IRAN: Oil wells sabotaged in Ahwazi Arab homeland

Iranian authorities have admitted that a series of explosions at oil wells around the province of Khuzestan were an attempt to sabotage oil production.

Khuzestan is the centre of the Ahwazi Arab homeland and produces around 80-90 per cent of the country's oil output, representing up to 10-12 per cent of OPEC's total output. Iran is the world's fourth biggest crude producer with output capacity of around 4.2 million barrels per day. It exports 2.5 million barrels of oil per day - the equivalent of a fifth of the US's net oil imports - most of which originate from Khuzestan.

On Thursday, three home-made bombs exploded leading to the shutdown of crude oil from five wells (141, 149, 179, 250 and 255) around Ahwaz City, the provincial capital of Khuzestan. Fires following the explosions forced residents living nearby to flee their homes.

The attacks on oil installations have come amid growing political unrest within Iran's five million-strong Ahwazi Arab population. Attempts to sabotage Iranian oil production in Khuzestan could have serious implications for the global economy.

The Iranian government has blamed "British agents" for the attacks, which they claim were orchestrated from London. The regime has also claimed the British government was also behind the June bomb attacks in Ahwaz City, but has failed to publish any evidence to proove the allegations.

Ahwazi Arabs have a long-standing grievance against the confiscation of their land for the exploitation of oil, gas and commercial crops by the regime. Half the Ahwazi Arab population lives in absolute poverty, while the profits made from their ancestral lands enriches Iran's ruling elite. Poverty and discrimination is fuelling unrest, with Khuzestan along with Kurdistan witnessing the largest anti-government demonstrations in Iran since the June presidential elections. In April, an unarmed civil uprising among Ahwazi Arabs was put down by government forces, leading to hundreds of arrests and at least 160 deaths.

Following a visit to Khuzestan in July, UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, Miloon Kothari condemned the treatment of the local Ahwazi Arab population. He said: "When you visit Ahwaz, in terms of the very adverse conditions in the neighbourhoods, there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections ... You can actually see the towers of the oil refineries and the flares and all of that money, which is a lot, and it is going out of the province. Even a small percentage would significantly improve things in terms of development."

BAFS spokesman Nasser Ban-Assad said: "We do not know who was responsible for the attacks on the oil installations or the bomb attacks in Ahwaz City in June. We condemn outright any acts of terror on civilians, but support civil disobedience against the regime.

"The attacks on oil installations show that the problems affecting the Ahwazi people have important implications for the global economy. The oil market is already very tight, especially after oil installations were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The international community cannot afford to ignore unrest in oil-rich areas. The attacks on oil wells are a sign of desperation. The Ahwazis' demands for economic and political justice, the redistribution of oil wealth and an end to poverty and ethnic discrimination in Iran must be met to ensure stability and security in Khuzestan. The Ahwazi issue must be prioritised in relations with Iran for the sake of global economic stability. If the situation is not addressed, Iranian oil production could be severely disrupted by further acts of sabotage."