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Ahwaz link to Iran-backed insurgency in Iraq's Basra province

The British government has admitted that attacks on British troops in Iraq's Basra province are linked to Iran, nearly seven months after the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) warned that the regime was using Khuzestan as a terrorist base [article: 26 March 2005].

Meanwhile, BAFS is about to publish new evidence of the establishment of a large "exclusive zone" along the Khuzestan-Basra border on the Shatt Al-Arab, which could indicate that Iran is about to scale up militarisation efforts, including its covert operations in the region. The formation of the zone will result in the forced eviction of up to half a million Ahwazi Arabs and the confiscation of their land and property. The zone, which is at places within a stone's throw of Basra province, could represent a major threat to security in the Middle East.

In March, BAFS reported that the Iranian regime's Fajr Garrison in Khuzestan was employing up to 40,000 agents in Iraq. The information was revealed by former Iranian agents who defected due to pay cuts. Fajr Garrison, near the city of Ahwaz, is the main headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in southern Iran. It hosts the IRGC's Qods Force, which runs the vast underground network in Iraq. Agents are paid by middle-men, who carry out regular visits to Ahwaz City to obtain payments and be debriefed by Qods commanders.

BAFS had warned that Tehran was preparing to use the network to activate an armed uprising by insurgent groups later in 2005. It stated that the primary target in the Shia areas of eastern Iraq will be the British military presence in Basra, which borders Khuzestan.

Since BAFS's warning, eight British soldiers have died in insurgent attacks. BAFS believes the worst is yet to come, with Iran likely to step up the insurgency in response to international efforts to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

A British official today told the BBC that the insurgents had obtained weapons from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. He said that the insurgents had obtained Iranian technology via the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Tehran-backed group which has a presence in Khuzestan, the homeland of the Ahwazi Arabs that borders Basra province. It appears that the British government believes that dissidents from the Mehdi Army, a group loyal to Shia radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, is suspected of carrying out the attacks.

If the Mehdi Army is carrying out the attacks on behalf of Tehran, this represents a major turning point in the regime's policy. Iran had previously pursued an alliance with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose armed wing, the Badr Corps, has been involved in the violent persecution of Ahwazi Arabs in Khuzestan and Basra. SCIRI is now part of the ruling coalition in Baghdad.

The Iranian government has denied responsibility for the insurgency in Basra. Instead, it has accused the British government of responsibility for the Ahwazi uprising in Khuzestan, a claim that it has failed to substantiated. Iranian officials have also blamed the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, Arab separatists and the Shell Oil company for unrest in Khuzestan. Again, the allegations are not proven and are denied by all the accused.

Nasser Bani Assad, BAFS spokesman, said: "If the British government had listened to us earlier this year, lives could have been saved and the security of Basra could have been assured. Instead, the British government has failed to take heed of events in the Ahwazis' homeland and their impact on Iraq's stability. Now a large part of the Khuzestan-Basra border is about to become an exclusive military zone, which will allow Iran to effectively annex Basra.

"We call on the international community to press for a demilitarisation of Khuzestan, an end to ethnic cleansing and terrorism in the province and the return of land stolen from the peace-loving Ahwazi people."