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Majlis members protest at Karoon River diversion in Ahwaz

Members of the Iranian parliament representing Khuzestan province have launched a strong protest against the government's Karoon River water diversion project, with a petition to impeach Energy Minister Parviz Fattah.

According to Tehran Times, Majlis Energy Committee Chairman Kamal Daneshyar said on Sunday that MPs from Khuzestan, the homeland of the Ahwazi Arabs, have signed a protest petition. He said: "The people and the parliamentarians of the southern province of Khuzestan have strongly protested about the transfer of water from the Karun River to the city of Rafsanjan for agricultural use."

Daneshyar said that the energy minister will have to give "satisfactory" answers to the complaints lodged by the Majlis members or an impeachment motion will be presented to the Majlis Presiding Board.

The Karoon River is an important source of water supply for Ahwazi farmers. The diversion project will hit the local Arab population hard, exacerbating endemic poverty in the region by reducing water availability. Already, the construction of dams along the Karoon River is causing a decline in the quality drinking water in a land renowned for its rivers. River diversion could lead to a significant deficit in water in the Ahwazi region.

Ahwazi Arab representatives have long been campaigning against river diversion, but the Iranian government has continued to press ahead with the scheme. At a session of the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in May-June 2005, Karim Abdian, Director of Ahwaz Education and Human Rights Foundation, drew attention to the diversion of water from Karkhe River, which passes through an entirely indigenous Ahwazi Arab area of Howizeh and Boustan, to Kuwait and the diversion of the Karoon's water to central Iranian provinces.

Nasser Bani-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "Ahwazi Arab leaders have been protesting against the proposed river diversions for a long time, warning of the negative impact on the local population and ecological damage. The Iranian government has responded with indifference and hostility. The diversion of water from the reservoirs created by the dams to other parts of Iran would have a catastrophic effect on the Ahwazi Arabs' economic security and the ecology of their homeland.

"We welcome the move by the Majlis members, but are cautious over their motives. These politicians should have acted sooner if they had such strong concerns over the impact of river diversion, which will be an extension of the massive hydroelectric dam projects in the area.

"It is highly probable that the impeachment move is a political ploy to influence President Ahmadinejad's choice of cabinet members, rather than a serious attempt to stop river diversion. It is a repeat of the controversies surrounding the appointment of the Oil Minister, with Ahmadinejad's choices for the post being rejected by the Majlis. Majlis members from Khuzestan are mostly aligned with the so-called 'reformists', so they are likely to seek to use local grievances against hardliners in Tehran for the sake of gaining political leverage. However, their protests were notably absent during the administration of President Khatami, Ahmadinejad's predecessor."

Like Ahmadinejad, Parviz Fattah has served with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), but has no experience in the areas relevant to his post. Majlis members have reacted strongly against the appointment of former IRGC militants. Many fear that the choice of cabinet does not adequately reflect the vested interests represented in Iran's complex political system, with too much power given to those associated with the IRGC.

Bani-Assad added: "As few Ahwazi Arabs have faith in the Majlis to protect their best interests, we call upon the international community to intervene in the Karoon dam project to ensure that it does not lead to the diversion of river waters which would jeopardise the livelihoods and well-being of local inhabitants. There have been international campaigns against massive hydroelectric schemes elsewhere in the world - such as Brazil and India - due to concerns over indigenous rights and the impact on local ecology. Ahwaz should be no exception."