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Ahwaz bombings come after weeks of unrest

A bomb has exploded in Ahwaz killing six people and injuring at least 30 others.

According to Iranian government news agencies, the targets were a bank and a state environmental agency. President Ahmadinejad and his cabinet cancelled their visit to Ahwaz shortly before the attacks due to rain, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). However, weather forecasts indicated that both Tehran and Ahwaz were enjoying sunny weather on Tuesday with light rain expected on Thursday or Friday. This suggests that Ahmadinejad was forewarned of the attacks or was complicit in them. Some "reformists" and opponents of the regime have in the past suggested that bomb attacks in Iran are the work of state agents seeking political leverage within Iran's complex political system rather than insurgents.

The regime has blamed previous bombings in the Arab majority province of Khuzestan on Arab separatists backed by Britain. Iran had claimed that it had arrested British agents responsible for the bombings in October 2005, but later the Ahwaz public prosecutor denied any arrests had been made. The regime has not published any evidence linking the bomb attacks to Arab groups or the British government and it has failed to charge any individual with responsibility.

In Iran, doubts have emerged over the regime's claims that bomb attacks have been carried out by British-backed terrorists. Shargh, a reformist daily newspaper, has suggested that members of the hardline Coalition Party are exagerrating foreign involvement in the explosions. Meanwhile, the reformist politician Mustafa Moin has speculated that bomb attacks in Ahwaz ahead of the June presidential elections were the work of those seeking to elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is no coincidence that bomb attacks have come in the wake of the former Revolutionary Guards commander's rise to power.

Today's bombings come after weeks of unrest in which security guards have shot at unarmed anti-government protestors. The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has published a list of names of those known to have been detained, including children as young as 11, and three people killed by the Baseej paramilitaries.

BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani-Assad said: "There has been a complete media black-out on the events in Ahwaz. Thousands have been arrested over the past year and many have been murdered or executed. Not one Western journalist has written a single word on the killings of Ahwazi demonstrators over the past few days. The only time the world media pays attention to Ahwaz is when bombs are exploding and journalists join in the chorus of blaming Arabs.

"The world media is operating a news agenda set down by Tehran, with a complete absence of reporting on the brutal suppression of dissent and deaths at the hands of government forces. In following this line, journalists are skewing the debate away from the issue of the regime's illegitimacy, with anti-government protests going unreported. The media's portrayal of Ahwazis as terrorists without any acknowledgement of the violent oppression they face on a daily basis suits the regime very well.

"The fact Ahmadinejad used a bogus weather forecast to cancel a trip to Ahwaz before the bombings shows that he must have known about the attacks before they happened. Even Ahmadinejad's rivals within the Iranian political system are suggesting that bomb attacks are perpetrated by the Revolutionary Guards, the President's allies.

"Today's bomb attacks and those carried out in October occurred at the most politically expedient time for the regime: when it is being put under pressure over its nuclear programme. This is an attempt to distract attention from concerns over nuclear weapons and to make the regime appear to be the victim of so-called imperialism. The world should recognise that the Iranian people are the real victims of the Iranian regime."

Links
Ahwaz Fact File
Iran authorities arrest hundreds and shoot demonstrators in Ahwaz - 17 January
More arrests in Ahwaz - 20 January
Weather report by findlocalweather.com