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Iran: Parliamentary Think Tank Warns of Ethnic Unrest

The Islamic Majlis Centre for Research has warned that Iran could face ethnic conflict and unrest unless the government addresses the needs of Iran's ethnic minorities.

In a recently published report, the Majlis (parliament) think tank said the country faced two key challenges: poverty among non-Persian ethnic groups living in border areas and the problem of youth unemployment. It stated that various ministries had already issued their own internal studies and reports on ethnic minorities in relation to national security, but suggests that the root causes of the "surge in identity movements" must be addressed.

Ahwazi Arabs have been at the forefront of the growing ethnic minority opposition to the government, with major riots and demonstrations throughout 2005. There has also been growing unrest among Balochis and Kurds.

The immediate cause of the rioting in Ahwaz (Khuzestan) has been the government's policy of "ethnic restructuring" or "integration". This has involved the forced relocation of Arabs and the resettlement of non-Arabs from outside the province in order to reduce the Arab population from 70 per cent to 30 per cent of the province's total.

The think tank report warned that such integration policies could lead to further social upheaval, rebellions, instability, ethnic conflicts, civil war and armed conflicts.

Key to alleviating poverty among Ahwazi Arabs is the redistribution some of the revenue generated by Khuzestan's large oilfields, which together represent around 8-10 per cent of OPEC's total output. Local legislators recently failed to get parliamentary endorsement for the redistribution of 1.5% of Khuzestan's oil revenue. This is the third time such legislation has failed in the Majlis. In a report by the IRNA news agency, Abdullah Kaabi, the Majlis representative for Abadan, said: "Khuzestan has provided 100% of its oil production and revenue to Tehran for 100 years. Is allocating 1-2% of its own oil back to its inhabitants is too much?"

In an official visit to Khuzestan in July, UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari spoke of the impact of land confiscation on the impoverished Ahwazi Arab population. He said: "in deprived neighbourhoods [in Khuzestan] 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."

Nasser Bani-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "There is growing recognition of the negative social impact of poverty, land confiscation and forced migration on ethnic minorities in Iran. The report by the Islamic Majlis Centre for Research indicates that some parts of the establishment are realising that the continued plunder of outlying provinces with predominantly non-Persian populations will result in an ethnic backlash. We are already witnessing this with unrest among Ahwazi Arabs.

"Yet, the overwhelmingly conservative, hard-line Majlis still votes out legislation to give a few rials earned from oil back to the Arabs whose land has been confiscated for the benefit oil industry. The mullahs' greed will ultimately destroy them, for failure to address the needs of non-Persian minorities - who make up more than 50 per cent of the population - will lead to instability that will shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic."