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Ahwazi politician assassinated in Iraq by Iranian death squad

An Ahwazi Arab politician living in exile in Iraq has been murdered after he was kidnapped in Basra, where he and his family live.

Ra'ad De'ayer Al-Bestan Banitorfi was kidnapped on 9 April and four days later his mutilated body was found. It is believed that he was tortured to death. Reports from Iraq suggest the kidnapping and assassination was carried out by militias under the influence of Iraq's Interior Ministry and at the behest of the Iranian regime. Relatives say that Al-Bestan had been followed by Iraqi intelligence officials for weeks. They fear his close family are at risk and they have no financial means to support themselves.

Several Ahwazi groups have condemned the assassination of Al-Bestan, whose father was killed by the monarchist regime in the 1970s. The killing came at the same time as Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr admitted there were sectarian death squads present in Iraq, but although many wore uniforms, they were not under the ministry's control.

Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted the problems facing exiled Ahwazi Arabs in Iraq. It says some 2,500 Ahwazi refugees were ordered to leave their homes by Iraqi militias and are now camped out in the desert or are occupying derelict buildings (click here for report). Palestinian refugees are also affected by death squad activity, with 88 refugees currently camped at Iraq's border with Jordan after a series of killings (click here for Amnesty International's report). In 2005 the Minister of Displacement and Migration is reported to have said that Palestinians were not welcome in Iraq and should leave the country, according to Amnesty.

Nasser Bani-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "The Iraqi administration is failing in its obligation to protect refugees under international law. Dominated by parties that were bankrolled by Tehran, the administration is permitting, if not encouraging, the assassination of political dissidents from foreign countries by armed militias. There has never been any suggestion that Al-Bestan broke Iraqi laws. If there were any such allegations, then he should have been given a free and fair trial. The real reason for Al-Bestan's assassination is that Iran wanted him dead and sent its Iraqi henchmen to kill him, probably with the full knowledge of the Basra authorities.

"We are concerned about Iran's growing influence in the region. Earlier this year, Kuwait and Iran agreed a security deal on regional security that could have implications for Kuwait's large Ahwazi Arab population, where Ahwazi opposition groups are active. Last year, the Syrian authorities arrested and later released Ahwazi activists, apparently on the orders of the Iranian authorities. Iran has also supported Shi'ite extremists in Bahrain, which are seeking to overthrow the island's monarchy and could be used to carry out assassinations.

"There are no safe places for Ahwazi political refugees in the Middle East due to growing Iranian influence. We appeal to the governments of the European Union to allow Ahwazi refugees to seek asylum in Europe, even if they have travelled through Kuwait, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain before arriving. These countries are no longer safe for Ahwazi Arabs to claim asylum. We hope that Ahwazi asylum applications will be met with sympathy by authorities in Europe."