The Iranian regime is considering bringing the Iraq-based Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani to mediate with Ahwazi Arabs to bring the uprising in Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) to an end.
Reports from Ahwaz received by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) indicate that the regime wants to involve Iraqi Arab Shia leaders in negotiating a compromise, which could including the dismissal of General Hayat-Moghaddam as Governor of Khuzestan. Hayat-Moghaddam's hardline response to the uprising has included the shooting of unarmed Arabs holding cultural demonstrations marking the Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha religious festivals. His actions have inflamed Ahwazi Arab hostility to Iranian rule.
The regime has attempted dialogue with Ahwazi Arabs through Khuzestan Majlis member Nasser Sudani and former defence minister Ali Shamkhani, both of whom are ethnic Arabs (click here for report and video). However, the dialogue has foundered as the regime is unwilling to negotiate an end to land confiscation and the release of political prisoners, including pregnant women and children as young as two years old.
The Islamic Republic is now seeking to use Arab Shi'ite religious figures. This mirrors the tactic followed shortly after the revolution when local Ahwazi cleric Sheikh Karami succeeded in negotiating an end to an Arab rebellion in the province.
BAFS spokesman Nasser Bani Assad said: "Our source in Ahwaz is very reliable. The regime appears to be running a carrot and stick approach to the Ahwazi uprising. The stick is the imprisonment of thousands of men, women and children and a systematic programme of executions, designed to instill fear. The carrot is being dangled in front of Ahwazi community leaders in an effort to co-opt them, with the offer of money and increased influence. The regime is tackling the issue on both the tribal and religious fronts, but its efforts display a complete lack of understanding of the opposition movement which is rooted in injustices that remain unaddressed.
"In the past few weeks, the government has been working hard to co-opt some tribal leaders. These efforts have largely failed, with many tribal figures incensed about the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs, in particular the sons of the moderate tribal leader Hajj Salem Bawi who are facing the death penalty for allegedly distributing seditious literature. Even if some tribal leaders have been won around, it could never have been enough to quell the rebellion. Tribal leadership does not necessarily mean political leadership. Significant parts of the Ahwazi population distrust tribal leaders or believe them incapable of representing their interests while they are ruled by a regime intent on ethnic cleansing Arabs from their homeland.
"Now the authorities are trying to win over the local Arab clergy by involving Sistani. It is unlikely to work as most of the Ahwazi opposition is rejecting the Iranian system of government, not just government policies. This includes the rejection of rule by the mullahs. No flattery by Ayatollah Sistani - who wants to turn Iraq into another Iran - is likely to allay the fears the Ahwazis have over their future and their political protests against oppression. The religious establishment believes that the Arabs will forever remain loyal to them, no matter the injustices perpetuated by the 'politicians'. Yet, pictures of Khomeini have been burned in the streets of Ahwaz and Ahwazi flags have been raised in demonstrations. Iran's leaders won't accept that Shi'ism is not enough to rally Iranians behind the religious establishment."