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Sunni Ahwazi Sheikh arrested by Iran

Iranian authorities have arrested Sheikh Abdul-Hamid Al-Dowsari, an Ahwazi Arab Sunni imam based in Al-Qesba serving Abadan, Mohammara (Khorammshahr) and Ahwaz City.

The pro-government Baztab website has claimed that the 57 year old is a Wahhabi, a Sunni fundamentalist sect not tolerated in Iran, and that he is responsible for a string of bomb attacks and riots in Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan). Four others have been arrested along with the Sheikh, including Said Jamil Sharifi and Khalil Sekheyrawi. However, at least 80 per cent of the Ahwazi population is Shia, the dominant religion of Iran and it is unlikely that the Arab uprising in the province has any sectarian motives.

Numbering a few hundred thousand, the Ahwazi Arab Sunni population is concentrated in the west of the province bordering Iraq. It has not been prominent in the unrest seen elsewhere in Al-Ahwaz, although conversion to Sunni Islam is growing due to the widespread revulsion of state terror tactics by the ruling mullahs.

Meanwhile, a sound bomb has been reported in the Sheikh Baha area of Ahwaz City, but the authorities have closed the area to prevent further coverage of the incident.

Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "The regime has been working hard to divide the Ahwazi Arabs along tribal and religious lines and has in the past accused Wahabbis of organising attacks. The regime is trying to portray the movement as anti-Iranian and as such is blaming what it regards as its worst enemies: Sunnis, Arabs, Jews, British, Americans and Saudis. It is a tactic of divide and rule which will not work in the long-run.

"However, the Ahwazis participating in the uprising are not from any particular tribe, sect or area, although the urban slum-dwellers have been the most vocal in their opposition to the government. The Ahwazi movement is broad-based, including rural and urban poor, the middle-classes and people from both Shia and Sunni communities."