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Iran cuts drinking water to Arab towns and villages

The Iranian government has cut off drinking water supplies to Arab towns and villages along the left bank of the Shatt Al-Arab, causing social unrest and fears of an outbreak of disease among Arabs, according to a number of independent reports received by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS).

Local people have claimed that the cut in drinking water is either in revenge for recent attacks on visitors to the Iran-Iraq War battlefields or in order to pressure indigenous Ahwazi Arabs to leave their traditional lands.

Affected villages include Qufbeh Menuuhi and Khosroabad (Khazalabad) around Abadan and villages along the Shatt al-Arab up to Khorramshahr (Mohammareh).

Although the area has many large rivers, such as the Karoon and the Karkeh as well as the Shatt al-Arab, water has become salinated by intensive sugar cane production, making the water undrinkable, particularly at the mouth of the Karoon where it feeds into the Shatt al-Arab. The extent of the river pollution in the area has led Iranian scientists to declare it an environmental "crisis zone."

During the 1990s, riots broke out in the oil town of Abadan, which lies on the Shatt Al-Arab, over the lack of drinking water. The security forces killed dozens Ahwazi Arabs in the water riots. The government eventually responded to the problem by supply drinking water in tanks that served villages and towns in the affected areas.

The halt in drinking water supply is likely to lead to outbreaks of water-born diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Local Arabs have not been informed of the reason for the water cuts. Some believe the cuts have been carried out in revenge for recent attacks on bus convoys taking members of the Rahiyan-e-Nur visiting battlefields from the Iran-Iraq War. The Rahiyan-e-Nur is a section of the hardline volunteer paramilitary force, the Bassij, and its name means "those heading to the light." An Arab secessionist group, the Sa'ad Ibn Abi Waqqas Brigade, has claimed responsibility for an armed attack on buses carrying Rahiyan-e-Nur pilgrims travelling along the Bostan-Howaiza. It has launched the attacks, which it claims have killed four members of the security services, in revenge for the government's "unjust policies". Ethnic riots have also recently broken out in response to the death of Ahwazi Arab leader and BAFS founder Mansour Silawi al-Ahwazi in London.

Ahwazi Arabs also believe that the drinking water has been cut to force them from their villages to expand the Arvand Free Zone, a military-industrial complex being developed along the Shatt al-Arab. Arabs living on Minoo Island, south of Abadan, have already faced state intimidation and expulsion. Most indigenous Arabs in the region believe this is in line with the government's ethnic cleansing programme, which was outlined in a letter written by the then vice-president Ali Abtahi and leaked to the press in April 2005.