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Boris Johnson Capitulates To Iran Over Ethnic Rights For The Sake Of Business

By Abu Mousa al-Zafrani

The UK Foreign Office's latest human rights report on Iran has removed all mention of ethnic rights in a move of blatant appeasement by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, according to Ahwazi activists.

Previous human rights reports have acknowledged Iran's systematic contravention of ethnic rights enshrined in Article 15 and have highlighted the plight of Kurds and Ahwazi Arabs.

Powerful interests are using top-level lobbying to pillage resources from the Ahwazi Arab homeland, ultimately entrenching the poverty, persecution and cultural subjugation of indigenous Ahwazi Arabs. Boris Johnson's refusal to acknowledge Ahwazi grievances and the watering down of the Foreign Office's human rights concerns has caused alarm among Ahwazi human rights advocates. They see this as a prelude to an investment drive that will further alienate and impoverish Ahwazi Arabs, who have for nearly a century suffered as the government in Tehran and its foreign allies have plundered local resources.

A Century of British Interest in Ahwaz

The British oil industry began in the Ahwaz region. A deal with the Sheikh of Mohammerah - Sheikh Khazaal (pictured) - enabled the British to establish oil drilling and refining operations in what was then known as Arabistan, now Khuzestan. The deal with Khazaal created the Anglo-Persian Oil Company which eventually became British Petroleum (BP).

A century ago, Khazaal provided the land for the massive Abadan refinery, which continues to be a major refining centre in the Middle East. The Ahwaz region contains more oil than Kuwait and the UAE combined and generates 80 to 90 per cent of Iran's oil revenue.

The British promised to protect Khazaal's interests and accorded his sheikhdom equal status with the local rulers of Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Fearing the influence of Bolshevism in the Middle East due to the weak Qajar government and the loss of Ahwaz's resources to Russia, the British reneged on their deal with Khazaal.

The British empire supported Reza Khan's coup to create his own invented Pahlavi dynasty. He deposed Khazaal in 1925, ended the autonomy enjoyed by Arabistan and began a racist process of aggressive Persianisation, which deemed Arabs as outsiders and a malign influence in Iranian history. Since 1925, Ahwazi Arabs have been subjected to discrimination and violent persecution, which continued under the Islamic Republic from 1979. 

The revenue generated in the Ahwazi Arab region has been central to Iran's economic development, the consolidation of successive regimes and funding the Islamic Republic's terrorist network. However, Ahwazi Arabs have seen little improvement in their living standards. They are denied linguistic rights and suffer endemic discrimination in the workplace. 

UK Seeks Re-Entry into Iran

Annually, the UK approves over £800mn of exports of strategic controlled goods to Iran, including hardware used to oppress the people and launch attacks on neighbouring countries - even during the sanctions. Iran is Britain's fourth largest destination for arms exports, representing seven per cent of total arms exports. This level is set to rise following the end of sanctions and efforts to ally with Iran in military activities in Syria and Iraq. Many of the exports could be used for internal repression.

British oil majors are seeking to head investment in the Ahwaz region's oilfields. In November 2015, BP and Royal Dutch Shell were represented at a major two-day oil conference in Tehran. The conference came after the first of several trade delegations run by the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce (BICC), which supports British involvement in Iran's exploitation of Ahwaz.

Before the sanctions, the EU was importing over 700,000 barrels per day of oil taken from the Ahwaz region generating revenue of around US$30bn per annum. This revenue is used to enrich the the ruling elite, which has turned down efforts by the region's members of parliament to secure just 1.5% of revenue for the benefit of social and education projects for local Ahwazi Arabs.

Ahwazi Arabs fear that European investment in oil resources in their land will fund weapons for their repression, instead of alleviating poverty.

The Iranian clergy and European governments are together conducting an anti-human campaign of destruction and they are not listening to Ahwazi pleas to end poverty and brutality.

Role of Lord Lamont and the British Conservative Party

Since the end of sanctions, the British Conservative government has appointed former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lamont as trade envoy to Iran. Lamont has been a long-standing member of the pro-Iranian lobby in the UK, indicating that he is not an independent of the Iranian government. 

According to Intelligence Online, the pro-Iran lobby in Britain operates through two organisations: the Iran Heritage Foundation (IHF) and the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce (BICC), which is headed by Lord Lamont. 

The IHF purports to be a cultural organisation, but has been a connecting place for rich Iranian and British businessmen and aristocracy. It is chaired by Vahid Alaghband, the head of Balli Group, which trades between London and Tehran. Lamont is an IHF board member and a former advisor to Alaghband. Alaghband is also a donor to the British Conservative Party. 

The Balli Group broke the embargo against Iran by leasing a jet to Iran's Mahan Air. Another IHF board member is Saman Ahsani, the heir of the plutocratic Ahsani family who controls Unaoil. Ahsani was the head of Alaghband's consulting firm, Aria Investments.

According to Intelligence Online, Lamont has been working to assist British billionaire Nadhim Auchi via his General Mediterranean Holding company. Auchi has been an intermediary for French oil major Elf and potentially seeks investments in the Iranian oil industry.

Lamont is also involved in the Tehran-based "think tank" the Ravand Institute for International and Economic Studies. It was founded in early 2015 by Rafsanjani's associate Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, also a member of IHF and a former Iranian ambassador to the UK.

The organisation is said to be a corporate consulting service for foreign investors. Adeli is now the secretary-general of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a gas cartel. Ravand is run by Kia Tabatabaee, the former Iranian ambassador to Switzerland and the UN in Geneva, who negotiated on several major trade disputes between Iran and the European Union.

Ahwazis Fight Back

Ahwazi Arabs are challenging the inequity of the oil industry on many fronts. Local members of parliament have sought to raise local employment in the oil and downstream petrochemicals industries and secure social justice. However, their efforts have largely been ignored.

Non-violent activism by the Ahwazi community in London has targeted the Iran lobby. Last July, activists supported by leading British human rights activist Peter Tatchell stormed the Westminster headquarters of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to confront Lord Lamont and Iranian officials over oil deals in Ahwaz. Iranian intelligence officials violently attacked the activists in an effort to remove them from the building.

In Ahwaz itself, growing frustration with the lack of progress in social justice and political freedoms has led to frequent bomb attacks on pipelines as part of the low-intensity conflict in the restive region.

The failure of the British government to address Ahwazi rights while promoting British investment in Ahwaz's oil sector could create another cauldron of hate towards Western interests in the Middle East. To avoid conflict, Ahwazi activists are calling on the Foreign Office to take a more critical line in relation to British investment.

Instead of bringing the Iranian lobby led by Lord Lamont into the centre of power in Westminster, the Foreign Office should acknowledge the role of economic development in the subjugation of Ahwazi Arabs and ensure greater corporate social responsibility. Unless development and the oil industry empower Ahwazis, investors will be regarded as enemies.