Arab unrest, peace protests in Iran

Ethnic tensions are rising in southwest Iran’s Khuzistan province along the Iraqi border, where violence has left three dead and injured in recent days. Protests by the region’s Arab minority were sparked by reports that authorities were planning to colonize the city of Ahvaz with ethnic Farsies. Nationwide operations of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV were suspended by the government April 18 on charges of inciting the unrest. (AP, April 18)

Now comes word of peace protests in the ol-rich region, calling for pan-Islamic unity. From Reuters, April 22:

TEHRAN – Thousands of people marched for peace in southwest Iran on Friday one week after bloody ethnic unrest in which at least five people were killed and more than 300 arrested, state media reported.

State television showed images of thousands of men and women marching through the city of Ahvaz in Khuzestan province where just days ago groups of Arab-Iranians attacked and set fire to cars and buildings and clashed with security forces.

Officials say the protests were sparked by circulation of a forged letter, supposedly written by a senior government official, which suggested ways to dilute Arab influence in southwest Iran — the heartland of the country’s oil industry.

Only about three percent of Iran’s 67 million population is Arab but in some parts of the southwest they are in a majority.

Those taking part in the Grand Solidarity rally in Ahvaz on Friday carried banners and chanted slogans in both Farsi and Arabic condemning the unrest and attacking the Islamic state’s chief enemies.

“Oh Muslims, unite, unite!” they chanted. “Down with hypocrites, down with America, down with Israel!”

Many officials and politicians have accused Iran’s foreign enemies and exile opposition groups of stirring up the recent unrest. Authorities have temporarily closed down the Tehran bureau of Qatar-based Arabic language news network Al Jazeera, saying its role in encouraging the violence was being investigated.

“The Iranian Arabs of Khuzestan have proven their devotion to Islam and are bound to safeguard the Islamic Republic,” Ahvaz Friday Prayer leader Mohsen Heydari told the crowd, the official IRNA news agency said.

Ahvaz residents say a massive security clampdown has taken place since the unrest, with scores of Revolutionary Guards manning checkpoints and patrolling the streets.

Officials said on Wednesday around 200 of those arrested have been freed but another 144 remained in detention.

The unrest comes as predictions are growing that both the U.S. and Israel are preparing air strikes on Iran, and Iran’s government has accused the U.S. of provocative spy flights over Iranian territory.