Thursday, August 04, 2005

Iran sends in troops to crush border unrest

The Guardian:
The Iranian government has deployed large numbers of troops in cities in the northwestern region which borders Iraq in an effort to quell three weeks of civil unrest that has left up to 20 people dead and more than 300 wounded, according to reports from dissident groups.

They said as many as 100,000 state security forces, backed up by helicopter gunships, had moved into the region to crack down on pro-Kurdish demonstrations. READ MORE

The claims, from Kurdish groups in Iraq, could not be independently verified, and Iranian officials remained silent about the unrest. The state-owned news agency IRNA said the trouble was due to "hooligan and criminal elements".

News agencies have reported trouble in the northern areas over the past two weeks, though the scale of the unrest has been unclear.

The protests in the Kurdish areas came after the killing of a Kurdish activist by Iranian security forces in the city of Mahabad on July 9. Since then, anti-regime demonstrations have erupted in the mainly Kurdish towns of Sanandaj, Mahabad, Sardasht, Piranshahr, Oshnavieh, Divandareh, Baneh, Sinne, Bokan and Saqiz.

In the worst violence so far, Iranian security forces are reported to have killed at least 12 Kurdish demonstrators and injured more than 70 in a clash in the city of Saqiz on Wednesday.

Witnesses said the unrest began just before noon as hundreds of protesters attacked a paramilitary outpost with sticks and stones. Government buildings, including the governor's office, were also attacked and some were ransacked.

Protesters then gathered in the main square, chanting "Down with Khamenei", the country's supreme leader.

Witnesses said that security forces responded with live bullets, and some protesters were fired at by helicopters.

Kurdsat, an Iraqi-Kurdish satellite channel based in Sulaimaniyah, reported yesterday that police had detained as many as 1,200 people after the incident.

Further unrest was feared yesterday in Bokan and Sinne, where up to 6,000 special forces soldiers were said to have gathered. Opposition leaders appealed for calm and called for the international community to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to halt the crackdown.

In a statement, the Kurdistan Democratic party of Iran, which is based in Iraq, urged "international organisations, human-rights supporters and the international community to make efforts to stop the bloodshed of the Iranian Kurdish people by the Islamic republic regime of Iran".

"This could turn into yet another tragedy for our people," said Hussein Yazdanpanah, the general secretary of the Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan, who is in exile in the city of Irbil.

"Our people want their rights and to demonstrate and work for them peacefully. But they are being met with a brutal force."

Iranian agents provocateur were moving among the protesters, he said, "ensuring chaos and violence and thereby justifying an extreme reaction from Iranian authorities".

Iran is home to about 6 million Kurds - almost 10% of the population - who say they face discrimination and repression at the hands of the theocratic rulers in Tehran.

A UN report released last Saturday said authorities were denying basic amenities to Iran's ethnic and religious minorities and in some cases seizing land.

"Regions historically occupied by Kurds ... seem to suffer disproportionate inadequacy of services such as water and electricity and unsatisfactory reconstruction efforts," the report concluded.

But Tehran dismisses such charges and is extremely sensitive about any hint of ethnic unrest, particularly by the Kurds. Anti-government demonstrations are dealt with harshly.

Mahabad, where the activist Shwana Sayyed Qadr was killed, was the capital of the short-lived Republic of Kurdistan, established by the Kurdish leader Mustafah Barzani in 1945. It has since become a symbol for Kurdish nationalism.
Finally, the major media is picking up the story of the unrest in Iran's western border. It extends beyond the Kurdish areas down into the Khuzistan region, further south.