2006-05-30

Morning Report: May 30, 2006

Unrest in Iran. Amir Taheri: 'One of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election promises was that he and his ministerial team would visit all of Iran’s 30 provinces within their first year in office. The idea was to settle long standing local problems in a single sitting of the Cabinet. However, as Ahmadinejad prepares to mark the first anniversary of his presidency it looks increasingly unlikely that he could keep that promise. So far Ahmadinejad has a record of visiting nearly half of the provinces and is determined to do some more soon. Nevertheless, quite a few provinces have become no-go areas for the president. The reason is increasing ethnic and sectarian tensions in parts of the country. ...' Taheri provides a useful run-down of ethnic grievances among Iran's numerous minorities - Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, and Turcomans. 'Taken together Iran’s ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities account for some 40 percent of the population. Most are strategically located along Iran’s long borders, and thus vulnerable to outside manipulation. While in Indonesia this month, President Ahmadinejad spoke of his ambition to unite and lead the Muslim world in a “clash of civilizations” against the “infidel”. Many in Iran believe that he should first address the grievances that have made it impossible for him to visit so many provinces, and before it is too late.' The Christian Science Monitor:
Ethnic Persians make up a little more than half the total population of 69 million, but there are sizable minorities - in addition to the Azeris there are ethnic Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds, for example. Some of these groups, furthermore, practice Sunni Islam instead of the Shiite branch of Islam, the state religion. The Iranian Constitution guarantees the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, but in reality the central government emphasizes the Persian and Shiite nature of the state.

The recent incidents of ethnic tensions are only the latest examples of what has been escalating for more than a year. In mid-March in the southeast, which is home to many of Iran's 1.4 million Baluchis, a Baluchi group called Jundallah took responsibility for an attack on a government motorcade in which 20 people were killed. Jundallah seized a number of hostages and claimed that it executed one of them, a member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. At least 12 people were killed in a similar attack in the second week of May. Nobody has taken credit for explosions May 8 in Kermanshah, which is home to Iran's 4.8 million Kurds, but the July 2005 shooting of a young Kurd by security forces led to demonstrations in several northwestern cities and the deaths of civilians and police officers. Since April of last year, there have been a number of violent incidents - including bombings that have targeted government facilities and which also have killed innocent bystanders - in the southwest, where many of Iran's 2 million Arabs live.

The central government typically reacts to ethnic unrest with a combination of repression and scapegoating. For example, two men were executed in early March for their roles in fatal October bombings in the southwest. They "confessed" on state television the night before their executions that Iranians in Canada and Britain instructed them to create insecurity. ...

Tehran's method of dealing with the ethnic issue will ultimately backfire. It can successfully employ overwhelming force against geographically isolated groups, but it would be much more difficult to handle angry Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, and other minorities if they act against the state simultaneously. If such an occurrence coincides with other forms of disorder, such as the violent student demonstrations that took place in Tehran May 23 and 24, then the regime could find that it has more than it can handle.

Full articles at the links. (Arab News, CSM via MPG)

They threatened to burn her children alive. The Telegraph: 'A leading Iranian pro-democracy and women's activist, who was jailed on trumped-up charges last year, has revealed how the clerical regime cynically deploys systemic sexual violence against female dissidents in the name of Islam. Roya Tolouee, 40, was beaten up by Iranian intelligence agents and subjected to a horrific sexual assault when she refused to sign forced confessions. It was only when they threatened to burn her two children to death in front of her that she agreed to put her name to the documents. Perhaps just as shocking as the physical abuse were the chilling words of the man who led the attack. "When I asked how he could do this to me, he said that he believed in only two things - Islam and the rule of the clerics," Miss Tolouee told The Sunday Telegraph last week in an interview in Washington after she fled Iran.' (The Telegraph)

Malaysia captures 12 islamist militants. Stratfor (subscription): '1415 GMT - Malaysian police arrested a dozen men May 30 who are part of a new Indonesian group called Darul Islam. The previously unknown group was believed to be planning attacks on neighboring countries. The arrests came after six months of surveillance in the state of Sabah on the Malaysian portion of Borneo Island. At least two of the men arrested are Malaysians.' The Intelligence Summit: 'Malaysian police have captured 12 Islamist militants, most of them from Indonesia, who are suspected to have planned terrorist attacks in the region, the Star newspaper said on Tuesday. The dozen men were arrested recently after six months of police surveillance in the Malaysian state of Sabah, on Borneo island, the daily said, quoting unnamed sources. Malaysia's police special branch were not immediately available for comment. Indonesia, which has seen deadly terrorist attacks in Bali and Jakarta, welcomed the report on Tuesday, saying it would help weaken militant networks in the region. "I believe this is a good sign and an important step to fight terrorism," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters during a visit to Malaysia. He said that Indonesian police with the cooperation of their Malaysian counterparts had arrested several people a few months ago for smuggling explosive materials from Sabah into Indonesia.' Meanwhile, The Counterterrorism Blog reports on Indonesia: 'hough not terrorism in the strictest sense, Indonesia-watchers have been noting with concern that hard-line, often violent, Islamic militant groups are growing more aggressive around the country. This comes after several years when they had largely receded into the background, save for annual bursts of activity when they would raid nightspots in and around Jakarta during the Islamic holy month. Returning with a vengeance, these militants got a major boost earlier this year during the furor over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Reaction in Jakarta was especially pronounced, culminating in an unruly 19 February protest outside of the U.S. embassy by several hundred members of the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI). Given the robust improvements made in that embassy's perimeter since 2000, the demonstrators could do little more than throw objects at the street-side guard house. Still, the U.S. ambassador deplored the protest as an act of thuggery. Since February, militant activity has continued to rise. The FPI, whose members are easily recognizable in their white robes, now boasts chapters in most major cities. Often they are joined by a second group calling itself the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (known by the initials FBR), ostensibly a secular organization based in Jakarta that, suspiciously, only seems to take on religious causes. (Stratfor, TIS, CTB)