The Khuzestan Factor In Saudi-Iran Relations

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Dr. Theodore Karasik (@TKarasik) is the co-author of this article.

Since 1979, Iran’s regime has sought to champion itself as a defender of oppressed Shi’ite Arabs across the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, however, one area of the Arab world where Tehran does not promote marginalized Shi’ite resistance against the authorities is Khuzestan (also known as Arabistan). This resource-rich yet underserved Iranian province—situated across the border from Iraq’s Basra province—is home to approximately two millionIranians who are ethnically Arab, commonly referred to as Ahwazi Arabs, as well as more than 90 percent of Iran’s oil capacity.

Ahwazi Arabs in Khuzestan have grievances about state-sponsored oppression, discrimination, marginalization, environmental hazards, and poverty under Persian/Iranian rule. Although officials in Tehran deny such human rights abuses, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations that document the oppression of minority groups have found the Ahwazi Arabs’ complaints to be legitimate.

Having exercised various degrees of autonomy throughout Iran’s pre-1979 history, segments of the Iranian Arab population dream of establishing an independent and oil-rich Ahwazi Arab state in southwestern Iran. Separatist movements in Khuzestan include both militant factions such as the Ahwaz Arab Renaissance Party and non-violent ones. Since the mid-2000s, when a series of bombings tore through Khuzestan, friction between the Iranian state and militant Ahwazi Arab separatists has intensified.

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