Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Examiner: Lessons from the suicide attack in Iran

Paul Kujawsky

The October 18 Jundallah suicide attack in Baluchistan on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards reminds us of two important points.

First, although Iran was formerly known as Persia, in fact only about half the country's population is ethnically Persian. The remainder are a variety of other nationalities, including Azeris in the north across from Azerbaijan, Arabs and Kurds to the west, and Baluchis in the east, where Iran shares a border with Pakistani Baluchistan.
The Iranian minorities often chafe under the domination of the Persians. Thus Jundallah is not just a terrorist group--it is a separatist group, analogous to the Basque terrorist group ETA, which seeks independence from Spain for its Basque region.
In addition, the Baluchis are mainly Sunni in predominantly Shia Iran.

Consequently, the central government of Iran faces religious divisions and well as the threat of the dismemberment of the country--or from another perspective, the Baluchis confront religious discrimination as well as suppression of their nationalist goals.

Jundallah may be emboldened and strengthened by the unrest currently shaking Iran. The break-up of Iran along ethnic lines could be a consequence if the Second Iranian Revolution succeeds.

Does the United States or the world generally have an interest in the territorial integrity of Iran? Or viewed in a different light, is there an interest in opposing the national aspirations of the submerged nations of Iran? One hopes the policy makers in Washington are thinking this through.

The second lesson to be drawn from the weekend suicide-murder is that like the Iranian mullocracy it's fighting, Jundallah subscribes to an Islamist agenda. The difference is that the former is the Shia flavor while the later is the Sunni flavor. This distinction matters mightily to them, but much less so to us. Whether Baluchistan remains in Iran or splits off, it is imperative that it not fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.

History supports this. When the Shah's government fell and he fled Iran in 1979, many in the West regarded it as good news. After all, he was an autocratic ruler whose political police, the SAVAK, was guilty of torture and other crimes. But then Khomeini seized power, and we learned something very important:

Things can always get worse.

The Second Iranian Revolution has the potential to right many wrongs in the Middle East. But this is true only if liberal democratic forces win. They are contending with other, illiberal political tendencies. The Obama Administration needs to throw its support firmly to the democrats in the Iranian opposition. Because just overthrowng the mullocracy isn't enough. Things could get worse.

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