A military parade in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz earlier today has resulted in the deaths of at least twenty-four people. The attackers, who were wearing military uniforms, opened fire on the military procession from a nearby park with small arms. Soldiers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) appear to have been the intended targets. Eight members are among the dead. Two of the gunmen were killed, and another pair taken into custody by security forces.
The Iranian government wasted no time in labeling the incident a terror attack launched by Iran’s Arab minority. And of course, included in the first salvo of statements from Tehran, was a less than subtle suggestion that the United States had orchestrated the attack. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated: “Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable.” In the past, Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of supporting separatist groups in Iran’s Arab minority. The government claims these groups have been becoming very active in Ahvaz, and other sections of southwestern Iran in recent months.
Ahvaz holds another less than stellar distinction. The city has been the site of many anti-government protests since last year. This fact leaves open the possibility that today’s attack was more of a political statement than a random attack aimed at sewing confusion, and chaos. The fact that IRGC soldiers were targeted speaks volumes. In Iranian society, the IRGC is the sword and shield of the government, serving in a role similar to that of the KGB of the former Soviet Union. A direct attack against them is nothing short of an attack against the regime, and might indicate a new round of domestic unrest is on the horizon.
Another possibility, admittedly more cynical but not outside the realm of possibility for Tehran, is that today’s attack was orchestrated by the government and will be used as justification for a nationwide crackdown. The sting from US economic sanctions, and failed Iranian economic policies are bringing on discontent among Iran’s people. Instead of standing by idly and waiting for a new round of protests and riots to break out, Tehran could be moving to nip it in the bud. If so, expect there to be more incidents similar to the attack in Ahvaz occurring around Iran in the coming weeks.