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    Middle East
     Feb 20, 2009
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Balochis intensify rebellion in Iran
By Chris Zambelis

The conflict between Iranian security forces and ethnic Baloch insurgents led by the Jundullah (Soldiers of God) - an obscure militant group also known as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran - that has been raging in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Balochistan since 2003 is experiencing an increase in hostilities.

The latest spate of violence was sparked by Iran's refusal to heed Jundullah's June 2008 demand that it release Abdulhamid Rigi, the brother of Jundullah founder and leader Abdulmalak Rigi, along with three other jailed members of Jundullah. Pakistani authorities detained Rigi and his associates in Quetta in neighboring


Pakistan's Balochistan province for attempting to pass as Pakistani nationals.

The men were later transferred into Iranian custody. After the handover, Jundullah ambushed an Iranian police outpost and abducted 16 police officers in Saravan, a town located near the Pakistani border. The Iranian hostages were reportedly then transferred over the Iranian-Pakistan border into Pakistani Balochistan.

In another incident, Iranian security officials arrested a prominent Baloch cleric in early August 2008, setting off a wave of protests in the province. Iranian authorities then bulldozed the Abu Hanifa mosque and school in Zabol a few weeks later and arrested students and members of the congregation, sparking further outrage among the Baloch. [1]

Jundullah later released a video that was aired on al-Arabiya news channel claiming that they had executed two of the 16 police officers they were holding and were prepared to kill the rest of the hostages if Iran failed to release 200 of its members currently held in Iranian prisons. Jundullah also assassinated an Iranian official in Sistan-Balochistan, prompting another crackdown by the security services. While Jundullah is reported to have freed one of the hostages under mysterious circumstances sometime in September 2008, a December 5 announcement by Iranian authorities claimed that all of the hostages had been executed. The statement also promised "massive retaliation" against Jundullah.

Resort to new tactics
Tensions in Iranian Balochistan flared again when Jundullah introduced a new tactic in its violent campaign against Tehran by executing a suicide car bombing on December 28, 2008, against the headquarters of Iran's joint police and anti-narcotics unit in Saravan.

The attack killed four officers and injured scores more. The bombing was highly uncharacteristic of Jundullah's previous operations. While suicide car bombings have been used to great effect by Iraqi insurgents, especially among groups representing the radical Islamist strain of the Sunni Arab insurgency and increasingly by militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, similar attacks are unheard of in Iran.

Jundullah's violent track record has generally entailed terrorist attacks and guerilla-style operations against Iranian security forces and other symbols of the state across Sistan-Balochistan, as well as abductions and assassinations of state officials. The introduction of suicide bombings into the conflict points to a new and increasingly violent stage in Jundullah's struggle against Tehran, one that is sure to elicit harsher crackdowns by Iranian security forces and contribute to wider instability in the region.

The identity of the bomber also adds to the significance of Jundullah's attack. By all accounts, the bombing was executed by Abdulghafoor Rigi, the younger brother of Jundullah leader Abdulmalak Rigi. According to Baloch activist sources, the attack was intended to serve as an example for others within the Baloch nationalist movement to follow, in Iran and beyond. At the same time, the same sources also emphasize that suicide bombings are not compatible with Baloch values, but have become necessary due to the nature of the Baloch struggle and Iranian repression. [2]

The suicide attack is also being compared to the first and, until recently, only suicide bombing by a Baloch militant; in 1974, Abdul Majeed Lango targeted Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a suicide bombing in Pakistani Balochistan, but failed to hit his target. [3]

While Jundullah's emphasis has been to attack Iranian targets in Sistan-Balochistan, the group has threatened to carry out more suicide attacks in other parts of Iran, including in major cities such as Tehran. [4] Despite this apparent threat, there are no indications that Jundullah has a genuine interest or ability to expand its violent campaign outside of Sistan-Balochistan in the foreseeable future. Suicide attacks against Iranian targets in Sistan-Balochistan, however, especially those targeting Iranian security services, may become more common.

Roots of the Baloch insurgency
To understand the roots of the Baloch insurgency, it is important to consider Iran's complex ethno-national and sectarian composition. Iran's ethnic Persian and Farsi-speaking population represents only a slight majority of Iran's total population of approximately 70 million, a population that includes sizeable Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, and Baloch ethnic communities.

A large majority of Iranians are Shi'ite Muslims. In contrast, the ethnic Baloch minority in Iran numbers between one and four million, nearly all of whom are Sunni Muslims. Iranian Balochistan is also one of Iran's poorest and most underserved provinces. Tehran has great difficulty administering law and order in the region, having to rely instead on harsh security crackdowns that alienate the public. Given its poverty, lawlessness, and porous border with Pakistan, Iranian Balochistan has emerged as a smuggler's paradise, a reputation that has made it both a regular target of the Iranian security services and an attractive base for enterprising criminals.

These factors contribute to the belief among many Baloch - and other ethnic and sectarian minorities in Iran - that the highly centralized Shi'ite Muslim and Persian-centric face of the Islamic Republic operates a policy of state-sponsored discrimination and cultural subjugation of non-Persian and non-Shi'ite minorities.

Baloch disaffection with the Islamic Republic must also be seen in the context of the Baloch historical narrative. Iranian Baloch, for instance, identify strongly with their kin in neighboring Pakistan, which is home to the region's largest Baloch community, and the Baloch community in Afghanistan. Baloch family and tribal links also span across the Iranian, Pakistani, and Afghani borders.

Iranian Baloch look to their kin in Pakistan, who have been waging a war for self-determination for decades. Baloch nationalists often refer to the lands where all Baloch reside as "Greater Balochistan", and Iranian Balochistan as "West Balochistan". The Baloch narrative is also shaped by a feeling that the legacy of colonialism has left the Baloch people divided and without a homeland, much like the predicament facing the Kurds in the Middle East.

The Baloch also feel as if they have no allies, as even regional rivals of Iran have a history of collaborating to curb Baloch nationalist aspirations to further their mutual interests. Iran and Pakistan, for instance, have a history of jointly suppressing Baloch nationalism through harsh measures, as both countries perceive Baloch activism as a threat to their territorial integrity. Pakistan's speedy handover of Jundullah members to Iran reflects one aspect of Iranian-Pakistani security cooperation in this area.

The politics of energy pipelines also help foster closer cooperation between Iran and Pakistan in suppressing Baloch nationalism. The greatly coveted Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline that will carry natural gas from Iran's South Pars field to Pakistan and India will traverse both Iranian and Pakistani Balochistan on its way to India and possibly even to China down the line. 

Continued 1 2  

Iran spars with its enemy within
(Jan 16,'08)

Iran faces challenges from within (Aug 7,'07)

1. Obama, an economic unilateralist

2. US and Russia see common cause

3. Surcharge on insanity

4. US estimate muddied Iran's nuclear intent

5. An American 'foreign legion' emerges

6. US and Japan build a new Silk Road

7. Tigers unleash fury on fleeing 'shields'

8. Perhaps a cool hand

(24 hours to 11:59pm Et, Feb 17, 2009)


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