United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Renews Sanctions Waivers for 11 Nations

            On September 6, the United States extended Iran sanctions waivers to Japan and 10 E.U. countries for significantly reducing their crude oil purchases from Tehran. Japan’s imports of Iranian oil in June 2013 were down 38.1 percent compared to a year earlier. Washington had already extended the waivers three other times for the 11 countries. They can be renewed again after six months. In June 2013, the United States renewed waivers for nine other countries including China, India and South Korea —three of Iran’s biggest oil buyers. The State Department is scheduled to decide whether to extend those waivers in December 2013. The following is the full text of Secretary of State John Kerry’s press statement.

            The United States and the international community remain committed to maintaining pressure on the Iranian Government until it fully addresses concerns about its nuclear program. That is why today I am pleased to announce that, based on additional significant reductions in the volume of its crude oil purchases from Iran, Japan has again qualified for an exception to sanctions outlined in Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. 
            Additionally, 10 European Union countries – Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom – have also qualified for a renewal of the NDAA exception because they have not purchased Iranian oil since July 1, 2012, pursuant to a decision made by the whole of the European Union in January 2012.  As a result, I will report to the Congress that exceptions to sanctions pursuant to Section 1245 of the NDAA for certain transactions will apply to the financial institutions based in these countries for a potentially renewable period of 180 days.
            Today’s determination is another example of the international community’s commitment to convince Iran to meet its international obligations.  A total of 20 countries and economies have continued to significantly reduce the volume of their crude oil purchases from Iran.  We have brought significant pressure to bear on the Iranian Government, and we will continue to work with our partners to ratchet up the pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations.

Report: Iran’s Strategy in Afghanistan

            Iran is set to play a major role in Afghanistan after the 2014 pullout of U.S. combat troops, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. On August 5, 2013 — President Hassan Rouhani’s first day in office —Tehran signed strategic cooperation agreement with Kabul on economic, security and intelligence issues. So Afghanistan is now committed to cooperate with both Iran and the United States on security issues. But Tehran and Washington actually have common interests on Afghanistan. Neither country “wants to a recurrence of civil war—both prefer the emergence of a security landscape that promotes state building in Afghanistan’s nascent democracy,” argues the report. The following are excerpts with a link to the full text.  

            The signing of a strategic cooperation agreement with Afghanistan on security, intelligence and economic matters on Rouhani’s first day in office indicates that the Iranian Government has a strong desire to improve relations with its eastern neighbour and is eager to initiate security measures that could balance the USA’s influence in Afghanistan after 2014.
            This agreement includes cooperation in military training and measures to counter insurgency and organized crime, assistance with military operations, intelligence sharing on counter-insurgency matters, the expansion of trade and commerce, and the facilitation of tourism. It also states that the national security offices of both signatories will engage via trilateral mechanisms with the national security offices of India and Russia.
            The strategic cooperation agreement is significant insofar as Afghanistan has now agreed to cooperate with Iran as well as with the USA and other ISAF members on several security matters, including the conduct of joint military exercises.
            This signals to the USA that the Iranian Government wants to be recognized as a major regional actor in Afghanistan after 2014 and is prepared to help with the training of the ANSF after transition, albeit perhaps symbolically as it well understands that the bulk of training will require support from Western countries. The agreement to cooperate on security matters with India and Russia but not with Pakistan indicates the signatories’ perception of Pakistan as a threat to regional security.
Iran’s post-transition strategy in Afghanistan
Iran’s post-transition strategy will continue to be driven by its relations with the
USA and will be influenced by five factors:
(a) the likelihood of the USA’s maintenance of a significantly reduced but nevertheless sizeable troop presence in Afghanistan;
(b) an active insurgency continuing to threaten the fledging
Afghan democracy and generating instability near the Iranian border;
(c) the possible reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political framework
through peace talks;
(d) the flourishing drug industry; and
(e) the continuation of Iran’s civilian nuclear programme and the likelihood of ongoing sanctions.
Relations between Iran and the United States
            Neither the USA nor Iran wants to see a recurrence of civil war—both prefer the emergence of a security landscape that promotes state building in Afghanistan’s nascent democracy. Nevertheless, Iran’s policy on Afghanistan will continue to be driven by its relations with the USA. The as-yet-undecided future international military presence in Afghanistan, along with the possibility that reconciliation could culminate in the Taliban’s return in some political form, could confront Iran with a scenario in which two of its main enemies play a strong role in Afghanistan after 2014. The presence of US bases, no matter how small, will remain a point of contention, and Iran will continue to demand exact details of military installations.
           Hence, Iran will continue to view any US efforts with suspicion and will advocate for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops and the closure of any US military bases, while tacitly acknowledging that the ongoing training and development of the ANSF into an effective force will be necessary to effectively oppose armed insurgents and stabilize the country. At the same time, any continuing US presence in Afghanistan could provide more hard-line Iranian officials with an opportunity to maintain a dual strategy aimed at bogging down US forces. Likewise, if Iran were to be attacked militarily, it could retaliate relatively easily by targeting US bases across its eastern border.
           The new Afghan–Iranian strategic cooperation agreement hints that the Iranian Government would prefer the post-2014 ANSF security training to be performed by security experts from the immediate region, possibly including Iran but not from countries with which it has animosities such as the UK and the USA. Future cooperation between Iran and the USA may draw on old relationships. It is plausible that Rouhani, in his previous capacity as National Security Advisor and secretary of the SNSC under Khatami, was well aware and supportive of Iran’s more open Afghanistan policy. In the wake of September 2001, Javad Zarif, Iran’s new foreign minister, is believed to have provided US troops in Afghanistan with Iranian intelligence.
           The appointment in May 2013 of James Dobbins, who like Zarif was a key participant at the 2001 Bonn Conference, as US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan is also timely and will help to foster bilateral Iranian–US talks on Afghanistan. Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, Iran’s former ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, seems to perceive Dobbins’ appointment as a positive signal, describing him as someone who ‘has lots of experience with regard to . . . Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . and has been able to manage issues well’.
           Yet, with existing conservative political coalitions in the Iranian leadership polarized and highly factionalized, it is not clear how much support Rouhani will achieve for a more cooperative approach to engagement with the USA. While the Supreme Leader stated in July 2013 that he was ‘not optimistic about negotiation with the US’ as he continues to consider them ‘unreliable and dishonest’, it is important to remember that he has previously condoned cooperation with the
USA on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iran Factor in U.S. Syria Strike

            Iran has been a constant subtext of the Obama administration’s campaign to justify a military strike on Syria. Both proponents and opponents of a strike have have referred to Iran’s controversial nuclear program as a factor in deliberations. Proponents have argued that an attack could deter Iran from using weapons of mass destruction. But opponents have warned that a strike could escalate the Syrian conflict into a wider proxy war pitting the United States against Iran or risk blowback on the United States by Iran-backed groups. The following are remarks by top officials and members of congress.

Proponents of Limited Strikes
Secretary of State John Kerry
            “Iran is hoping you look the other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test, Hezbollah is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day. They’re all listening for our silence.
            “Even Assad’s supporters, Russia and Iran, say publicly that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And guess what?  Even Iran and Syria itself acknowledge that these weapons were used.  They just pretend that the other guys, who don’t even have the capacity to do it, somehow did it. 
            “And as the proof of the use becomes even more clear in the course of this debate, I think it is going to be very difficult for Iran or Russia to decide against all that evidence that there is something worth defending here.
            “If the Congress decides not to do this, it is a guarantee, whether it is with Assad in Syria, or nuclear weapons in Iran, or nuclear weapons in North Korea, we will have invited a for-certain confrontation at some point in time that will require you to make a choice that will be even worse, with a potential even greater conflict.
            “Iran and Hezbollah are two of the three biggest allies of Assad. And Iran and Hezbollah are the two single biggest enemies of Israel. So if -- if -- if Iran and Hezbollah are advantaged by the United States not curbing Assad's use of chemical weapons, there is a much greater likelihood that at some point down the road, Hezbollah, who has been one of the principal reasons for a change in the situation on the ground, will have access to these weapons of mass destruction. And Israel will for certain be less secure.”
            Sept. 3, 2013 in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
            “Failure to act now will make this already volatile neighborhood even more combustible, and it will almost certainly pave the way for a more serious challenge in the future. And you can just ask our friends in Israel or elsewhere. In Israel, they can’t get enough gas masks. And there’s a reason that the Prime Minister has said this matters, this decision matters. It’s called Iran. Iran looms out there with its potential – with its nuclear program and the challenge we have been facing.  And that moment is coming closer in terms of a decision. They’re watching what we do here.  They’re watching what you do and whether or not this means something.
            If we choose not to act, we will be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence, American weakness.  It will raise the question – I’ve heard this question.  As Secretary of State as I meet with people and they ask us about sort of our long-term interests and the future with respect to Iran, they’ve asked me many times, “Do you really mean what you say?  Are you really going to do something?”  They ask whether or not the United States is committed, and they ask us also if the President cuts a deal will the Congress back it up?  Can he deliver?”
           Sept. 10, 2013 in remarks to the House Armed Services Committee
Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat- New Jersey)
            “We will either send a message to Syria, Iran, North Korea, Hezbollah, al-Qaida and any other nonstate actors that the world will not tolerate the senseless use of chemical weapons by anyone, or we will choose to stand silent in the face of horrific human suffering.”
            Sept. 3, 2013 in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel
            “Our refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments, including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The word of the United States must mean something. It is vital currency in foreign relations and international and allied commitments.”
            Sept. 3, 2013 in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat - California)
            “Iran will view us as a paper tiger, when it comes to their nuclear program, and that is dangerous not only for us and our friends but for the world.”
            Sept. 3, 2013 in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senator Marco Rubio (Republican - Florida)
            “The other [option], which some voices have advocated, is doing nothing. But that would guarantee the following outcome: an emboldened Assad, an emboldened Iran, increased instability in the country because portions of that country will still be ungoverned. And it will also send a message to the world that there is no red line that they should fear crossing. So Iran will move forward toward nuclear weapons… Israel may decide it needs to strike Iran unilaterally. Iran will move towards the bomb, which, by the way, it won't just be an Iranian bomb. It'll be a Turkish bomb as well and a Saudi bomb and maybe even an Egyptian bomb one day.”
            Sept. 3, 2013 in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Proponents of Wider Strikes
Senator John McCain (Republican - Arizona), Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican- South Carolina)
            “We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests. Anything short of this would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing. And it would send the wrong signal to America's friends and allies, the Syrian opposition, the Assad regime, Iran, and the world – all of whom are watching closely what actions America will take.”
            Aug. 31, 2013 in a joint statement
Opponents of Strikes
Senator Rand Paul (Republican - Kentucky)
            “I think there's a valid argument for saying they'll [Israelis] be more likely to suffer an attack if we do this… If Iran gets involved, more likely or less likely that Israel launches a reprisal attack on Iran? There are all kinds of unknowns that I can't tell you absolutely the answer, and neither can you, but I think there's a reasonable argument that the world may be less stable because of this and that it may not deter any chemical weapons attack.”
Sept. 3, 2013 in remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Representative Rick Nolan (Democrat - Minnesota)
            “Beyond the potential for escalating the conflict and the killing, we risk danger to our ally Israel, involvement by the Russians and the Iranians, and blowback to the United States by radical groups operating in the region.”
Sept. 1, 2013 in a press statement

Rouhani Wishes Jews Happy New Year

            On September 4, President Hassan Rouhani used Twitter to wish a happy new year to the world’s Jews. Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews—the second largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. His tweet contrasted starkly with the tone of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly challenged Israel’s right to exist between 2005 and 2013. “We say that this fake regime [Israel] cannot logically continue to live,” he said at the 2005 World Without Zionism conference in Tehran. “Open the doors (of Europe) and let the Jews go back to their own countries.”  


Iran Minorities 2: Ethnic Diversity

Bijan DaBell

      Persians are Iran’s largest ethnic group, but nearly a dozen other ethnicities represent well over a third of the 79 million population. The largest ethnic groups, which are major factors in Iranian politics, are Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, and Lors. Others include Turkomen, Qashqai, Mazandarani, Talysh and Gilaki. They hold dozens of seats in the current parliament. Some of the revolution’s biggest names have come from ethnic minorities:

      Mir-Hossein Mousavi (far left)—a former Prime Minister in the 1980s and a reformist presidential candidate in 2009—is an Azeri. He has been under house arrest since shortly after Green Movement protests erupted to dispute results of an election that his followers believed he had won. He comes from East Azerbaijan province.
      Mehdi Karroubi—(left) a former speaker of parliament and another reformist presidential candidate in 2009— is a Lor. He was born in Aligoudarz in western Lorestan.
            Mohsen Rezai—former head of the Revolutionary Guards and a 2013 presidential candidate—was born in the Lor region of Khuzestan.
            Ali Khamenei— current supreme leader is reportedly half Azeri, although his official bio does not mention any Azeri heritage and says he was born in Mashhad.
            Sadeq Mahsouli
—former minister of interior from 2008-2009 and minister of social security from 2009 to 2011—is also Azeri. He was born in the Azeri city of Urmia.
            Rahim Safavi
—former commander of the Revolutionary Guards from 1997 to 2007, is an ethnic Azeri.

      Yet ethnic minorities are a sensitive political issue, which is one reason accurate numbers in politics and the military are not easily available. The Islamic Republic prefers to emphasize religion to foster national identity and avoid problems of ethnic divisions. Many politicians do not discuss their ethnicity, although several Azeri, Kurdish, Baluchi, and Arab groups have expressed frustration with Tehran. Some have openly protested over several issues, including:
            • Lack of government spending on development in provinces with large ethnic
            •  Revenues from oil and natural resources in their regions being spent on other
               cities and provinces,
            • Greater regional autonomy,
            • And limits on use of their traditional languages.
            Two articles of Iran’s constitution cover the status of ethnic minorities:
      Chapter 2, Article 15: The official language and script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people, is Persian. Official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this language and script. However, the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian.
      Chapter 3, Article 19: All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.
            Ethnic rights occasionally come up in elections. In his successful bid for the presidency in 2013, Hassan Rouhani promised to allow ethnic and religious minorities to be involved “in all political and administrative levels of government, including membership in the cabinet.” He also pledged to allow the “teaching of Iranian native languages” such as Kurdish, Azeri, and Arabic. And he met with Arab tribal sheikhs from Ahwaz during the campaign. The election results reflected a strong showing in provinces with significant minorities. The map below highlights areas where minorities are concentrated.
            Generally, however, the integration of ethnic minorities into Iran’s Persian-centric society has varied since the 1979 revolution. Activists have faced arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse, according to the U.S. State Department. Non-Persian languages have been restricted in schools. Iran’s ethnic minorities are less interested in secession and more interested in increasing their rights as Iranian citizens. Some have proposed that Iran become a federation that allows ethnic autonomy in governing their own affairs. The following is a rundown of the five largest minorities, their activism, and their political influence.
            Azeris are Iran’s largest ethnic minority, numbering at least 12 million. But according to some estimates, up to 20 million live in Iran—almost one-quarter of the population. Most Azeris are well integrated into Iranian society, although their traditional language is closer to Turkish than Persian. Most are Shiite Muslims and are afforded more freedoms in the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic than non-Shiite ethnic minorities.
            But Azeris have faced political and cultural discrimination. The U.S. State Department reported that the government prohibited Azeris from speaking their language in schools, harassed Azeri activists, and changed Azeri town names.
            Azeris share the same ethnic background with the majority population in neighboring Azerbaijan. These groups were divided in 1828 by the Treaty of Turkmanchai, which gave the northern portion of Azerbaijan to Russia and southern portion to Iran. Azeri involvement in Iran’s government was greatly reduced by the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925. The Islamic Republic continued to suppress the Azeri population, notably during a brutal 1981 crackdown against an Azeri uprising in Tabriz.

      Yet Azeris have played a larger role in the Iranian military and politics than other ethnic minorities. Yahya Rahim Safavi (left) was commander of the Revolutionary Guards—one of the most important military positions in Iran—from 1997 to 2007. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was prime minister in the 1980s and a reformist presidential candidate in 2009, is Azeri. Sadeq Mahsouli, former minister of interior from 2008 to 2009 and minister of social security from 2009 to 2011, is also an Azeri.
      Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is also believed to be an ethnic Azeri. His grandfather was born in the Azeri village of Khamane, but was raised in Najaf, Iraq. Khamenei’s official website makes no mention of an Azeri heritage.
      Azeri nationalism has grown over the last two decades, although most Iranian Azeris are not openly in favor of separation from Iran. Nationalist publications aimed at Iranian Azeris have been on the rise. Many also have access to Turkish satellite television, so their knowledge of Turkey and Azerbaijan has increased. In 1996, Mahmudali Chohraganli—an Azeri nationalist leader—was elected to represent Tabriz in the Iranian parliament. The government did not allow him to take his seat in the parliament and detained him.
            In May 2006, large-scale protests erupted in Tehran and northwestern Iran after a state-run newspaper published a cartoon depicting an Azeri as a cockroach. The newspaper was shut down, and the cartoonist and editor were jailed. The Supreme Leader blamed the protests on the West. “Azeris have always bravely defended the Islamic revolution and the sovereignty of this country,” he said.
            Azeris mostly live in northwestern Iran, notably in the provinces of East Azerbaijan, West AzerbaijanArdabil, and Zanjan. About one-third of Tehran’s population is also reportedly Azeri. Smaller numbers reside in Hamadan, Qazvin and Karaj.
            Iranian Kurds total nearly 8 million, representing around 10 percent of Iran’s population. Kurds reportedly have 18 members in Iran’s 290-seat parliament, according to the Kurdistan Tribune.

      After the 1979 revolution, Iran’s Kurds launched a failed separatist movement to break away from the Islamic Republic. They shifted in recent years to non-violent tactics, although occasional clashes with Iranian security forces continue. Persecution of Kurds who protest government policies has increased since 2000, particularly under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.
      After the disputed 2009 presidential elections, Iranian security forces targeted Kurdish activists. The U.S. State Department reported that more than two dozen Kurds were sentenced to death in 2012 for political and security-related crimes. Kurdish newspapers are also banned in Iran.
            Kurdish groups in the neighboring countries of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey have fought their governments to establish various levels of autonomy. But Kurdish groups in Iran have not reached a consensus for demanding autonomy. Many Kurds prefer to work within Iran’s current political system in order to strengthen their rights as citizens. An Iranian Kurd dressed in traditional clothing is pictured above.
            Iranian Kurds also have mixed opinions about the new president. In the 2013 election, Hassan Rouhani promised to improve the status of minority groups, which made him popular among some Kurdish voters and activists. The president of United Kurds in Iran, a political group, urged Kurds to vote in the June 2013 presidential election. Kurdish Member of Parliament Salar Muradi also said, “This election is an opportunity to get Kurdish rights and, if any candidate has solution to Kurdish issues, we will support them.”
            But other Kurdish leaders remained unsure about Rouhani’s proposed reforms, and some Kurdish groups boycotted the election. Following the election, Khalid Azizi, secretary general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, a political group, said the election would not change things for Iranians. “These elections aren’t about human rights or the rights of the Iranian people,” he said. “It is a way for the Iranian regime to come out of its own crisis. People participate only to find a solution for the economic crisis the regime has got them into.”
            Iranian authorities in Tehran recently announced plans to establish a new security force in Iran’s western provinces that would recruit local Kurds. But some Kurdish groups said the new force was only part of a plan to exert greater control over the Kurdish regions. The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran questioned Tehran’s intentions since Kurdish groups have not engaged in unrest.          
            Most Iranian Kurds reside in the mountainous areas bordering Turkey and Iraq, mainly in the provinces of Kurdistan and Kermanshah. West Azerbaijan, Hamadan, Ilam, Northern Khorasan, and Lorestan also have Kurdish communities. The majority practice Sunni Islam, although some are Shiites, Sufi, or Jewish.
      Baluchis number between 1.5 million and 2 million in Iran. They are part of a wider regional population of about 10 million spread across Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Baluchis (a man in traditional clothing, left) are largely Sunni Muslims, which has contributed to tension with Iran’s Shiite government. Baluchis are noticeably underrepresented in government positions. Yet the local government in the Baluchistan province is largely made up of Shiite Persians, and the region has many Shiite missionaries.
      Jundallah (Soldiers of God)—a Baluchi militant group—was established in 2003 to fight for Sunni Baluchi rights. Jundallah has reportedly organized suicide bombings and small scale attacks. In March 2006, Jundallah ambushed a government convoy, kidnapped eight soldiers, and executed a Revolutionary Guard. It also allegedly kidnapped an Iranian nuclear scientist in September 2010. Jundallah is part of a larger separatist conflict playing out in Baluchi inhabited areas of neighboring Pakistan.
            The Iranian government has also cracked down on Baluchi journalists, and human rights activists have faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials, according to the U.S. State Department. Three political prisoners were tortured and forced to make confessions on television before being executed in 2012.
            Baluchistan is significant to the Iranian government since the region borders Pakistan and is rife with drug smuggling, although the government has struggled to control the area. The Baluchis live in Iran’s arid southeast, which is a poorly developed area with limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing, according to the United Nations. Around ten percent of Baluchis are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The rest live in towns or on farms.
      Arabs make up two percent of Iran’s total population and number more than 1.5 million. They have faced increased oppression and discrimination in recent years, according to the U.S. State Department. Since 2005, international human rights organizations have reported arrests of protesters over discrimination or calls to boycott elections. Arabs from the town of Ahwaz in the Khuzestan province (left) have faced discrimination in education employment, politics, and culture, the human rights groups claimed.
The member of parliament from Abadan, Mohammad Saeed Ansari, has repeatedly complained about high unemployment in the province of Khuzestan, despite the region’s significant oil reserves and its agricultural, ship-building, manufacturing, and petrochemical industries. Only half of those employed by these companies are local Arabs, he said, and less than five percent of the workers in Abadan are actually from the province. Ansari claims that racism towards Arabs has also denied them opportunities to work in local government.
             In August 2013, an elderly Arab from Ahwaz publicly confronted President Rouhani with accusations that the government systematically ignored Arab demands for jobs, education, clean water, and human rights. Rouhani remained silent and the man was interrupted by a presidential aid.
             Former Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani—the only Arab to have served in any government cabinet—criticized the regime for its poor treatment of Arabs. He accused it especially for failing to develop the Ahwaz area, which was badly hit during Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. Shamkhani called on the government to fight discrimination and poverty, which he warned was spurring disloyalty among Arabs.
            Arabs reside mainly along the border with Iraq in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province. Most are Shiite Muslims. A minority are Sunni, and smaller numbers are Christian and Arabic-speaking Jews. Iranian Arabs fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq war.
      The Lors are an ethnic group numbering around 4.8 million. They are a mix of Persian and Arab descent. Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament and a presidential candidate in 2009, is a Lor. He was born in Aligoudarz in western Lorestan. Mohsen Rezai (left), former head of the Revolutionary Guards and a presidential candidate in 2013, is a Lor from Khuzestan.
      Lors have been less vocal than other ethnic minorities about their plight. But in August 2013, a Lor member of parliament, Mohammad Bozorgvari, reportedly said that unless President Hassan Rouhani’s ministerial nominees paid special attention to his region, he would beat them up with sticks. A representative of Lorestan’s writers union, Ali Sarmian, called Bozorgvari’s remark “irresponsible.” More than a dozen Lors reportedly protested the comment outside parliament.
            The majority of Lors are Shiite Muslims. They mainly reside in the mountainous along the western border with Iraq. Most Lors live in the provinces of Lorestan, Bakhtiari, Kohgiluyeh, and Boyer-Ahmed. Smaller numbers live in Khuzestan, Fars, Ilam, Hamadan, and Bushehr. They speak Lori, an oral language that is similar to Persian.
Bijan DaBell is a former Iran specialist at Freedom House.


Photo credits:
Mir Hossein Mousavi and Medhi Karroubi via Facebook
Yahya Rahim Safavi via Sajed.ir and Wikimedia Commons
Baluchi man via Sistan and Baluchistan province web page
Mohsen Rezaei by By Sonia Sevilla (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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