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Op Ed - Iranian Affairs

Humanitarian Catastrophe in Ahwaz

IRGC prevents arrival of international aid to flood-affected areas 

The flood crisis in Ahwaz region, inhabited by Arabs located in southwestern Iran, entered its third week in the wake of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Ahwazi from their areas of residence, which foreshadows a humanitarian disaster as the situation continues as it is now.

The floods began three weeks ago after record rainfalls began saturating parts of the region, which the region has not seen such rains for almost 50 years, and due to rising quantities of water stored behind dams, the Iranian authorities opened dams without warning, resulting in high water levels in Ahwaz where floods so far have flooded hundreds of villages and several cities across Ahwaz, causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to water and agriculture infrastructures in the north and west of Ahwaz.

Iranian officials have justified this action – the opening of dams – that it came to avoid the danger of the collapse of the dams and the occurrence of a terrible humanitarian and environmental disaster. However, on the contrary, Ahwazi people believed that the justification of Iranian officials is unconvincing, and that the expansion of the floods were the result of an advance plan to destroy the villages of Ahwazi and displacement of Arab residents and thus change the demographic of the region. The Ahwazi claims about Iranian plan are based on earlier warnings and appeals, where they called on the Iranian authorities to open dams in the drought period over the past years, the last of which was last summer, but the Iranians ignored all requests.

Massive destruction and substantial losses

In a press conference on 14 April 2019, Kiomarth Hajizadeh, Crisis Management Manager in Ahwaz, revealed that the volume of material losses reached 83 trillion riyals ($1.967billion dollars). The losses included various sectors such as agriculture, housing, infrastructure, roads, schools, power plants, industrial and commercial facilities. In the same context, the director of the Department of Agriculture in Ahwaz Keykhosro Chenglwayi, said that the losses of the agricultural sector alone exceeded 30 trillion riyals (737 million dollars) until 14 April. He said 296,000 hectares of agricultural land (wheat, barley, beet and summer crops) have damaged by floods. Some 30,000 hectares of orchards and 1,200 hectares of fish ponds have been completely destroyed by floods. Some 2,500 species of livestock have died from the flood disaster, he said.

As for the numbers of displaced people, there are no official statistics to date, but the Iranian authorities have said that the floods caused the displacement of about 400,000 Ahwazi residents of the Karkheh river, one of the three rivers in Ahwaz whose waters were flooded.

Deliberate neglect by the Iranian government

Despite the passage of three weeks of the flood crisis, the way in which the Iranian authorities and their institutions in Al-Ahwaz dealt with this disaster is insufficient, and showed the neglect of the Iranian regime’s departments and institutions to meet the main needs of the victims, as well as their deliberate inaction in the face of floods and indifference to the consequences of humanity and the environment damaged by this disaster.

Ahwazi believe that the way of managing the flood crisis carried out by the Iranian regime and its institutions revealed the real intentions of the main figures of the regime to achieve their political plan on the ground in Ahwaz, which is the displacement of Ahwazi and forced migration from their areas under the cover of natural disasters.

Ahwazi’s belief over the Iranian agenda against the Arabs strengthened since the early days of floods, when the Revolutionary Guard prevented the arrival of humanitarian convoys collected by the Ahwazi from all towns and villages to provide aids to the affected areas, and the IRGC began to arrest a number of aid workers in Ahwaz. As the humanitarian situation worsened and the area of the floods increased, the Revolutionary Guards and the regime’s institutions found it is possible to allow the humanitarian aid of the Ahwazi to reach the affected areas. There were reports of Iranians placing conditions on donour countries and institutions providing humanitarian aid through the air bridge to Tehran city, not Ahwaz, which led to the reluctance of many of them to provide assistance.

The disaster in Ahwaz, is it a military conflict or a humanitarian disaster?!

In fact, what has been striking since the start of the flood crisis in Ahwaz is the absence of ministers, service and civilian officials from the scene, but the Revolutionary Guards commanders were on the throne of the flood scene. With the exception of the interior and defence minister and commander of the Iranian military operations, all those who have visited the region during the past two weeks are leaders and officials of the Revolutionary Guards.

General Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guard, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces followed by Brigadier Gen. Hussein Salami, Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Qassim Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Force. Brigadier General Ghulam-Hussein Ghebparvar, Mohammad Pakpur, commander of ground forces in the Revolutionary Guard and Brigadier General Ahmad Khadem of Sayyid al-Shuhada, commander of Karbala operations in the Revolutionary Guards, were the last visitors to Ahwaz.

Hence, Ahwazi wonder about the reasons for the arrival of these military figures to Ahwaz instead of ministers and officials in civil service and civil affairs as if there is a military conflict occurring on the ground in Ahwaz and not a humanitarian and environmental disaster. Ahwazi experts and activists pointed out that the reason of the IRGC commanders to visit Ahwaz, comes within the framework of the increasing role of the IRGC in the administration of the country, especially in the non-Persian regions, particularly the region of Ahwaz because of its geostrategic location and economic and vital importance for the regime in Iran. Another concern for regime officials and Revolutionary Guard commanders is the security situation in Ahwaz, which often tops Iran’s political and security landscape.

The regime and the Revolutionary Guard are concerned about the security situation in Ahwaz, especially since there has been a popular incubator capable of absorbing and providing protection to the revolutionaries and opponents of the Iranian presence in Ahwaz as a result of the increasing national awareness of the Ahwazi after the uprising in Ahwaz in 2005.

This can be seen in the process of targeting a military parade of the Iranian armed forces on September 22, 2018, which resulted in the deaths of 25 officers of the Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian army. The IRGC and the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry launched random arrests after the operation that resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 people, including women, in all the cities of Ahwaz.

Growing resentment and popular anger

Hundreds of Ahwazi demonstrated on Friday (April 12th) in different parts of the city of Ahwaz, the capital besieged by floods from three sides, north, west, and east. Protesters shouted slogans calling for freedom, dignity and independence for Ahwaz in the western neighborhoods of the city: Hay al-Thawra, Al-Ain, Mandali, Mallashia, Sayahi, Zuhairiya, and Jihad.

As the flood disaster widens, the anger and resentment of Ahwaz escalates, putting Ahwaz on a hot plate, where the security situation is likely to witness sudden developments, certainly not in the interests of the Iranian regime.

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