June 30, 2018

Iranian Protests Turn Deadly Again

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk(*) for the reader's awareness.]

An Iranian Arab city that once defended the regime against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s has now turned against the regime, claim regime opponents.

Khorramshahr, an ethnically Arab city in southwestern Khuzestan Province, is experiencing the deadliest protests Iran has seen since the 2017 December demonstrations.

Hundreds gathered in front of Khorramshahr’s main mosque on June 29 to protest the government’s mismanagement of water resources. Local citizens posted and circulated videos of muddy drinking water on social media. Many protesters carried empty water jugs during demonstrations.

Protesters and local security forces began to engage in street fighting during evening protests. Demonstrators set fire to the Iran-Iraq Sacred Defense War Museum, which senior regime and IRGC officials frequent. Protesters also reportedly blocked a major bridge near the museum and acquired AK-47s.

Security forces dispersed demonstrators with tear gas, pellets, and possibly live rounds. Al Arabiya reported that regime forces killed at least four people, although local sources and videos shared on social media have only confirmed one death.

Protests will likely continue in Khorramshahr. Protesters confronting their county mayor on June 29 said, their “problem isn’t just water, but also unemployment and discrimination!” The regime will not be able to address those complaints any time soon.

These protests highlight the grievances of Iranian Arabs in southwestern Iran:

  • Ahvazi Arabs took to the streets in late March 2018 after state-run media failed to include Iranian Arabs during a children’s TV show portraying Iran’s various ethnic minorities;
  • Khuzestan’s unemployment rate has *increased dramatically since 2016 despite the province’s vast oil and gas reserves; and
  • Khuzestan continues to experience some of Iran’s most intense droughts and dust storms that often *close the city’s schools for days at a time.

The regime’s continued mismanagement of resources, discrimination against ethnic minorities, and inability to institute the necessary financial reforms will fuel continued protests. It is too soon to tell if the regime’s willingness to kill protesters will inflame or dampen the demonstrations.  The fact that these protesters armed themselves with assault rifles bodes ill for the regime.