The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.
Flood Gates May Open to More Protests
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Forecast: The Iranian regime’s mismanagement of resources and inability to provide key services to its population in light of recent natural disasters may catalyze the reemergence of anti-regime protests, especially in southwestern Iran. Extreme rainstorms and flooding have devastated 28 out of Iran’s 31 provinces in recent weeks, severely damaging houses and infrastructure. Iranians have criticized the regime for its inefficient and ineffective response to the floods and its mishandling of the provision of aid to the victims. Environmental issues and government resource mismanagement have previously fueled anti-regime protests.
Heavy rains and flooding have significantly damaged urban centers and infrastructure throughout much of Iran in recent weeks. The flooding began on March 16 and is still affecting large swaths of Iran. The disaster killed at least 70 individuals and left thousands homeless and internally displaced. The floods also damaged an estimated one-third of Iran’s road network. The disaster most significantly affected Khuzestan and Lorestan provinces in southwestern Iran, where floodwaters have partially submerged towns. Golestan Province in northern Iran was also severely damaged. Rain and flooding are expected to continue. Khuzestan Province Governor Gholam Reza Shariati *ordered for the evacuation of more villages near Ahvaz on April 10.
Flood victims have criticized the regime over its ineffective response to the disaster. Many expressed their discontent with the regime’s disaster management and failure to prepare over social media. Others criticized President Hassan Rouhani’s apparent public absence when the flooding began. Senior officials, including Rouhani, subsequently visited flood-stricken areas only to be met with angry flood victims expressing their grievances over the regime’s disaster management. Disaffected citizens confronted Rouhani in Golestan Province and separately confronted Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour and Expediency Discernment Council (EDC) Secretary Mohsen Rezaei in Lorestan Province. The severe flooding and public anger also prompted the Rouhani administration and the IRGC to attack and blame one another for the regime’s inefficient response.
The regime’s environmental mismanagement and unsatisfactory disaster relief efforts may spark anti-regime protests, particularly in southwestern Iran. Anti-regime sentiments and violence have flared up in southwestern Iran since the flooding began, setting the stage for further possible escalations between locals and regime security services. Two reported clashes occurred during confrontations between locals and IRGC personnel in Khuzestan Province in the past week. A gunmen reportedly shot at the IRGC Ground Forces Karbala Operational Base Commander about 30 miles south of Ahvaz on April 3. IRGC forces also reportedly shot and killed a man during a confrontation in another part of Khuzestan Province on April 4.
Southwestern Iran has historically experienced some of the country’s most deadly anti-regime protests and could see more as grievances over regime neglect mount. Demonstrations erupted in 2018 over the regime’s resource mismanagement and neglect in addressing local environmental issues. Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan Province is also home to Iranian Arabs, one of Iran’s largest and most economically-disenfranchised ethnic minorities. Existent ecological and ethnic issues in Khuzestan compounded with a sustained low-level anti-regime insurgency there make Khuzestan a tinderbox for anti-regime protests. The recent floods, the regime’s inability to deal with the financial damages, and rising public anger at the government could catalyze the reemergence of anti-regime riots, particularly in southwestern Iran.