Iran : the « liberation » of Arabistan

by Gilles Munier  (AFI-Flash n°59)


As soon as the US consultant firm Hicks and Associates had submitted his confidential survey to the Marines Corps (1), the Western press placated on its front pages attacks or fighting in Arabistan, Azerbaijan; Kurdistan and Baluchistan. At the same time, Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews in Iran are said to be under threat. The fate reserved to the Bahaïs is once again denounced.


Because the Persians make up only 50% of the global population of Iran, the United States are eager to back up any autonomist, independent or religious movement which can destabilize Iran.  A military aggression to overthrow the Islamist regime is too risky or fairly impossible. The US and Israeli neo conservators bank on economic sanctions, the bombings of nuclear research centres and on a financial freeze ….. to “liberate” Arabistan which is rich of 80% of all gas and oil resources of Iran.


Arabistan – or the Al Ahwaz region - is also known by the name of “Khuzistan” – the Land of Towers - since 1925 when it has been “persianized”  by Reza Chah Palavi. It is situated at the far south-west of Iran, between the Persian Gulf, the Shatt al Arab, the mountains of Iranian Kurdistan and the Bakhtiar mountains of the Zagros range. It population is mainly composed of Shia Arabs descendents of tribes from the Arabic Peninsula settled there as early as the Akkad  era or after Persia fell to the Moslems.


Souk Al Ahwaz


In Ancient Times, Arabistan is part of Elam and is more or less equivalent to former Suziane. The ruins of Suze are located at thirty kilometres south of Dezful. As a powerful kingdom, Elam conquered Mesopotamia, i.e. Babylon and the Mari Kingdom in Syria. Hammurabi dislodged it from there and Elam collapsed around 613 BC when Assurbanipal seized Suze to annex it to the Assyrian Empire. The Chaldeans, the Seleucids and the Parthes followed up before it was swallowed up by the Persian Achemenid Empire (550-331 BC), then the Persian Sassanid Empire (226-652 AC).


In Iraq, after the Persians were defeated by the Moslem armies of Saad Ben Abi Waqass, at the renowned battle of Qadissiyah, Abou Mussa Al Ashari entered Hormuzd Ardashir, a port on the Karun river and named it Suk Al Ahwaz.  The Arab inhabitants kinsmen of the Basrah tribes converted to Islam.


Arabistan belonged to the Ummeyad and Abbassid Empires and remained more or less independent from the Safavid Shahs in particular at the time of the Arab Emirate of Musha’sha, the capital of which was Huwayisa in the northern part of the region.


The Muhammara Emirate


From the 17th century onward, Arab tribes from the Nedj desert in Saudi Arabia, specially the Banu Ka’b tribe, flowed into Arabistan, south-east of the Karun River. Sheikh Salman, head of the Banu Ka’b gradually gained ground over his neighbours in Basrah to the point of being a danger. The fleet he had was so powerful that the Ottoman Pasha in Baghdad called the West India Company to help. Not only were they unable to crash it but Sheikh Salman captured two ships and refused to return them (2).


In 1812, Sheikh Yussuf Ben Mardaw, head of one of the clan of the Banu Ka’b tribe, built  Muhammara harbour (the Red) at the mouth of the Karun River, 120 km of Suk Al Ahwaz. The wealth of the city stirred up the greed of the Persians, then the Ottomans who took it for a while. The Government of India which was closely following the matter in the Gulf decided to integrate Arabistan into its zone of influence.


When the Ottomans and the Persians clashed over the possession of  Muhammara, the British and Tsarist Russia acted as mediators. In 1847, the second Treaty of Erzoum  arbitrarily gave the harbour and the island of Al Kodr, nowadays Abadan, to Persia. Sheikh Hajj Jaber, the then ruler, never recognized the treaty and refused to bow to the Persian Shah.


After his death in 1881, Great Britain exerted pressure on his son, Sheikh Maz’al, to authorize ships from a British company to sail on the Karun river. In 1890, a British consulate opened its door in Muhammara despite Sheikh Maz’al’s hatred for the British. It is said that the Government of India is no stranger to his assassination by his younger brother, Sheikh Ka’zal.


Sheikh Ka’zal, pretender to Iraq throne


Sheikh Ka’zal is considered as a faithful friend of the British and a good executer of their policy (3). He did use their support to turn his Emirate into a rather independent principality. His conflicts with Reza Shah and his subsequent betrayal by the British have made him a hero of Arabism.


But when oil was discovered in Arabistan, in 1908, at Maidan-i- Naftan – the Oil Plain- in the vicinity of a Zoroaster temple, things changed and Persia became “one of the pieces of the exchequer on which world domination is based” (4).


On May 28, 1901, Sheikh Muzzafar Al Din of the Qajar dynasty granted to the Anglo-Australian tycoon Knox d’Arcy whose dreams was to become a new Rockfeller rights for prospecting for oil over the next sixty years, the exclusive right to build a pipeline and a free lease on lands needed for his oil research. In 1902, Britain recognized the independence of the Muhammara Emirate and entered into negotiations with Sheikh Ka’zal on the construction of the Abadan refinery and the pipeline leading to the oilfields of Masjid-i-Suleiman. On May 6, 1909, Sir Arnold Wilson agreed to pay to the Sheikh a yearly rent for the crossing of the pipeline and the installation of the refinery. He pledged diplomatic backing in case Persia would threaten the emirate and military assistance in the event of a Persian aggression (5). In 1925, Sheikh Ka’zal was so confident in the level of his relationship with Britain that he stood as a pretender to the throne of Iraq.


However, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Bolshevik Revolution broke out. Things have changed. Britain let Reza Khan, Defence minister and Head of the Persian army reconquer Arabistan. Sheikh Ka’zal fled to Basrah where he fell into a trap with the complicity of the British representative in Muhammara. General Zahedi, the Persian military governor reported to Ka’zal that he had been ordered to withdraw from the region. This was confirmed by the British representative. On April 20, 1925, Sheikh Ka’zal invited Zahedi on his yatch anchored in the Shatt al Arab for a farewell ceremony.  The Persians made Ka’zal prisoner and transferred him to Teheran where he died in 1936 under house arrest.

In April 1928, Reza Khan declared himself Shah of Iran and “persianized” all the names of towns, rivers and mountains. Arabistan thus became Khuzistan, Muhammar,Khoramchar, Howaiysa is Dacht Michan. Hawaz is from now on pronounced Havaz in the Persian way…Arabic was banned and Persians were settled in many towns and on confiscated lands.


Resistance in Arabistan


Riots broke out as early as 1925, then in 1928 and 1940. Bloodbath flowed. In August 1941, Reza close to the Nazis was replaced by his son Muhammad. New revolts occurred in 1943 and 1945 and were quelled in blood. A memorandum was addressed to the Arab League with no avail because Arab countries were then under the thumb of either the French or British colonialists.


In 1946, the Al Saada party was founded in Muhammar and demanded the independence of Khuzistan. The Iranian army took advantage of its conflicts with the Communist Party, Toudeh, to commit massacres. When the Iraqi Party for Independence submitted to the League a report on the crimes of the Iranian army, the Secretary General replied that he had no time for that.


In June 1947, Iran signed a treaty with the United States for the delivery of arms and war surpluses. The General Schwarzkopf whose son will command the 1991 Desert Storm in Iraq was entrusted with  the training of the Iranian gendarmerie and helped to pacify Azerbaijan. 


Muhammad Mossadegh was made Prime Minister on April 29; 1951. He named as minister for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary General of the Al Saada party, Hussein Fatimi, and nationalized the Anglo – Iranian Oil Company. He put an end to the diplomatic relations with Great Britain but he was toppled by the CIA; General Zahedi took over. Mossadegh and Fatimi were sentenced to death by a military tribunal .Mossadegh condemnation was reduced but Fatimi was executed.


In Arabistan, new independent or autonomist parties came into being: the Arabistan Liberation Front (1956) proclaimed that “the liberation of the region will only be obtained through an all out revolution,”, “the armed struggle is the only way to bring down Iranian rule in Arabistan”; the National Front for the Liberation of Arabistan and the Arab Gulf (1960) demanded its integration into Iraq. In 1967, the Arabistan Liberation Front became the Al Ahwaz Liberation Front (7).


In 1979, Abdallah Salamah, Secretary General of the Democratic and Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRMLA) of nassero-baathist allegiance declared that the two and a half million Arab inhabitants considered the Persians as colonists. He said that he was prepared to fight against any Shah who would not grant independence to the Iranian Arabs over a region extending from the Iraqi border to the Ormuz Straits (8).


The Iran Iraq War


Despite their participation in the fall of the Shah in        1979, the plight of the Arabs did not improve under Khomeini’s rule. The outbreak of the war between Iran and Iraq was for many the opportunity to free themselves from the “Persian yoke” because one of the objectives of the Iraqi troops invading Iran in september1980 included the liberation of Arabistan. In Baghdad, Paul Balta, journalist, gave ground to the rumours of the setting up of an Arab Republic of Arabistan. He also revealed that the United States had made it known to the Iraqis that they opposed the dismemberment of Iran (9).


Tarek Aziz told me that Iraq had no intention of annexing the region (10) because, like President Saddam Hussein at the 11th  Arab Summit in Amman  in November 1980, he thought that, “ the people of Arabistan as well as all the other peoples of Iran must decide alone “. He will be more specific in Al Anba by saying “If circumstances allow the minorities in Iran to self-rule, we shall agree to it” (11). In Watan al Arabi, he will add that the Arabs of Arabistan “are not fully prepared” but Iraq is their main support” (12).


The withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Iran and the ceasefire will put a stop to the nationalist dreams of Al Ahwaz who had hoped to be liberated with the fall of the Islamist regime. Some took refuge in Basrah where they are under great danger after the invasion of Iraq by the Americans.


The dismemberment of Iran


Before quitting his job as “Prime Minister” Ibrahim al Jaafari had in fact ordered the expulsion of 2 500 Arab political refugees from al Ahwaz though they were registered with the High Commission for Refugees(HCR). They run the risk of being jailed or killed (13). Some have taken shelter in the Sunni-populated areas in order to escape the pro-Iranian militias (13). Ra’ad De’ayer al Bestan Banitorfi, one of their representatives, was nevertheless kidnapped on April 9 by the death squads of the Ministry of Interior and his mutilated body was found four days later.


The United States and Great Britain are applying the policy they forbade Saddam Hussein to follow in 1980. Karin Addian, representative of the Democratic Party of Al Ahwaz in Washington, was summoned in August 2005 by Hicks and Associates on behalf of “the Marines Intelligence unit…They wanted to know everything on the Arabs of Iran, how many we were, why we were fighting, what we were in need of ….” He said to his interviewers that the Arabs numbered 6 millions only but “they had the oil” (14)


Since March 2006, Al Ahwaz TV, an underground media provided with a channel on an Australian satellite calls on the Arabs of Arabistan to rise up (15). But they pre-empted the call….For over a year, Arabistan has been the scene of riots quickly repressed: In April 2005, five people were killed. In June 2005, four bombs exploded in Ahwaz and the attack was claimed by the Brigades of the Ahwazi Revolutionary Martyr. In October 2005, two more bombs killed six people and injured one hundred. According to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence “part of the equipment used in the explosions came from Iraq, in particular from Basrah, region which is controlled by the British occupiers”. In January 2006, a bomb blast outside the Saman Bank and an official building killed eight people and injured 48. The Lebanese TV al Manaar said that the President Ahmadinejad was the target.


Will the Americans “liberate” Arabistan to get hold of its oil as they did with Iraqi oil ? Wayne Madsen, journalist and former NSA agent under Reagan ascertains that a Democratic Republic of Ahwaz would be “diplomatically recognized” by the “United States and some of his closest allies” (16). Who can trust them? The betrayal of Sheikh Kaz’al is still very much alive. It would suffice that the United States strike a deal with Ahmedinejad or a new president or Shah to replace him either democratically or not – or with a puppet- for the CIA to drop its protégés. Henry Kissinger’s reply to those who had blamed him for abandoning Mustapha Bargain in 1975 is still true: “Clandestine actions cannot be confused with a missionary undertaking” (17).



(1) US Marines probe tensions among Iran’s ethnics minorities, par Guy Dimore, The Financial Times, 23 févier 2006 –


(2) (3) Al-Ahwaz, une terre arabe usurpée, par Ibrahim Khalaf Al-Ubaide, Paris, 1981

(4) Déclaration de Lord Curzon, Vice-roi des Indes citée par Daniel Yergin - Les hommes du pétrole, Stock, 1991

(5) L’Emirat de Mohammara, par M.A Al-Najjar, sans date ni éditeur

(6) Russia and the west in Iran, par George Lenczowski, Cornell University Press, 1949

(7) Le conflit Iran-Irak, sous la direction de Paul Balta – Notes et études documentaires n°4889, 1989

(8) Interview with the author, December 1980

(9) « L’Arabistan, vous connaissez ? » -  Interview d’Abdallah Salameh, par Gilles Munier - La Pensée nationale, janvier/février 1979

(10) La presse de Bagdad donne consistance aux rumeurs sur la proclamation d’une République d’Arabistan, par Paul Balta – Le Monde, 25 octobre 1980.

(11) Al-Anba, 19 janvier 1981

(12) Watan Al-Arabi, 22 janvier 1981 

(13) Selon le site El-Fekr-el-islami, cité par l’Association d’amitié brito-ahwazi, 22 avril 2006 - http://www.ahwaz.org.uk/2006/04/al-jafari-expells-ahwazi-arabs-from.html

(14) Iran : ce qui Washington prépare, par Vincent Jaubert, Le Nouvel Observateur - 20/4/06

(15) http://www.ahwazmedia.tv

(16) Wayne Madsen Report – 10 août 2005 - http://waynemadsenreport.com/2005_08010824.php

(17) William Blum, The CIA. The Forgotten History, Zed, Londres, 1986