Arabistan or Khuzistan or Ahwaz

flag of Ahwaz Liberation Movement


Iran at present has multiple problems, including the Wuhan virus running rampant through a number of Iranian regions, a failing economy, infighting among their regime elites but currently the most serious problem is the sectarian issue. As I wrote in a previous blog Iran encompasses a number of religious and ethnic minorities. Azeris, Lurs, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Turkomen and a number of powerful tribes such as the Bakhtiari  inhabit the space known as Iran. In fact the Persians, the core people of Iran, constitute only about 50% of the population. The Persians are an ancient and very proud people. Sensitive and highly imaginative, they are also frequently depicted as consummately devious and manipulative. The Persian  intricate societal mores are so nuanced as to be  often imperceptible invisible  to the Western mindset.This is why any negotiating with the Iranians on the nuclear issue doomed to failure.

Iranian Way of War

also see

Given that the Iranian regime is confronted with looming sectarian revolt I am looking at just one of the trouble spots today– Khuzistan, or Arabistan as it was known to the British in their colonial days.

Iran is a land of subdued, mostly compliant ,but non Persian peoples. Persians are only about 50% of the total population

The People of Khuzestan 

Residing mainly in the south-west of Iran, the Ahwazi Arabs are one of the Middle East’s most disadvantaged and persecuted ethnic groups. The overwhelming majority of the Ahwazi Arabs live in Iran’s Khuzestan province (accounting for some 67% of the province’s population), which occupies a geo-strategically crucial position. Not only is it the gateway between the Arab world and Asia, but it also accounts for up to 90% of Iran’s oil resources. This ‘accident of natural geography’, far from being to the benefit of the local population, though, has been the source of much hardship. Whilst Khuzestan’s oil forms the backbone of the Iranian economy, its people have been viewed, at best, as an inconvenience, or, at worst, a threat, by the Iranian government. In order to eradicate their threat to the Iranian establishment, Ahwazi Arabs are subjected to a mixture of Persianisation, forced migration, violent political repression and economic exclusion.

Once part of the biblical Garden of Eden It has largely become a waste land, partly by Mother Nature but more importantly by poor water management

The people are mostly Arab despite years of forced Persianization,  emigration, and Persians being hired instead of locals. Despite considerable intermarriage in the coastal urban areas, the Arabs still form a distinct sectarian community. They are primarily Shi’a Muslim but a considerable number are Sunni Arab. This has consequences  in the resistance movement against the Tehran regime. Frequently the people of the region bewilder foreign intelligence predictions. In World War I the British assumed that the Shi’a inhabitants would resist Sunni Turkish military movements in the region  but they actually assisted them. Prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Iraqis assumed the Arab residents of  Khuzestan   would assist the invading Iraqi forces. They did not so so, remaining rather passive throughout the 19 month Iraqi  occupation of  the Iranian city of Khorramshahr and surrounding region.

Water riot in Khuzistan

The lesson here is that the exact sentiments of the people is very difficult predict and this is epitomized by a report of the Jamestown Foundation on Terrorism. “There are various opposition groups which claim to represent the Arab population of Khuzestan. All of them are banned in Iran but operate in exile while claiming to have an active presence in the province. However the most prominent group that claims to be militarily active is the Ba’athist Arab Struggle Movement to Liberate Ahwaz (ASMLA) and its armed wing, the Martyr Mohye al-Din al-Nasir Brigade (MMDNB). The latter’s strategy is to target oil production facilities in the province as a means of weakening the Iranian economy, which depends heavily on the oil of Khuzestan Province. ”

The ethnic issue has been largely exacerbated recently by a serious  water shortage. This has been building up over a number of years. In his book, Mission for my Country, The late Shah of Iran waxes optimistically on all the great hydroelectric  dams and water distribution projects, which in effect drew water from Khuzestan sources  and transferred  it to the Persian urban centers. It is ironic that the source of so much Iranian water is so much in need of water itself. These great hydro-electric plants and dams have proved to be a basic problem and the urban centers of the Persian regime are unlikely to share the dwindling water sources.


As the Shah wrote, “The province of Khuzistan in southwest Iran is about the size of North Caroline. Many centuries ago the province produced lush harvests of sugar cane, wheat and other crops.” This he wrote, was erased by the “invasion.”  he is referring to the Arab invasion of  Persia in 637 AD. In Persian history the Arabs are the arch villains, and their descendants in the Khuzistan province are being treated as such. With the advent of the Islamic regime, there was an attempt to bridge the gap between Arab and Persian with Islamist doctrine, but the Iran-Iraq war further enflamed the animosity between Arab and Persian, especially the Bathi Sunni Arabs.

Iranians arresting US sailors who by misadventure sailed into Iranian waters. Underwent subtle humiliation. Obama response. Crickets!

Once the bread basket of the Persian empire it is now depopulated, With decreasing arable land and an undereducated, underfed people to farm it, there is a steady emigration out oof the province.,  The burning ambition of the Middle Eastern states to “catch up”  with the  West, a driving objective of the Pahlavi regime brought up many benefits to Iran but in the Persian mind set, more feelings of hatred for the outsider. As Elizabeth Monroe, a foremost scholar of Iranian studies put it, “Persians have a great sense of their past. They never forget that that their forbears led the world in many branches of civilization , and they dislike seeing evidence of the long start that the modern Western world over the Orient  in material and technical matters.” The below was lifted from the Report of Ahwaz Human Rights organization dated July 2007

“The 1979 Ahwazi Arab uprising led to the biggest massacre in modern Iranian history, with 817 unarmed Ahwazi Arabs slaughtered in the streets of Mohammerah (renamed Khorramshahr) by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards. Most died during one single day of carnage, which has become known as Black Wednesday. During the massacre, General Madani imposed a brutal clamp-down on Arabs in Mohammerah in May 1979 which Ahwazi Arabs regard as a crime against humanity. At the time, Arabs were demonstrating for cultural rights and were supported by Ayatollah Mohammed Taher al-Khaqani, an Ahwazi Shi’ite mullah. Following the massacre, al-Khaqani was put under house arrest in Qom, where he died. His son Sheikh Mohammed Kazem al- Khaqani continues to campaign for secularism, religious tolerance and human rights.”


There have been sporadic resistance/terror attacks by Khuzistan militants , the worst being an attack of an Iranian military procession on 22 September 2018 in Ahwaz . 25 IRGC military and civilians were killed. There have been a continuing series off sabotage on oil pipelines and attacks on Iranian officials.

The bottom. line is that the Iranians  regime is involved in a campaign to destroy the Arab culture of Khuzistan through ethnocide, linguicide and genocide. The genocide being conducted by hunger and  isolation off the Arab people. The Iranians are much smatter than the Saddam method of dealing with rebels.


So the bottom line. Do these revolts and disturbances deter the Iranian irredentism  and aggression throughout the Middle East  and other parts of the World, particularly  South America? Not at all! In fact in recent weeks the pace of provocative acts by the Iranian regime has greatly increased directly and especially by their surrogates in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Gaza and especially in Iraq. In Iraq as the Shi’a militia battles certain elements of the ISIS. The Iranians appear to be cooperating with the al Qaeda terror group. The Iranians have a chameleon like adaptive ability to play on both sides of the war of the wars.

The Iranian commander of the IRGC is talking fire and brimstone

Hossein Salami commander of the IRGC ( revolutionary Guards) I must admit the the absence of medals as festooned on the chests of US generals appeals to me.

recent article on note on the Iranian situation.

The above has many articles on Iran. Some like Luttwak’s and Mansoor’s  and maybe Ralph peter’s very good ……others naive at best.

Final note. Iran, like a wounded animal is now more dangerous that ever.






About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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1 Response to Arabistan or Khuzistan or Ahwaz

  1. shfranke says:

    Very insightful post, Tex.

    May I observe that one major – albeit defensively self-effacing and low-profile – transnational ethnic population encapsulated within Iran and surrounding countries is the “Jews of Kurdistan” (here using their historical self-label.

    Per comments contributed by some forthcoming contacts in the several Iranian Kurdish Jewish communities resettled in the Los Angeles area and other populations (larger) established further north in California, the Kurdish Jews had and played very-interesting and relevant roles as citizens — as much as had been variously possible — within their respective encapsulating states, especially those in Iraq and Iran.

    Best regards,


    San Pedro (Los Angeles Waterfront Area)

    “FAOs Forward!”

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