The chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces has called on the country’s Sunni and Shiite communities to join hands to maintain security at home and continue to battle against America and Israel abroad. “Iran’s Islamic revolution has constantly been attacked by the Arrogance [U.S.] and the child-killer regime of Israel,” Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri told a gathering of top Iranian security officials and influential leaders of southwestern province of Sistan and Baluchestan. He said the Islamic Republic makes no distinction between Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni Hamas militant organizations because they both fight Israel. Bagheri further warned that the United States and its allies attempt to sow discord between Sunnis and Shiites to defame Islam. “What helped the creation of Daesh [Islamic State] was negligence regarding unity between the Sunnis and Shiites. The Global Arrogance incited the Sunni community against the Shiites. But in reality, Sunnis and Shiites both were victimized in Mosul, Tikrit and other places. And it became evident to everyone that this is a mercenary group of the Arrogance and Britain and are operating under the guise of Islam,” he claimed. Bagheri also boasted about Iran’s growing military power in the region. At one point, he said, the Islamic Republic fought its enemies on its soil. “Now, it’s battling the Global Arrogance and Zionism along the coasts of the Mediterranean,” he added. The top Iranian general thanked the security officials and residents of the restive southwestern region for working together to improve security.
Comment: Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan is one of the country’s most impoverished province. It has also been a hotbed for low-intensity Sunni insurgency and separatism for decades. It shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan and is a key drug trafficking route in the region. Hundreds of Iranian security forces have been killed in the fight against insurgents and drug smugglers in the province over the past decade.
But Iran’s security and military establishment has recently made the region a top security priority because of the emergence of the Islamic State in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, and due to the Islamic State’s latest success to recruit Iranian citizens for its cause, as in this year’s twin attacks in the capital city of Tehran. Both the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) Ground Forces and the Basij units have conducted large-scale military exercises in the southeastern region in the past one year.
While Iranian leaders attribute security problems in the province to plots by outsiders to destabilize Iran, most of the region’s problems stem from the Iranian government’s policy of neglecting provinces populated by ethnic and religious minorities. Sunni Baluchs, who constitute a majority of the population in the province, have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings.