October 18, 2009

Bomb kills Iranian military commanders

POLITICS/RELIGION - In south east Iran today a sectarian suicide bomber has killed 5 senior commanders in Iran's Revolutionary Guard and killing 26 others, including local tribal leaders from the Pishin district. Another 2 dozen people were injured by the blast. The South Eastern area of Iran is in the middle of a Sunni uprising.

Among the dead are Iran's General Noor Ali Shooshtari, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

The attacker had explosives wrapped around his waist. A Sunni militant group called Jundallah (Soldiers of God) claimed responsibility. Jundallah is accusing Iran's Shiite-dominated government of religious persecution and has carried out several attacks against the Revolutionary Guard and Shiite targets in the south east of Iran.

Its disputed whether Jundallah has any ties to Al Qaeda, which is not a Sunni group. The Iranian government has accused Jundallah of being in cohoots with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but the two groups have opposed religious beliefs and would actually be more interested in fighting each other than working together. The Taliban are Islamic fundamentalists which believe in strict narrow-minded interpretations of the Quran, whereas Sunni Muslims profess to believe in "the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad."

Shiite or Shia Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad's descendants are his rightful successors and that religious/political leaders should be chosen from his direct descendants.

The competing Muslim ideologies often come into conflict with each other, and while they do dislike other religions, there is a stronger tendency for them to hate each other more because of the blood-feuds and rivalry which has existed for centuries.


1. The recent attack by the Sunni militant group Jundallah highlights the fact that these groups are actually relatively common in Iran. Its just one of many small militant groups, but the danger is whether they can gain popularity and new recruits by gaining media attention.

2. The attack also points to criminal gangs and drug smuggling in the poorly policed border regions near Pakistan.

3. The attack is unrelated to the unrest and protests that followed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fraudulent re-election in June. Off camera comments suggested Ahmadinejad thought Israel and the United States might be helping the Sunni militant group, but that is nothing new from the usually belligerent Ahmadinejad.

4. The 120,000 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard controls Iran's missile program and has its own ground, naval and air units. This is in addition to Iran's regular armed forces. Thanks to mandatory service for men and voluntary service for women Iran has one of the world's largest standing armies.

5. According to CIA analysts Jundallah is most closed tied to Baluchi insurgents in Pakistan, and has little or no ties to Al Qaeda.

6. Iran's government has recently announced they are enriching uranium at a centrifuge factory in Qom which has 3,000 gas centrifuges (centrifuges spin so quickly it causes the lighter isotopes to spin to the top, allowing scientists to extract the best ones for making enriched uranium, a precursor to making a nuclear bomb or high grade nuclear fuel). Iran is currently offering to sell low-grade nuclear fuel abroad, suggesting they are now in the process of separating the high-grade from the low. The CIA believes Iran has other more secret installations for developing nuclear weapons. To make a nuclear weapon you need either plutonium or very highly enriched uranium. The CIA alleges Iran's "Project 110" is aimed at making a nuclear bomb small enough that it can be fitted to a missile warhead and that "Project 111" is aimed at reshaping a missile so it can accommodate the larger size of a warhead.

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