Iran in Crisis After Cleric’s Murder
The assassination of a prominent cleric in an oil-rich Iranian province, coinciding with violent protests in Tehran over the rationing of petrol, has plunged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into his biggest crisis since he was elected two years ago. The murder on June 24 of Hesham Saymary in Ahvaz, the centre of Iran’s oil-producing province in the south, was a blow to a regime that is already under pressure because of international condemnation of its nuclear program and the prospect of economic meltdown. The assassination, the third of a senior cleric this year, bore the hallmarks of a well-planned murder. According to witnesses, the gunmen waited outside Saymary’s house for him to arrive home about 10pm. They called out to the cleric as he was about to open his door and shot him three times. He died instantly. There have been other assassinations in Iran, notably in the Kurdish area, in the west near the Iraq border, but the Government is far more concerned about Saymary’s death because stability in the province is crucial for its oil revenues. Saymary was a member of the majority Arab population of Ahvaz, the focus of an Arabist separatist movement that follows the Wahhabi sect of Islam, linked to Osama bin Laden. He may have been targeted because he was a prominent supporter of the regime. Protests that followed shortly afterwards over the rationing of petrol convulsed Iran and its increasingly discontented citizens. The rationing is particularly damaging to Mr. Ahmadinejad because those worst affected are the constituency that elected him, the poor and disenfranchised.