Attacks in Iran show Tehran's chickens coming home to roost
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On June 7, terrorists successfully attacked Iran’s parliament building and the tomb of the regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. At the end of the gun and suicide bomb attack, 17 were dead and 43 wounded. It was the first major terrorist attack in Iran since the 2010 bombing attack at the Jamia mosque in Zahedan in southeast Sistan-Baluchestan province, which is populated mostly by Sunni Baluchis and borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. That attack was claimed by Jundallah, a Sunni Baloch terror group, as revenge for Iran’s execution of their leader, Abdolmalek Rigi.

The recent attack was also executed by a minority group, in this case Kurds. The perpetrators, who fought for Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, were quickly identified and the ringleader, Serias Sadeghi, was a known IS recruiter in Iranian Kurdistan. The IS claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iran’s government quickly blamed the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for the atrocity, so as to distract the people from the failings of the security apparatus and to signal the approved theme for demonstrations and reportage.

Iranian Kurds, mostly Sunni, are about ten percent of the population and live mostly in the under-developed northwest, which borders Iraq and Turkey. They have been seeking autonomy since the Reza Shah Pahlavi regime, but the central government has never cracked down on the Kurds like the governments in Iraq and Turkey, though it has never entertained any idea of Kurdish separatism.


Iran’s Kurdish problem was probably thought to be a controllable security problem, until now, anyway. Iran’s key official for minority affairs, Ali Younesi, formerly headed the Ministry of Intelligence and was a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and probably wasn’t disposed to consider a solution to political exclusion and an absence of economic development that didn’t involve the knout. President Rouhani, on the other hand, was supported by the Sunnis in the recent elections, and will be under pressure to respond to the attacks without widespread crackdowns in the Sunni areas.


In March, IS called on Iran’s Sunnis to wage a religious war against the Shiite government and in June some of them acted. The regime has reportedly blocked 1500 Iranians from joining IS in 2016, but apparently they missed a few as the attackers in Tehran has experience in Syria and Iraq. Iran’s government is in the position of the Americans in the wake of 9-11, as they anticipated follow-on attacks which, luckily, never materialized. Will Iran be as lucky?

The regime has said that killing the enemy “over there” will keep them from striking the homeland. The Americans said the same thing about fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the U.S. doesn’t border countries where militants can go for training and experience before they filter back into the country and benefit from a support system honed by decades of resistance to the central government.

The regime’s rationale will come under pressure if civilians start getting killed in Iran’s major cities by IS veterans from Syria and more Iranians start asking why more than 1,000 soldiers have been killed in Syria since 2011, and questioning the regime’s risible cover story: they are fighting in Syria to defend religious shrines.

What should the U.S. do?

For one, it should not offer assistance to Iran if homegrown Sunni terrorists start inflicting damage. After all, America has its reasons: Iran’s planned mass casualty attack in Washington, D.C. in 2011 to assassinate the Saudi ambassador; the 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon; the 1984 bombing of the U.S. embassy annex in Beirut; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing; and the 2003 Riyadh compound bombings, to name a few.

Secondly, it should restrain like-minded countries from aiding terror groups striking Iran and remind them that their proxies today will likely attack them tomorrow.

Third, it should monitor the terrorists and map their networks for future exploitation or attack, and to differentiate the terrorists from Iranian Kurds seeking autonomy.

And finally, in the wake of future attacks, the U.S. should issue noisy travel advisories to scare away tourists and businessmen, while pointing out that inward investment favors areas populated by ethnic Persians and Shia. Non-kinetic, economic weapons helped force the regime to negotiate an end to the nuclear program and may be useful in shaping the mullahs’ response to the attacks.

James D. Durso (@James_Durso) is the managing director at consultancy firm Corsair LLC. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years specializing in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as supply officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).

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