Militants attacked a military parade in southwestern Iran on Saturday, killing at least eight troops and wounding some 20 others, state media reported.
“Eight to nine of the military forces were martyred and more than 20 were injured. The injured are in a crucial state,” the deputy governor of Khuzestan province, Ali-Hossein Hosseinzadeh Hosseinzadeh, told the semi-official news agency ISNA.
Two gunmen opened fire on the large crowd of spectators watching the parade in the city of Ahvaz and then attempted to attack the viewing stand for official dignitaries before being shot and wounded by security forces, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
A woman and a child were among the people wounded in the attack by a “group of assailants,” the official IRNA news agency reported.
The rare attack targeted Khuzestan, a province bordering Iraq that has a large ethnic Arab community, many of them Sunni, and was a major battleground of the devastating 1980-88 conflict between Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Saturday’s rally was one of many in cities across Iran held to mark the anniversary of the launch of the war with massive Iraqi air strikes.
Attacks by Kurdish rebels on military patrols along the border in mainly ethnic Kurdish areas further north are relatively common.
But attacks on regime targets inside major cities are far rarer.
On June 7, 2017, 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in simultaneous attacks in Tehran on the parliament building and on the tomb of revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini — the first inside Iran claimed by the Sunni Muslim extremists of the Islamic Strate group.
In April, 26 alleged IS jihadists went on trial on charges connected with that twin attack.
The judiciary-linked Mizan news agency said several of the accused were Iranians who had left to join IS in neighbouring countries and then returned.
Five attackers were killed on the day, but police said at the time that five people had been arrested at the scene of the attacks in central and south Tehran.
Dozens more arrests were reported in the following months — many in operations along the borders with Iraq and Turkey.
The attack in Ahvaz came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was among the dignitaries at the main anniversary parade in Tehran.
In a keynote speech, Rouhani vowed to boost Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities despite Western concerns that were cited by his US counterpart Donald Trump in May when he abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran.
“We will never decrease our defensive capabilities… we will increase them day by day,” Rouhani said at a military parade. “The fact that the missiles anger you shows they are our most effective weapons,” he said, referring to the West.
Iran has ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles), enough to reach both Israel and US bases in the Middle East.
The United States reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran last month, and a new round of even harsher sanctions targeting Iran’s vital oil sector is set to go back into effect on November 5.
Washington has said that it is ready to open talks on a new agreement to replace the July 2015 accord, but Tehran has said repeatedly it cannot negotiate under the pressure of the sanctions.
Washington insists any deal should address Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its “destabilising” and “malign” influence in the region, as well as concerns about it long-term nuclear ambitions.
Trump and Rouhani will both be in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly.
But Iran has repeatedly ruled out any meeting.
Rouhani likened the present situation faced by Iran to that the fledgling Islamic republic was confronted by in 1980.
He said that just as Trump had now torn up the nuclear accord, so then Saddam tore up the so-called Algiers agreement of 1975 which demarcated a section of the common border in Iran’s favour in return for an end to years of Iranian support for Iraqi Kurdish rebels.
“What happened to Saddam then will happen to the United States,” he warned. —AFP