By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RLThirty-one people have been killed or wounded in southeastern Iran in an attack against the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
General Nourali Shoushtari was among the high-ranking victims
Iran's semi official Fars news agency has
identified the two commanders as the deputy head of the Guards' ground forces,
General Nourali Shoushtari, and the Guards' commander in Sistan-Baluchistan,
General Rajabali Mohammadzadeh.
Iranian officials are accusing the United States and Britain of backing the perpetrators of the suicide attack, which took place as Revolutionary Guards commanders were meeting with tribal elders.
The United States condemned the attack and denied any connection to it. "We condemn this act of terrorism and mourn the loss of innocent lives. Reports of alleged U.S. involvement are completely false," U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a brief statement.
The attack is likely to raise tensions with the West a day before Iranian and Western officials are due to meet in Vienna to discuss the county's nuclear program.
It could also lead to increased security measures in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, which is the scene of frequent clashes between security forces, drug traffickers, and rebel groups.
London-based analyst Abdol Sattar Doshoki told Radio Farda that the Islamic Republic could use the attack in order to increase pressure on its opponents.
"Unfortunately we have a regime that wants to solve everything and push its plans through military means," Doshoki said. "This results in the spread of violence in Tehran and also Baluchistan."
The IRGC said in a statement that foreign elements backed by the United States are to blame for the deadly attack. Iran's state television quoted "informed sources" as saying that Britain was directly involved in the attack.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani also said that the United States was implicated, adding that the attack has "burned" the hand of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Shoushtari and another IRGC commander meeting with Balouch elders
Iranian state television reports
that the Sunni rebel group Jundollah has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A journalist based in the region, Emadedin Mazari, the editor in chief of the "Sobhe Zahedan" weekly, finds Jundollah's claim credible. The group has been behind a series of deadly attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan. Iran has in the past accused the United States and Britain of supporting the group to create instability in the country.
"Today's attack is very similar, in its form and nature, with previous attacks in the region," Mazari said. "Therefore it's highly likely that it's the work of the terrorist group led by Abdol Malek Riggi," he said, referring to the leader of Jundollah.
Mazari says the attack was a move by the rebel group to disrupt a new plan by the Revolutionary Guards aimed at involving different tribes in improving security in the region.
Mazari told RFE/RL that Jundollah wanted to prevent any rapprochement between the Baluch Sunni minority and the establishment.
"Commander Shoushtari had started this new initiative to get in touch with tribal elders," Mazari said. "He seemed to really believe in it; he wanted to bring security through the elders and the people themselves."
Shoushtari getting ready for prayer
The IRGC said in a statement that the attack is
in line with the "evil" strategy of foreigners to create discord between Shi'a
Mazari says the attack will have political, social, and economic consequences for the region, which is among the most deprived in Iran.
Britain condemned the "terrorist attack" in Sistan-Baluchistan and the loss of life that it caused.
Iran's Interior Ministry said the perpetrators of the attack will be arrested "very soon" and punished.
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