Saddam Hussein loyalists blamed as four bomb blasts kill nine in Iran

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The Independent Online

Four bomb blasts struck government buildings in the capital of an oil-rich province near the Iran-Iraq border yesterday, killing at least eight people and wounding at least 86, days before Iranians go to the polls to elect a new president.

Later, two small bombs exploded in Tehran, killing one person and wounding four. Iran's security service blamed the bombings - the deadliest in Iran in more than a decade - on supporters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

State-run television quoted hospital officials as saying at least eight people were killed and 86 injured in four bomb explosions in Ahvaz, capital of the southwestern Khuzestan province bordering Iraq. Four of the dead were women and eight of the injured were police officers.

Officials said the perpetrators were seeking to erode public participation in Friday's crucial presidential elections.

"Whoever is responsible for this, the target of the blasts is to undermine Friday's presidential elections," said spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani.

A spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council blamed groups affiliated to Saddam's former Baathist regime in Iraq.

Some Sunni leaders in Iraq have accused ShiaIran of meddling in Iraqi affairs by backing Shia Muslim clergy and politicians in a bid to sway Iraq's politics toward an Islamic establishment.

Iran denies the allegations but some speculate that extremists loyal to Saddam could be trying to create insecurity in Iran ahead of the presidential polls.

Others pointed to a more local cause. Ahvaz was the site of recent protests over alleged plans to alter the proportion of Arabs and non-Arabs in the region.

Amir Hossein Motahar, director of security at the Interior Ministry, said one car bomb went off in front of the Ahvaz governor's office. He said two separate bombs blew up inside the toilets of the city's housing department and planning department. The fourth bomb, planted in a handbag in the street, exploded as experts tried to defuse it. The fourth site was near the residence of the head of the provincial radio and television station.

Television footage showed heavily damaged buildings and blood on the ground. The force of the explosions also damaged many cars in the streets.

Gholamreza Shariati, deputy provincial governor for security affairs, said intelligence and security officials were trying to determine the cause of the explosions but said the target was "Iran's territorial integrity as it was on the verge of presidential elections."