Eighteen members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were killed in an explosion at an ammunition depot at a military base in western Iran.
Another 14 Guard troops were wounded in the blast yesterday in the city of Khoramabad, some 500 kilometres south of the capital, Tehran, said the state IRNA news agency.
The report said the blast was caused by a fire that had reached the ammunition storage area, but there was no word on what had ignited the blaze. In their first reports most Iranian media said the explosion was an accident.
Although Khoramabad has not seen violence recently, it is geographically close to Kurdish-populated areas that have been the scene in recent months of several attacks by Kurds opposed to the central government.
Iran is battling armed militant and separatist movements in the remote south-east along the border with Pakistan and in the far north-west along the border with Iraq.
On September 12, a blast at a military parade in Mahabad, near Iraq, killed 12 people and prompted a cross-border retaliatory raid by Iranian forces. They blamed the attack on Kurdish separatists.
Tehran has accused the US and Britain of provoking ethnic unrest to undermine Iran’s security, charges both Washington and London have denied.
The Guard – Iran’s most powerful military force, created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend the clerical rule – has been at the helm of the government’s efforts to battle ethnic and religious insurgencies, as well as opposition groups.
In time, the Guard became a vast military-based conglomerate, amassing a network of economic and political power that extends to virtually every aspect of life in Iran.