On the northern border between Iran and Iraq, a politically complex region, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the night of Sunday, November 12, killing hundreds and injuring thousands more.
The epicenter of the earthquake was located near Halabja, Iraq, although most of the victims were Iranian. The majority of deaths were in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, Iran, located near the Iranian-Iraqi border. Around six hundred deaths were recorded, although some sources report almost one thousand deaths, and about seven thousand people were injured. Tremors from the earthquake were felt far and wide, reaching Turkey and even Pakistan, a thousand miles away.
As this region is situated along a fault line, it is highly prone to earthquakes. However, this has been the strongest earthquake experienced along this fault line in the recent years.The earthquake has been the deadliest earthquake of 2017 and the second-strongest one of the year.
Iran and Iraq have long had a complicated and turbulent relationship, conflicting over faith, politics, and resources. Their conflict dates back to ancient times, and has evolved to be relevant in modern times. The Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s reignited that struggle, however relations have improved recently, but still remain complicated.
This region has experienced other divisive factors as well, with the imposing threat from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) and the complicated relationship between the Kurdish semi-autonomous region and the Iraqi government.
The earthquake in early November has added another level of complication to the region. The Iranian Red Crescent, a humanitarian organization not linked to the Islamic regime, stated that 70,000 people are in need of aid. The Red Crescent has done much to help those affected, but many victims were poor peasant farmers located in remote mountain villages, where distributing aid is challenging.
Most of these peasant farmers lived in small mud-brick houses, which collapsed from the force of the earthquake. In some villages, 90% of the buildings were destroyed. Despite their losses, they have received little humanitarian or financial help from the Iranian government or international aid groups.
Iran is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of resources. They have the second-highest GDP in the Middle East at 412.2 billion US dollars, according to the World Bank. Even with their apparent wealth, the fundamentalist Islamic leadership of Iran has done very little to provide aid to the victims. Instead of providing the much needed aid, the Iranian government imposed martial law in the town of Sarpol e-Zahab, one of the hardest-hit towns.
“During these past two days, officials, including the president, visited and expressed their sympathy for the survivors. I hope that these sympathetic attitudes continue, in practice, effectively helping the people; and, I hope they can reduce the pain and sufferings of the people, considering the cold weather is upon us,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, stated in the aftermath.
Many victims of the earthquake have receive little to no aid as the Iranian government focuses their attention elsewhere.