TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's president on Wednesday blamed "the occupiers of Iraq" — inferring the United States and Britain — for two bombings that killed at least nine people in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
The foreign minister said the bombers were supported by the British military, which is based in southern Iraq. Ahvaz has a history of violence involving members of Iran's Arab minority.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office called the allegations "ludicrous." A group seeking independence for the Ahvaz region later claimed responsibility.
State television said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a decree ordering his foreign minister and intelligence minister to investigate the possibility that "foreign hands" were responsible for Tuesday's blasts inside a bank and outside a state environmental agency building. Forty-six people were wounded, the official Islamic Republic News Agency has reported.
"Traces of the occupiers of Iraq is evident in the Ahvaz events. They should take responsibility in this regard," state television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
The blasts occurred in the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province, which borders Iraq. Ahmadinejad and his entire Cabinet had been expected to visit Ahvaz on the day of the bombings to address local issues, but the president canceled the visit.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference Wednesday that the bombs were planted by people "who have taken souvenir pictures with British officials in London, while enjoying the intelligence facilities and the support of the British military commander in Basra," southern Iraq.
Later Wednesday, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz claimed responsibility for the blasts in a statement posted on a Web site.
It said the explosions were "revenge for the blood of our martyrs and (signal) our rejection to the terrorist Ahmadinejad's defiling the land of Ahvaz in his visit."
The claim was carried on the official Web site of the Ahvazi Arabic Revolution, an umbrella group which includes several Arab movements seeking independence for the Ahvaz region.
Iran repeatedly has accused Britain of provoking unrest in the region, near where 8,500 British soldiers are based in Iraq.
The spokesman for Blair's office, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, denied the accusations Wednesday.
"The Iranian government's suggestion that we somehow had a hand in the bomb explosions in southern Iran yesterday is obviously ludicrous and deserves to be treated with scorn by the whole international community," the spokesman said.
"Their putting the blame on us, rather than the terrorist responsible, underlines why there is much widespread international concern about this Iranian government."
Neither the president nor Mottaki gave any evidence to support their claims of U.S. or British involvement.
On Tuesday, Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said the attacks in Ahvaz were foreign-inspired and related to last year's bombings in the same city.
In October, Iran blamed Britain for two blasts at an Ahvaz shopping mall that killed six people and wounded dozens.
Tehran also blamed June bombings that killed at least eight people on Iranian Arab extremists with ties to foreign governments, including British intelligence.
Britain has denied any connection to the Khuzestan unrest.
Tensions between the two countries have flared recently over Britain's opposition to Iran's resumption of nuclear activities.
The United States and its European allies suspect Iran has ambitions to produce nuclear weapons, and Britain supports moves to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions.
Iran says its nuclear program is for generating electricity.
Britain also has accused Tehran of allowing Iraqi insurgents to receive explosives technology that has been used to attack British soldiers. Iran denies those allegations.
Arabs make up less than 3 percent of Iran's population, and most live in Khuzestan.
In April, residents of Ahvaz rioted for two days after Arab separatists circulated reports the government planned to decrease the proportion of Arabs in the province. The government denied the claim.