The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country of 60 million in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Until 1935 the country was known as Persia. Iran borders Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east; Turkmenistan to northeast, the Caspian Sea in the middle north and Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest; Turkey and Iraq to the west and finally the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south.
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President
- Mohammad Khatami President before Ahmadinejad
- Manouchehr Mottaki Foreign Minister
- Mohammad Javad Zarif Ambassador to the United Nations
- Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, Ambassador to the IAEA
- Ali Larijani Chief Nuclear Negotiator
- Hossein Mousavian Former Chief Nuclear Negotiator
- Sirus Naseri Nuclear Negotiator
- Mostafa Mohammad Najjar Defense Minister
- Davoud Danesh-Jafari Oil Minister
- Parviz Fattah Energy Minister
- Gholamreza Aghazadeh President & Director of the Atomic Energy Organisation Director
- Mahmoud Hanatian Vice President & Deputy Director of the Atomic Energy Organization
- Ahmad Fayyazbakhsh Deputy Director of the Atomic Energy Organization
- Dr. Mohammad Saeedi International Affairs Deputy Iranian Atomic Energy Organization
- Hossein Simorgh Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Spokesperson
- Mohammed J.A. Larijani Director of the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics
- Mehdi Ghazanfari Deputy Commerce Minister & Head of Export Development Organization
- Fatima Ferdous Head of Export Promotion Department
- Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi Justice Minister
- Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi Interior Minister
- Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi Culture Minister
- Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel Speaker of the Iranian Parliament
- Alaedin Boroujerdi - Chair of the foreign policy and national security committee of the Iranian Parliament.
- Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf Mayor of Tehran
- Kazem Jalali Iranian MP
- Heshmatollah Felahat-Pisheh Iranian MP
Other Political Elites
- Morris Motamed Iranian Jewish community leader
- Mohammad-Reza Khatami opposition figure
- Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh political scientist
Iran is divided into 30 provinces, each governed by an appointed governor or ostāndār استاندا.
- East Azarbaijan
- West Azarbaijan
- Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari
- Kohgiluyeh and Buyer Ahmad
- Sistan and Baluchistan
- South Khorasan
- Razavi Khorasan
- North Khorasan
The ancient nation of Iran was historically known to the West as Persia until March 21, 1935 (see also History of Persia, History of Levant). Once a major empire in its own right, Iran has been overrun frequently and has had its territory altered throughout the centuries. Invaded by Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and others--and often caught up in the affairs of larger powers--Iran has always reasserted its national identity and has developed as a distinct political and cultural entity.
Archeological findings have placed knowledge of Iranian prehistory at middle paleolithic times (100,000 years ago). The earliest sedentary cultures date from 18,000-14,000 years ago. The sixth millennium BC saw a fairly sophisticated agricultural society and proto-urban population centers. Many dynasties have ruled Iran, the first of which was under the Achaemenids (559 - 330 BC), a dynasty founded by Cyrus the Great. After the Hellenistic period (300 - 250 BC) came the Parthian (250 BC - AD 226 ) and the Sassanid (226 - 651) dynasties.
Before the First World War
The seventh century Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran was followed by conquests by the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, and Tamerlane. Iran underwent a revival under the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736), the most prominent figure of which was Shah Abbas. The conqueror Nadir Shah and his successors were followed by the Zand dynasty, founded by Karim Kahn, and later the Qajar (1795-1925) and the Pahlavi dynasties (1925-1979).
Modern Iranian history began with a nationalist uprising against the Shah (who remained in power) in 1905, the granting of a limited constitution in 1906 (making the country a constitutional monarchy), and the discovery of oil in 1908. The key to the region was the British discovery of oil, see William Knox D'Arcy and British Petroleum. Control of the region was disputed between Great Britain and Russia, codified in an agreement of 1907 dividing the region into spheres of influence.
During World War I the country was occupied by British and Russian forces but was essentially neutral. In 1919, Britain attempted to establish a protectorate in Iran, aided by the Soviet Union's withdrawal in 1921. In that year a military coup established Reza Khan, an Iranian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, as dictator and then herediatry Shah of the new Pahlavi dynasty (1925). Reza Shah Pahlavi, ruling for almost 16 years and installing the new Pahlavi dynasty, thwarting the British attempt at control, and pushing to have the country developed.
Under his reign, Iran began to modernize and to secularize politics, and the central government reasserted its authority over the tribes and provinces.
During World War II, Iran was a vital link in the Allied supply line for lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union. In August, 1941, a combined British and Soviet force occupied Iran. In September Reza abdicated in favour of his son Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who ruled until 1979.
At the Tehran Conference of 1943 the Tehran Declaration guaranteed the post-war independence and boundaries of Iran. However when the war did end the Soviets supported a revolt in the north which created the People's Republic of Azerbaijan and the Kurdish People's Republic in late 1945, both effective Soviet puppet regimes. After World War II, Soviet troops stationed in northwestern Iran not only refused to withdraw but backed revolts that established short-lived, pro-Soviet separatist regimes in the northern regions of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. These were ended in 1946. The Azerbaijan revolt crumbled after U.S. and UN pressure forced a Soviet withdrawal and Iranian forces suppressed the Kurdish revolt.
Soviet troops did not withdraw from Iran proper until May, 1946 after receiving a promise of oil concessions. The Soviet republics in the north were soon overthrown and the oil concessions were revoked.
The last Shah of Iran
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was the last Shahinshah of Iran, ruling from 1941 until 1979 though was forced form the country breifly in 1953. He was born in Tehran, Iran. As a young man, he was educated at Institute Le Rosey, a Swiss finishing school and in Tehran at the Military College. His father, Reza Pahlavi was minister of war and was elected by the Iranian Assembly as Shah in 1925.
Concerned that Reza Pahlavi was about to align his petroleum-rich country with Germany during World War II, Britain and the USSR occupied Iran and forced him to resign in favor of his son, on Septemeber 16, 1941.
When Reza Pahlavi was forced out in 1941, Mohammed Mossadegh was elected to parliament as a member of the National Front Party, a nationalist organization with socialist leanings that aimed to end the foreign presence that had established itself in Iran following the Second World War, especially regarding the exploitation of Iran's rich oil resources.
After negotiations for higher oil royalties failed, on March 15, 1951 the Iran parliament (the Majlis) voted to nationalize Iran's oil industry, and seize control of the British-owned and operated Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Prime minister General Ali Razmara, elected in June 1950, had opposed the nationalization bill on technical grounds. He was asssassinated on March 7, 1951 by Khalil Tahmasebi, a member of the militant fundamentalist group Fadayan-e Islam. After street protests and under pressure from the Majlis, the Shah appointed Mossadegh, a prominent supporter of oil nationalization, as new prime minister.
Responding to the seizure of the AIOC, the British government announced it would not allow Mossadegh's government to export any oil produced in the formerly British-controlled factories. A blockade of British ships was sent to the Persian Gulf to prevent any attempts by Iran to ship any oil out of the country. An economic stalemate thus ensued, with Mossadegh's government refusing to allow any British involvement in Iran's oil industry, and Britain refusing to allow any oil to leave Iran.
Since Britain had long been Iran's primary oil-consumer, the stalemate was paticularly hard on Iran. While the country had once boasted over a 100 million dollars a year in exports to Britain, after nationalization, the same oil industry began increasing Iran's debt by nearly 10 million dollars a month.
Despite the economic hardships of his nationalization plan, Mossadegh remained popular, and in 1952 was approved by parliament for a second term. Sensing the difficulties of a worsening political and economic climate, he announced that he would request the Shah grant him emergency powers. Thus, during the royal approval of his new cabinet, Mossadegh casually asked the Shah to grant him full control of the military, and Ministry of War. The Shah refused, and Mossadegh announced his resignation.
Ahmed Qavam was appointed as Iran's new prime minister. On the day of his appointment, he announced his intention to resume negotiations with the British to end the oil dispute. This blatant reversal of Mossadegh's plans sparked a massive public outrage. Protestors of all stripes filled the streets, including communists and radical Muslims led by Ayatollah Kashani. Frightened by the unrest, the Shah quickly dismissed Qavam, and re-appointed Mossadegh, granting him the full control of the military he had previously requested.
Taking advantage of his atmosphere of popularity, Mossadegh convinced the parliament to grant him increased powers and appointed Ayatollah Kashani as house speaker. Kashani's radical Muslims, as well as the Iranian Communist Party, proved to be two of Mossadegh's key political allies, although both relationships were often strained.
Mossadegh quickly implemented more socialist reforms. Iran's centuries old feudal agriculture sector was abolished, and replaced with a system of collective farming and government land ownership.
American and British plots against Mossadegh
The governments of Britain and the United States grew increasingly distressed over Mossadegh's reforms. Publicly, they denounced his policies as harmful to the country; privately, both governments sought to implement lucrative oil contracts, but Mossadegh refused. Mossadegh's socialist reforms and increasingly close partnership with the Iranian Communist Party also prompted fears that Iran may develop closer ties with the neighbouring Soviet Union.
In October of 1952, Mossadegh declared that Britain was "an enemy", and cut all diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. In November and December 1952, British intelligence officials suggested to American intelligence that the prime minister should be ousted. The new US administration under Dwight Eisenhower and the British government under Winston Churchill agreed to work together toward Mossadegh's removal.
On April 4, 1953, U.S. CIA director Allen W. Dulles approved $1 million to be used "in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh". Soon the CIA's Tehran station started to launch a propaganda compaign against Mossadegh. Finally, according to the New York Times:
- In early June, American and British intelligence officials met again, this time in Beirut, and put the finishing touches on the strategy. Soon afterward, the chief of the CIA's Near East and Africa division, Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, arrived in Tehran to direct it.
The plot, known as Operation Ajax, centered around convincing Iran's monarch to use his constitutional authority to dismiss Mossadegh from office, as he had attempted some months earlier. But the Shah was uncooperative, and it would take much persuasion and many meetings to successfully execute the plan. Meanwhile, the CIA stepped up its operations. According to Dr. Donald N. Wilber, who was involved in the plot to remove Mossadegh from power, in early August, Iranian CIA operatives pretending to be socialists threatened Muslim leaders with "savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh," thereby giving the impression that Mossadegh was cracking down on dissent, and stirring anti-Mossadegh sentiments within the religious community.
Mossadegh became aware of the plots against him and grew increasingly wary of conspirators acting within his government. He set up a national referendum to dissolve parliament. The vote was clearly rigged, with Mossadegh claiming a 99.9 percent victory for the "yes" side. This was in turn cited by US- and British-funded opposition press as a reason to remove Mossadegh from power. Parliament was suspended indefinitely, and Mossadegh's "emergency powers" were extended.
To prevent the plot from succeeding Mossadegh knew he would have to continue consolidating his power. Since Iran's monarch was the only person who constitutionally outranked him, he perceived Iran's 33-year-old king to be his biggest threat. In August of 1952 Mossadegh attempted to convince the Shah to leave the country. The Shah refused, and fired the Prime Minister, in accordance with the foreign intelligence plan. Mossadegh responded by ordering troops to seize the Imperial palace and drive out the king. Eager to avoid conflict, the Shah once again quickly folded, and accompanied by his wife, quickly fled Iran.
Once again, massive protests broke out across the nation. Anti- and pro-monarchy protestors violently clashed in the streets, leaving almost 300 dead. Aided by the U.S. CIA and British MI5, the pro-monarchy forces quickly gained the upper hand, stormed government offices and ransacked the prime minister's official residence. Mossadegh surrendered, and was arrested on August 19, 1953.
General Fazlollah Zahedi, who had been the CIA's original choice to replace Mossadegh, proclaimed himself as the new prime minister. The Shah himself, who by now was living a comfortable exile in Italy, was rushed back to Iran and returned to the throne. His overthrow and subsequent restoration to power had all occurred within a week.
In return for the US support the Shah agreed, in 1954, to allow an international consortium of British (40%), American (40%), French (6%), and Dutch (14%) companies to run the Iranian oil facilities for the next 25 years, with profits shared equally. In other words, 0% of control or profits went to Iran. There was a return to stability in the late 1950s and the 1960s. In 1957 martial law was ended after 16 years and Iran became closer to the West, joining the Baghdad Pact and receiving military and economic aid from the US. The Iranian government began a broad program of reforms to modernize the country, notably changing the quasi-feudal land system.
However the reforms did not greatly improve economic conditions and the liberal pro-Western policies alienated certain Islamic religious and political groups. From the mid-1960s the political situation was becoming increasingly unstable, with organisations such as Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK) emerging. In 1961, Iran initiated a series of economic, social, and administrative reforms that became known as the Shah's White Revolution. The core of this program was land reform. Modernization and economic growth proceeded at an unprecedented rate, fueled by Iran's vast petroleum reserves, the third-largest in the world.
The Premier Hassan Ali Mansur was assassinated in 1965 and the internal security service, SAVAK, became more violently active. It is estimated that 13,000-13,500 people were killed by the SAVAK during this period of time, and thousands more were arrested and tortured. The Islamic clergy, headed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (who had been exiled in 1964), were becoming increasingly vociferous.
Internationally relations with Iraq fell into a steep decline, mainly due to a dispute over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway which a 1937 agreement gave to Iraq. Following a number of clashes in April, 1969, Iran abrogated the 1937 accord and demanded a renegotiation. Iran greatly increased its defense budget and by the early 1970s was the region's strongest military power. In November, 1971 Iranian forces seized control of three islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, in response Iraq expelling thousands of Iranian nationals.
In mid-1973, the Shah returned the oil industry to national control. Following the Arab-Israeli War of October, 1973, Iran did not join the Arab oil embargo against the West and Israel. Instead it used the situation to raise oil prices, using the money gained for modernization and to increase defense spending.
In the early 1970s, the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq organisation assassinated Tehran-based US military personnel and US civilians involved in military contracts, seeking to weaken the regime and remove foreign influence.
A border dispute between Iraq and Iran was resolved with the signing of the Algiers Accord on March 6, 1975.
However the economic improvements tended to only benefit a very small group and succeeded in disaffecting the vast majority of the population, culminating in widespread religious led protests throughout the late 1970s. There was widespread religious and political opposition to the Shah's rule and programs--especially SAVAK, the hated internal security and intelligence service. Martial law was declared in September 1978 for all major cities but the Shah recognized the erosion of his power-base and fled Iran on January 16, 1979.
On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from France (after 15 years in exile there and in Turkey and Iraq) to direct a revolution resulting in a new, theocratic republic guided by Islamic principles, overthrowing the shah's government on February 11 and becoming Iran's national religious leader. The new government was extremely conservative. It nationalized industry and restored Islamic traditions in culture and law. Western influence were banned and the existing pro-West elite was quick to join the shah in exile. There were clashes between rival religious factions and brutal repression quickly became commonplace.
The Islamic Republic
Supported by Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, militant Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and held it until January 20, 1981, causing the Iran hostage crisis. The Carter administration severed diplomatic relations and imposed economic sanctions on April 7, 1980 and later that month attempted a rescue. A commando mission was aborted on April 25 after mechanical problems grounded rescue helicopters and eight American troops were killed in a mid-air collision. Then on May 24 the International Court of Justice called for the hostages' release. Finally Ronald Reagan ended the crisis on the day of his inauguration, agreeing to nearly all the Iranian terms.
On September 22, 1980, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi miltiary invaded Iranian Khuzistan, starting the bloody Iran-Iraq War.
In 1981, Mujaheddin-e-Khalq detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier's office, killing 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti (chief Justice), Mohammad-Ali Rajaei (President), and Mohammad-Javad Bahonar (Premier).
Following Khomeini's death on June 3, 1989, the Assembly of Experts--an elected body of senior clerics--chose the outgoing president of the republic, Sayid Ali Khamenei, to be his successor as national religious leader in what proved to be a smooth transition.
In August of 1985, overtures to purchase TOW anti-tank missles from the United States were conducted via Isreal. This led to what became the Iran-Contra Affair.
In August 1989, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the speaker of the National Assembly, was elected President by an overwhelming majority.
During the Gulf War (1991) the country remained relatively neutral, restricting its action to the comdemnation of US and allowing Iraqi aircraft and refugees into the country.
President Rafsanjani was re-elected in 1993 with a more modest majority; some Western observers attributed the reduced voter turnout to disenchantment with the deteriorating economy. Rafsanjani was succeeded in 1997 by the moderate Mohammad Khatami. This led the country into a dangerous rift between a government seeking reform and moderate liberalization against a clergy still extremely conservative. Khatami was re-elected in June, 2001 but his efforts have been repeatedly blocked by the religious Guardian Council.
The country is in a poor economic state and its associations with both international terrorism and a potential nuclear capacity are unlikely to aid it. While certain European countries seek to normalise relations the US is still hostile. Average salary in Iran, is about 1200$/year.
Politics of the Islamic Republic
Since the revolution of 1979 the Supreme Leader or Vali-e faqih has been the most powerful figure in the Iranian government. They are elected from the popularly elected 86 member Assembly of Experts or Meclis-i Hubregan, a body that meets twice yearly. The Supreme Leader appoints the six religious members of the 12-member Council of Guardians or Shura-yi Nigehban, as well as the highest judicial authorities and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Assembly of Experts
The 86 members of the Assembly of Experts or Meclis-i Hubregan, which meets twice yearly, are popularly elected from among candidates deemed suitable by the Council of Guardians or Shura-yi Nigehban. In the December 16, 2006 elections for the Assembly of Experts, only 144 of some 500 candidates were allowed to compete for a seat by the Council of Guardians.
Note that the Council of Guardians limits who can run for the Assembly of Experts, who then elect the Supreme leader, who then appoints the members of Council of Guardians, who then limit who can run for the Assembly of Experts, who then elect the Supreme Leader....a so on in an elaborate ritual of democratic participation disguising rule by a theocratic oligarchy.
The head of state is the President, elected by universal suffrage to a 4-year term by an absolute majority of votes and supervises the affairs of the executive branch. All presidential candidates must be approved by the Council prior to running. After his election, the president appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers (the cabinet), coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the parliament. The Council of Guardians certifies the competence of candidates for the presidency and the parliament.
The unicameral Iranian parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majles-e-Shura-ye-Eslami, consists of 290 members elected to a 4-year term. The members are elected by direct and secret ballot. All legislation from the assembly must be reviewed by the Council of Guardians. The Council's six lay-members, all lawyers appointed by parliament, vote only on limited questions of the constitutionality of legislation; the six religious members consider all bills for conformity to Islamic principles.
Iran is emerging as one of major regional powers in the Middle East. In lebanon it has cooperated with Syria to support their client fundamentalist Shiite movement and militia known as Hezbollah or the Party of God, which has rpoven surprsingly effective against Israeli military.
George W. Bush notoriously proclaimed Iran a member of the "Axis of Evil," but then proceeded to destroy Iran's archrival, the Ba'athist, Sunni dominated government of Iraq. Along with the Western occupation of neighboring Afghanistan, the power vacuum in Iraq required Iran to play some sort of role leading the Shiite majority, which had developed a number of exile-oriented organizations represented in Tehran such as SCIRI and a branch of Al-Dawa. The influence that the various sectors of the Iranian government (of which there are quite a few) will have on rising Shiite power in Iraq is unknown, but of profound importance. If radical Shiite clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr look to spread rebellion against the rulers of Shiites in oil-rich eastern Saudi Arabia, for example, Iran's Islamic influence could rise throughout the Gulf, with unknown results.
Iran's other primary issue with the international community is its nuclear energy and weapons development programs, which are progressing steadily thanks to the global traffic in nuclear parts. The recent IAEA Report on the Implementation of the Nuclear Safeguards Agreement in Iran details the latest findings on their weapons programs.
The Islamic Republic has a poor record on human rights, although not as bad as Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Turkmenistan. Iranians have been arrested without due process, and torture is common. Before the Iranian Revolution, upper class and middle class Iranian women were among the freest and best educated in the Middle East; however their freedoms have been severely curtailed by the mullahs. In 2003, Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in combating Iran’s severe human rights violations.
Iran had a large, battle-hardened army but those who have experienced actual combat has dropped drastically with the aging of Veterans of Irans war with Iraq. Russia has supplied air defense missiles such as the TOR-M1, which might be effective against a smaller Israeli airstrike but not necessarily against a large U.S. airstrike. That probably explains why the Israeli right wants the U.S. to fight Iran instead. Iran also has a number of surface-to-surface missiles which have a range of 1300km. They can reach as far as Israel, and can certainly cause massive damage to oil processing facilities in the Persian Gulf. Iran has bought missile technology worldwide, especially from North Korea, but also from German and Russian middlemen. In December, the United States imposed sanctions on six Chinese, two Indian and one Austrian firm for selling missile or chemical weapons-related supplies to Iran.
On March 31, 2006, Iran announced that it had tested a new ballistic missile, the Fajr-3, which it claimed could evade radar and disperse multiple warheads. In the following days, they tested new, high-speed torpedoes.
Iran's economy is a mixture of central planning, state ownership of oil and other large enterprises, village agriculture, and small-scale private trading and service ventures. The current administration has continued to follow the market reform plans of the previous one and has indicated that it will pursue diversification of Iran's oil-reliant economy.
The strong oil market in 1996 helped ease financial pressures on Iran and allowed for Tehran's timely debt service payments. Iran's financial situation tightened in 1997 and deteriorated further in 1998 because of lower oil prices. The subsequent rise in oil prices in 1999-2000 afforded Iran fiscal breathing room but does not solve Iran's structural economic problems, including the encouragement of foreign investment.
Iran has a population of 68 million people, and this population is young and growing rapidly. Three-fourths of its people are less than 35 years old.
Almost two-thirds of Iran's people are of Aryan origin and speak one of the Indo-Iranian languages, though only Persian (Farsi), which is written in the Arabic alphabet, is an official language. The major groups in this category include Persians (51%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8%), Kurds (7%), Lurs (2%), and Baluchi (2%). The remainder are primarily Turkic people such as the Azeri (24%) and Turkmen (2%), but also include Arabs (3%), Armenians, Jews, and Assyrians and others. Arabic, being the language of the Qur'an, is taught in schools as well.
Most Iranians are Muslims, though most Iranians don't attend mosque every Friday; 89% belong to the Shiite branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 10% belong to the Sunni branch, which predominates in most Muslim countries. Non-Muslim religious minorities include Baha'is and Zoroastrians, both being religions that originated in Iran, as well as Jews and Christians. Only the latter three are officially recognised minority religions.
Iran's population size increased dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century.
Iran's highly literate society is increasingly interconnected through the Internet. Surprisingly, Farsi is the third most widely used language in the blogosphere!
- Anoushiravan Ehteshami. 1995. After Khomeini: The Second Iranian Rewvolution New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415108799.