Facts about Iran

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IranKnown as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown and the shah was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a learned religious scholar referred to commonly as the Supreme Leader who, according to the constitution, is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts. US-Iranian relations have been strained since a group of Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held it until 20 January 1981. During 1980-88, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq that eventually expanded into the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between US Navy and Iranian military forces between 1987 and 1988. Iran has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism for its activities in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world and remains subject to US and UN economic sanctions and export controls because of its continued involvement in terrorism and conventional weapons proliferation. Following the election of reformer Hojjat ol-Eslam Mohammad KHATAMI as president in 1997 and similarly a reformer Majles (parliament) in 2000, a campaign to foster political reform in response to popular dissatisfaction was initiated. The movement floundered as conservative politicians, through the control of unelected institutions, prevented reform measures from being enacted and increased repressive measures. Starting with nationwide municipal elections in 2003 and continuing through Majles elections in 2004, conservatives reestablished control over Iran's elected government institutions, which culminated with the August 2005 inauguration of hardliner Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD as president. In December 2006 and March 2007, the international community passed resolutions 1737 and 1747 respectively after Iran failed to comply with UN demands to halt the enrichment of uranium or to agree to full IAEA oversight of its nuclear program. In October 2007, Iranian entities were also subject to US sanctions under EO 13382 designations for proliferation activities and EO 13224 designations for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

Geography of Iran

Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan
32 00 N, 53 00 E
total: 1.648 million sq km
land: 1.636 million sq km
water: 12,000 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly larger than Alaska
Land boundaries:
total: 5,440 km
border countries: Afghanistan 936 km, Armenia 35 km, Azerbaijan-proper 432 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 179 km, Iraq 1,458 km, Pakistan 909 km, Turkey 499 km, Turkmenistan 992 km
2,440 km; note - Iran also borders the Caspian Sea (740 km)
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM
continental shelf: natural prolongation
exclusive economic zone: bilateral agreements or median lines in the Persian Gulf
mostly arid or semiarid, subtropical along Caspian coast
rugged, mountainous rim; high, central basin with deserts, mountains; small, discontinuous plains along both coasts
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Caspian Sea -28 m
highest point: Kuh-e Damavand 5,671 m
Natural resources:
petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
Natural hazards:
periodic droughts, floods; dust storms, sandstorms; earthquakes along western border and in the northeast
Environment current issues:
air pollution, especially in urban areas, from vehicle emissions, refinery operations, and industrial effluents; deforestation; overgrazing; desertification; oil pollution in the Persian Gulf; wetland losses from drought; soil degradation (salination); inadequate supplies of potable water; water pollution from raw sewage and industrial waste; urbanization
Geography - note:
strategic location on the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, which are vital maritime pathways for crude oil transport

Population of Iran

65,875,224 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 26.1% (male 9,204,785/female 8,731,429)
15-64 years: 69% (male 24,133,919/female 23,245,255)
65 years and over: 4.9% (male 1,653,827/female 1,719,218)
Median age:
24.8 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
40.3 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 70.26 years
male: 68.86 years
female: 71.74 years
Fertility rate:
1.8 children born/woman
noun: Iranian(s)
adjective: Iranian
Ethnic groups:
Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1%
Shi'a Muslim 89%, Sunni Muslim 9%, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i 2%
Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, other 2%
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 79.4%
male: 85.6%
female: 73% 


Country name:
conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Iran
former: Persia
local long form: Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran
Government type:
theocratic republic
Administrative divisions:
28 provinces (ostanha, singular - ostan); Ardabil, Azarbayjan-e Gharbi, Azarbayjan-e Sharqi, Bushehr, Chahar Mahall va Bakhtiari, Esfahan, Fars, Gilan, Golestan, Hamadan, Hormozgan, Ilam, Kerman, Kermanshah, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Kohgiluyeh va Buyer Ahmad, Kordestan, Lorestan, Markazi, Mazandaran, Qazvin, Qom, Semnan, Sistan va Baluchestan, Tehran, Yazd, Zanjan
1 April 1979 (Islamic Republic of Iran proclaimed)
National holiday:
Republic Day, 1 April (1979)
note: additional holidays celebrated widely in Iran include Revolution Day, 11 February (1979); Noruz (New Year's Day), 21 March; Constitutional Monarchy Day, 5 August (1925)
2-3 December 1979; revised 1989 to expand powers of the presidency and eliminate the prime ministership
Legal system:
the Constitution codifies Islamic principles of government
15 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: Supreme Leader Ali Hoseini-KHAMENEI (since 4 June 1989)
head of government: President Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD (since 3 August 2005); First Vice President Parviz DAVUDI (since 11 September 2005)
cabinet: Council of Ministers selected by the president with legislative approval; the Supreme Leader has some control over appointments to the more sensitive ministries
note: also considered part of the Executive branch of government are three oversight bodies: 1) Assembly of Experts (Majles-Khebregan), a popularly elected body charged with determining the succession of the Supreme Leader, reviewing his performance, and deposing him if deemed necessary; 2) Expediency Council or the Council for the Discernment of Expediency (Majma-e-Tashkise-Maslahat-e-Nezam) exerts supervisory authority over the executive, judicial, and legislative branches and resolves legislative issues on which the Majles and the Council of Guardians disagree and since 1989 has been used to advise national religious leaders on matters of national policy; in 2005 the Council's powers were expanded to act as a supervisory body for the government; 3) Council of Guardians of the Constitution or Council of Guardians or Guardians Council (Shora-ye Negaban-e Qanun-e Assassi) determines whether proposed legislation is both constitutional and faithful to Islamic law, vets candidates for suitability, and supervises national elections
elections: Supreme Leader is appointed for life by the Assembly of Experts; president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (eligible for a second term and third nonconsecutive term); last held 17 June 2005 with a two-candidate runoff on 24 June 2005 (next presidential election slated for 12 June 2009).
Legislative branch:
unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majles-e-Shura-ye-Eslami (290 seats - formerly 270 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
Judicial branch:
Supreme Court - above a special clerical court, a revolutionary court, and a special administrative court


Iran's economy is marked by an inefficient state sector, reliance on the oil sector (which provides 85% of government revenues), and statist policies that create major distortions throughout. Most economic activity is controlled by the state. Private sector activity is typically small-scale workshops, farming, and services. President Mahmud AHMADI-NEJAD failed to make any notable progress in fulfilling the goals of the nation's latest five-year plan. A combination of price controls and subsidies, particularly on food and energy, continue to weigh down the economy, and administrative controls, widespread corruption, and other rigidities undermine the potential for private-sector-led growth. As a result of these inefficiencies, significant informal market activity flourishes and shortages are common. High oil prices in recent years have enabled Iran to amass nearly $70 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Yet this increased revenue has not eased economic hardships, which include double-digit unemployment and inflation - inflation climbed to 26% as of June 2008. The economy has seen only moderate growth. Iran's educated population, economic inefficiency and insufficient investment - both foreign and domestic - have prompted an increasing number of Iranians to seek employment overseas, resulting in significant "brain drain."

$762.9 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 11.6%
industry: 42.4%
services: 46%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
23.68 million
note: shortage of skilled labor 
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 30%, industry 25%, services 45% 
revenues: $48.82 billion
expenditures: $60.4 billion
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 97.1%
hydro: 2.9%
other: 0% 
petroleum, petrochemicals, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food processing (particularly sugar refining and vegetable oil production), metal fabricating, armaments
wheat, rice, other grains, sugar beets, fruits, nuts, cotton; dairy products, wool; caviar
petroleum 80%, chemical and petrochemical products, fruits and nuts, carpets
Export partners:
Japan 17.3%, China 11.4%, Italy 6.2%, South Africa 5.5%, South Korea 5.2%, France 4.5%, Turkey 4.5%, Taiwan 4.3%, Netherlands 4.3% 
industrial raw materials and intermediate goods, capital goods, foodstuffs and other consumer goods, technical services, military supplies
Import partners:
Germany 14.2%, China 8.3%, Italy 7.5%, UAE 6.7%, South Korea 6.4%, France 6.2%, Russia 5.3% 
Iranian rial (IRR)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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