Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the monarchy was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was forced into exile. Shia Muslim Islamist clerical forces led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini established a theocratic system of government with political authority vested in a religious scholar referred to as the Supreme Leader who is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts – an elected 86-member body of clerics. Now the Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Iran’s current President is Hassan Rouhani. The President is elected in an undemocratic process every four years.
(Map source here)
“On the surface, the U.S. and Iranian governments have much in common: a president who is popularly elected, a boisterous legislature, and a powerful judiciary. The obvious difference lies in the fact that Iran is an Islamic theocracy, and that one man, the Supreme Leader, exerts ideological and political control over a system dominated by clerics who shadow every major function of the state.”
The total population of Iran is 82,802,633. Ethnic Persians make up 50-60% of the population. Islam is the official language with 90-95% Shiite, and 5-10% Sunni. Others include Zoroastrian, Jewish, Baha’is and Christian. Ethnic minority groups, including Arabs, Azeris, Baluch and Kurds, all face discrimination.
Although the Iranian economy originally got a boost from the JCPOA, it has gone into a recession with the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iranian petrochemicals, such as ammonia, methanol and urea, and oil, shipping, banking, gold and other precious metals, steel, iron, aluminum and copper. These are Iran’s top exports, with oil revenue alone making up 40% of Iran’s annual budget. The sanctions have denied Tehran up to $50 billion in oil revenue. Iran has resorted to selling oil on the black market and to Syria (also violating European sanctions on Syria). The U.S. has also imposed sanctions on Khamenei and other leaders, and on the Iranian space program, “which has long operated as a front for Tehran’s advanced work on nuclear capable ballistic missile technology.” The IMF reported that Iran’s economy shrunk by 4.8% in 2018 and contracted by 9.5% in 2019. Iranian non-oil exports have been halved. Iranian oil exports have dropped from 2.45 mbd to 0.26 mbd in the past year. However, some nations have been helping Iran cheat, so the number of bpd may be greater. Europe has sought to help Iran with a barter system called INSTEX. The currency has lost 60 percent of its value against the dollar. Unemployment is high, over 12% and 70% of factories have closed. Iran’s payments to Hezbollah and other terror or militia allies have been reduced because of the sanctions. The official Iranian budget is around $47 billion and the official military/terror budget is usually around $15 billion. Unofficially, Iran adds another roughly $15 billion to its military/terror budget. The IRGC itself gets around $8 billion.
Human Rights Violations
Iran arrested, jailed and sometimes executed 1.7 million people around Tehran alone after the 1979 revolution. Non-Muslims and non-Shia reportedly face societal discrimination
In 2009, again in 2017-2018, and now in 2019, Iranians took to the streets to protest the Iranian government. The first time the protests were triggered by the stolen 2009 Presidential election. The second time, they were triggered by the Iranian government’s decision to send the economic benefits from the JCPOA to the military and terror proxies, and to pad the personal accounts of the Iranian leadership, rather than to distribute them to the people. The third time was because of an increase in the price of oil. Over 40% of the Iranian population is unemployed. Three times the Iranian regime cracked down. In 2019, so far 1,500 protesters have been killed, at least 2,000 wounded, and 7,000 detained. The protests cut across class and ethnic divides. Protests in Lebanon and Iraq are partly directed against Iranian influence in these countries.
On November 4, 1979, Iranian students occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran. 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Since 1979, the Iranian regime has committed numerous acts of war against the U.S. It supported and directed terrorists that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 17 Embassy personnel in the 1983 bombings in Beirut and killed 23 Americans in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers. An Iranian official admitted that Iran knowingly helped al-Qaeda terrorists — including some of the 9/11 attackers — travel secretly through the Middle East. It supplied Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP’s) and other weapons to Islamists from 03-11 that killed more than 1100 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran planned a 2011 bombing of a Washington, DC restaurant to kill the Saudi Ambassador. Commercial relations between Iran and the U.S. are restricted by U.S. sanctions and consist mainly of Iranian purchases of food and medical products and U.S. purchases of carpets and food. The Iranian school curriculum depicts the U.S. as “the arrogant, idolatrous, modern-day crusader, infidel, oppressor, Great Satan.” Furthermore, the need for child martyrdom, during the apocalyptic battle against the U.S., is intensively inculcated in all twelve grades.
The killing of a US contractor by pro-Iranian militias in Iraq in December 2019 triggered a US retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria. In response to the US actions and backed by the Iranians, the pro-Iranian militants stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad, burning the Embassy and keeping the US diplomats in a siege. On January 3, 2020 the US kills Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind behind the Iranian proxies and terrorist organizations such as Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Houthis in Yemen, and other militias in the Middle East. In response, Iran targeted a number of US bases and facilities in Iraq.
Iran does not recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a state but instead pushes for its elimination.
Iran’s Military & the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
Iran’s military forces total roughly 545,000 active personnel and 350,000 reserve personnel, including about 125,000 men within the IRGC. Within the IRGC, there is the Basij (mobilization) militia and the Quds Force (IRGC-QF). The IRGC Army has 100,000 to 150,000 troops in 20 infantry divisions. The IRGC Navy has 20,000 sailors, including 5,000 Marines. IRGC Quds (“Jerusalem”) Force numbers 5,000. The IRGC even has a unit specializing in drones. Both the IRGC and the Quds Force have been designated terror organizations. Most of Iran’s forces are poorly equipped with weapons that date back to the 1970s or are just mediocre.
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