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)
Iran is a Theocracy
“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.
- Kurds in Iran: There are an estimated 8-12 million Kurds living in the northwestern region called Rojhalat (East Kurdistan). The Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslim, with a sizable Shia minority. Most Kurds identify as secular. The Kurds are prohibited from speaking their language in schools, Kurdish activists are harassed, and town names are in Farsi. Kurds are often imprisoned and publicly executed due to their activism. The largest Kurdish political party is the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq. Another group is the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. Both groups fight the Iranians; there may be 7000 PJAK fighters and 2000 PDKI fighters. The Iranian Kurds have backed Kurdish independence in other nations.
- Khorasani Kurds: There are nearly 1.5 million Kurds in the northeastern region, Khorasan, where they were moved in the 17th century. They suffer from heavy poverty, illiteracy, and destitution.
- Baluchi: In Iran, there are almost 2 million Baluchis living in the southeastern region, who are largely Sunni. There are another 8 million in Pakistan. They are vastly underrepresented in political positions. In 2018, a Baluchi suicide bomber killed 27 Revolutionary Guards in southeast Iran.
- Azeri: There are nearly 12-20 million Azeris in Iran, where they are the second largest ethnic group. They live in the northwestern region, next to the 10 million Azeris in Azerbaijan. Iran and Azerbaijan are not friendly. Due to their Shia faith, Azeris are given greater freedoms than Sunni Muslims. But they still face cultural discrimination, as they are closer to Turks than Persians. They are prohibited from speaking their language in schools, activists are harassed, and town names are in Farsi. Prominent Azeris include Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei and Yahya Rahim Safavi, who was an IRGC commander from 1997-2007.
- Arabs: The less than two million Ahwazi Arabs live along the southwestern border with Iraq in the Khuzestan province; nearly 2% of Iran. Most Arabs are Shiite, while a small minority are Sunni. The province holds 85-90% of Iran’s oil production. Despite that, the Arabs face poverty, unemployment, and a lack of education as well as human rights abuses by the regime. A terror group called the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz may have attacked government targets. Iran has targeted this group for assassinations in Europe.
- Lors: The Lors number around 4.5 million and are largely Shia, who live in the western area adjacent to Iraq. They speak Lori, an ancient language similar to Farsi.
Iranian Government is Apocalyptic
- Dr. Bernard Lewis, the leading U.S. scholar on the Middle East, has said, “Iran’s leadership comprises a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived… with these people in Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement. They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process. This is an extremely dangerous situation of which it is important to be aware.” Leader Khamenei believes this. His likely successor also probably does.
- James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, has written “the Iranian mullahs are implacable and driven by religious beliefs. They are not inclined to compromise, nor can they be “bought” purely through economic incentives of the sort that appeal to Kim Jong Un.”
- “Iran has an apocalyptic regime … since 2005, no poor country in the entire troubled history of the world has seen its fertility rate plunge …to only 1.6 children per female today… As a matter of arithmetic, Iran can sustain a third of its population as elderly dependents only by acquiring the wealth of its neighbors…That is why Iran is aggressive, and why no negotiation will contain it.” Also, see here.
The Iranian Economy
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.
- At the start of the JCPOA negotiations, Iran had $20 billion in fully accessible foreign exchange reserve.
- The Iranian government has spent between $100–500 billion on the country’s nuclear program.
- Iran has consumed over 70% of its ground water and faces the prospect of desertification.
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
- Kurds: According to a 2017 report by Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, “almost one-fifth of the executions that took place in 2016 concerned Kurdish prisoners.” She stated “Kurdish political prisoners represent almost half of the total number of political prisoners in Iran.”
- Christians: Iran is in the Top Ten of nations for Christian persecution throughout the world.
- Baha’i: There are more than 300,000 Baha’i in Iran. The Iranian regime seeks to eradicate them. Since 1979, more than 200 Baha’i leaders have been killed and more than 10,000 have been let go from government and university positions. Leader Khamenei issued a fatwa, in 2013, calling for Iranians to avoid “dealings” with Baha’is and labeled the group “deviant and misleading.”
- Freedom of Expression and Information: Iran has arrested, imprisoned or executed at least 860 journalists in the three decades between 1979 and 2009. Free speech is often clamped down by Iranian security forces, even by social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Long prison sentences, torture and even execution can be the result. In 2014, six Iranians were arrested for appearing in a video dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” sentenced to up to one year in prison, and given 91 lashes.
- Human Rights Abuses Against Women: Women in Iran must wear a hijab in public. In court, a woman’s testimony has half the value of a man’s. The law consistently favors men in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A married woman may not leave the country without her husband’s permission. Women are barred from public events such as soccer games at local stadiums.
- Human Rights Abuses against Children: Iran is by far the leader among a handful of countries — which include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, South Sudan and Yemen — that have executed minors in the past decade. In 2015, the UN reported that there are nearly 160 children on death row in Iran. The rate of executions against minors have increased under Rouhani. Child labor is a major issue in the country; in 2011 there were 68,558 working children between ages 10-14 and 696,700 between ages 15-18. Girls 13 years and older are legally allowed to be married.
- Homosexuals: In accordance with sharia law, homosexual intercourse between men can be punished by death, and men can be flogged for acts such as kissing. Women may be flogged. Iranians sometimes required LGBT Iranians to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. According to a 2008 British WikiLeaks dispatch, Iran executed “between 4,000 and 6,000 gays and lesbians” since the Islamic revolution.
- Rape in Prison: Dissidents and homosexuals have become the victims of rape and torture in prisons.
- Death Penalty: Iran has the second highest rate of execution, behind China. It accounted for 66% of all recorded executions in the Middle East. Many crimes in Iran are punishable by death, including insults to the prophet, apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery and drug related offenses.
- Iran has waged a vicious clampdown on human rights defenders.
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.
- Basij militia: The main task of the Basij is to keep popular support by recruiting volunteers, many of whom are teenagers. Their primary focus is on giving military training to “resist foreign invasion” and to help “suppress domestic opposition to the regime through street violence and intimidation.” The volunteers number 90,000 normally but are capable of mobilizing 300,000 to 1 million fighters.
- Quds Force: The core task of the Quds Force is to protect Iran from foreign threats and to provide support to its interests abroad, mainly Iraqi militias, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hamas, and militias in Syria allied with the Assad regime. The Quds Force is led by Esmail Ghaani following the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani by the US in January 2020. Ghaani answers only to the Leader Khamenei.
- Killed Thousands of Americans: The IRGC has killed and wounded thousands of Americans, far more than ISIS, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The IRGC has killed more U.S. allies too through their terror operations. For example, it subsidizes Hezbollah and Hamas.
- Controls Nukes: The IRGC controls Iran’s missiles, nuclear, chemical, & biological weapons programs.
- Funds: The IRGC is believed to control one third or more of the economy. The IRGC attracts young men by paying them up to $265 a month. The IRGC is able to buy out entire government institutions, as well as the “black economies.” Iranian expert Ali Ansari has stated that “(t)hrough holding companies, front companies, and charitable foundations the IRGC is a big player in the construction business, oil and gas, import-export, and telecommunications.”