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CIA World Factbook 2012: Iran

INTRODUCTION: Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown. Conservative clerical forces established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a religious scholar referred to as the Supreme Leader who is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts.

GEOGRAPHY: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan. (32 00 N, 53 00 E)

GOVERNMENT: Theocratic Republic; legal system based on Sharia Law.

MILITARY: Compulsory military service (age 19); Available Manpower: 46,247,556 (male/female); Expenditure: 2.5% of GDP.

Human Rights in Iran

This section might be more accurately termed the lack of human rights in Iran.

According to the 2012 US State Department Report on Human Rights, Iran has one of the world's worst records when it comes to the treatment of its citizens.

The most egregious human rights problems were the government's severe limitations on citizens' right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections, restrictions on civil liberties, and disregard for the sanctity of life through the government's use of arbitrary detention, torture, and deprivation of life without due process. The government also severely restricted freedoms of speech and the press (including via the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and religion.

Jewish Experience: History in Iran

Traditions and legends connect Jews to Persia starting with the deportation of the Israelites in the time of Tiglath-Pileser III from Samaria to the "cities of Media and Persia," the forced migration in the time of Sargon II of Assyria and of his son Sennacherib, and the destruction of the Jewish Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. When the "Cyrus Declaration" in 538 BCE allowed those Jews who were living as exiles on the "rivers of Babylon" to return to Judea, and to rebuild their national life, some who had established themselves economically and socially in Persia preferred to remain. These remaining exiles can be regarded as the nucleus of the permanent Jewish settlements which gradually spread, in the words of the Book of Esther, "over all the provinces of the king… scattered among all peoples of the Persian Empire."

In the 12th Century, Benjamin of Tudela claimed that there was a Jewish population of about 600,000 in Persia/Iran. This number was later reduced to 100,000 in the Safawid period (1501–1736), and it further diminished to 50,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. The drastic decrease in number was the result of persecution, forced conversions, Muslim laws, and anti-Semitic massacres.

International Conflicts

Iran-Iraq War (1979-1988): The Iran-Iraq war, fought for nearly 9 years, caused both countries millions of casualties and billions of dollars in damage. The collateral damage to the economies of other nations was also immense. The war was one of the most strategically important conflicts of modern times because it involved two major oil producers and the region where more than half the world's reserves are located.

Iran Contra Affair (1985-1987): The Iran-Contra affair was a political scandal in which US President Ronald Reagan facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, the subject of an arms embargo, as an operation to free American hostages held by a group with Iranian ties. The plan had that Israel shipping weapons to Iran, following which the US would resupply Israel and receive the payment. It deteriorated, however, into an arms-for-hostages scheme.