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Iran occupies a key geostrategic position in the Middle Eastand has vast energy resources, making it an important and powerful player inthe region. Its relations with the West have been troubled for decades,starting in 1953, when the US and the UK organized a coup that overthrewdemocratically-elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh and installed Shah MohammadReza Pahlavi. In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown following therevolution, and the country was declared an Islamic Republic under supreme leaderAyatollah Khomeini.

Immediately thereafter, Iran fought a protracted and indecisive war againstIraq from 1980-88. The war was a severe strain on Iran's economy and itsoil reserves.

In 1989, Khomeini died, and since then, the country has seen a tussle betweenreformists and hardliners. Iran's relations with the internationalcommunity improved a great deal in the 1990s with reformist President Khatami's1997 election and 2002 re-election raising hopes of significant change inIran's domestic politics. Khatami won favor with Iran's growing youngpopulation but became increasingly unpopular with the conservativeestablishment.

In 2002, President George Bush declared that Iran was part of an "axis ofevil." The US has maintained that Iran's nuclear program is not peaceful, andthis question remains contentious in Iran's dealings with the outside world.The US has also accused Iran of undermining American efforts in Iraq.

In the 2004 parliamentary elections, reformist candidates were rejected by theclerical Guardian Council, resulting in a conservative victory. In 2005,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran and a populist conservative,was elected president. Ahmadinejad's harsh rhetoric against Israel andhis uncompromising positions, especially regarding its nuclear program, havefarther isolated Iran. In 2009, a brutal government crackdown on demonstratorsdisputing the victory of the incumbent President Ahmadinejad created politicaltumoil and lingering questions about whether the results were manipulated.

Last updated: August 20, 2010

Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.

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    Full Name:  Islamic Republic of Iran
    Form of Government:  Theocratic republic
   Year of Independence:  1979 (Islamic Republic of Iran proclaimed)
   Population:  66429284
   Capital:  Tehran
   Largest City:  n/a
   Major Religion:  Muslim 98% (Shia 89%, Sunni 9%), other (includes Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i) 2%
   Area:  1.65 million sq km (636,313 sq miles)
   Major Languages:  Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, other 2%
   Life Expectancy:  68 years (men), 73 years (women) (2009 est.)
   Monetary Unit:  10 Iranian rials = 1 toman
   Main Exports:  Petroleum 80%, chemical and petrochemical products, fruits and nuts (agricultural products)
   GDP - Per Capita (PPP):  $12,800 (2008 est.)
   Internet Domain:  .ir
   International Dialing Code:  +98