Iran – Part III. After the Islamic Revolution
- In 1979, the country formerly known as Persia became the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Islamic Revolution opposed the Western secular policies of the authoritarian Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, and after his overthrow the country is run by an authoritarian Islamic theocracy. The head of state is the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who exercises ideological and political control over the state, controls the armed forces and makes decisions on security and important issues of foreign policy.
The head of government and executive power is the president, who is elected by popular vote for a four-year term and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. There were regular elections in Iran after the Islamic Revolution and until the last presidential elections in June 2021 thirteen elections were held. The president’s power is curtailed by the Supreme Leader’s decisions, and the influence of Islamic clerics and conservatives in Iran’s coercive apparatus and judiciary.
Immediately after the Islamic Revolution, in November 1979, 52 American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage after a group of Iranian university students took control of the embassy in Tehran. A diplomatic confrontation followed for 444 days until the hostages were released on January 20, 1981. This crisis led to the severing of US-Iranian relations and the imposition of sanctions on Iran.
Since the Shah’s era, Iraqi-Iranian relations have witnessed border problems related to border demarcation, smuggling operations, sheep grazing, and so on. (We would like to draw attention to the fact that the smuggling route across the Iraqi-Iranian borders, especially across the borders of Diyala Governorate, is an old route and has evolved over time.) Things stabilized during the rule of President Abd al-Rahman Aref after his visit to Tehran in 1967, and after the 1968 revolution, things returned to a state of progress and decline.
In September 1980, relations witnessed a rapid escalation of border demarcation problems, accompanied by Iranian bombing of some border areas, especially in Diyala governorate, which led to Iraq launching a massive attack towards the Iranian borders. The Iran-Iraq war had multiple causes and included religious divisions, border disputes, and political differences. The protracted fighting continued for eight years and ended in 1988 with a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire, although normal diplomatic relations were resumed and troops were withdrawn in August 1990. The war was one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century. Casualties on both sides are estimated at 500,000 with Iran suffering even greater losses. The war added to the spread of Iranian influence and ideology in neighboring countries.
After the Islamic Revolution, to enhance its ideology and influence, Iran supported armed organizations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Hamas who are working against Israel. The United States designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in January 1984.
In 2015, Iran signed a nuclear deal negotiated with the six major world powers to benefit from uranium enrichment leading to a nuclear weapon. The United States canceled this agreement under the Trump administration in May 2018 arguing that the deal did not adequately limit Tehran’s nuclear program or address its missile program, human rights abuses, and support for terrorism. Washington reimposed sanctions as part of “maximum pressure” to change Tehran’s behaviour. In January 2020, Iran recalculated its strategy after a US strike killed Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. In 2021, the Biden administration launched a new diplomatic effort to get both Tehran and Washington to fully comply with the 2015 nuclear deal. The indirect talks began in the final months of former President Hassan Rouhani and have continued under current President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who took office in August 2021, but negotiations collapsed in the fall of 2022.
In September 2022, protests erupted across Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was being held for indecent clothing. Unrest has been boiling over the years against the imposition of strict Islamic laws, the ongoing economic crisis, lack of freedom of expression, violation of women’s rights etc. and the death of the girl sparked the process.
The largest demonstrations in decades quickly evolved into calls for the overthrow of the supreme leader and an end to the Islamic Republic. Security forces responded with lethal force, killing at least 234 people, including 29 children. There were previous instances of unrest in Iran in 2009 when millions of people took to the streets after a disputed presidential election in 2017, and in 2019 due to economic hardship but the current unrest is the real revolution against the policies of the Islamic regime.
Needless to say, these protests have been fueled by Israel and other Western countries hostile to the power in Iran. The stalemate continues today and it is likely that the situation will not return to normal and there will be a regime change in Iran.