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Iran

Iran had the first successful Islamic revolution, overthrowing the U.S.-backed shah and taking U.S. Embassy workers hostage in 1979. It fought a major war with Iraq from 1980-88. The United States says Iran sponsors state terrorism by backing the Hezbollah suicide bombers in Israel. But a struggle between government moderates and hard-liners has raised hopes of a thaw in relations with the U.S. This Shiite Muslim-dominated country has come close to war with the Sunni Muslim Taliban, whose severe rule has led to an explosion of refugees and narcotics trafficking along their 580-mile-long border.

Area: 636,000 square miles, a little bigger than Alaska.

Population: 65 million.

Ethnic groups: 51 percent Persian, 3 percent Arab, the rest are other ethnicities.

Languages: Primarily Persian or Farsi, a cousin to the most prevalent language in Afghanistan, Dari.

 



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