The United Arab Emirates is formed


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Year
1972
Month Day
December 21

On December 21, 1972, the United Arab Emirates is formed. The union of six small Gulf kingdoms—to which a seventh was soon added—created a small state with an outsized role in the global economy.

A number of kingdoms on the norther coast of the Arabian Peninsula came under British protection through a series of treaties beginning in 1820. Concerned with protecting trade routes and their prized colony of India, the British navy protected what became known as the Trucial States in exchange for their cooperation with British interests. During this period of British protection, the region’s vast oil reserves were discovered. As the Trucial States and nearby kingdoms like Bahrain and Qatar became major suppliers of oil, the British Empire’s influence receded due to a number of factors, the two World Wars chief among them. In 1968, the British government declared that it would end the protectorate, withdrawing its military and leaving the people of the region to their own devices.

Dwarfed by their neighbors in terms of size, population and military capabilities, the small kingdoms of the region attempted to organize themselves into a single political unit. The negotiations proved difficult, and Bahrain and Qatar elected to declare independence unilaterally. With the British treaty due to expire and both Iran and Saudi Arabia eyeing their territory and resources, the kingdoms of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai and Umm al-Quwain became the independent United Arab Emirates on this day in 1972. Ras al-Khaimah joined two months later.

Since then, the UAE has been a sovereign nation, enjoying the profits of its natural resources—its reserves of oil and natural gas are the seventh-largest in the world, and it has the seventh-highest GDP per capita. This wealth has turned the Emirates into a major hub of trade, travel, tourism and finance. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world, is emblematic of the Emirates’ dramatic construction boom and rise to global prominence. Though its cities are some of the most modern in the world, the nation remains a monarchy governed by religious law—its president and prime minister are the absolute monarchs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively, and apostasy, homosexuality and even kissing in public are punishable by law.

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Saddam Hussein captured


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Year
2003
Month Day
December 13

After spending nine months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is captured on December 13, 2003. Saddam’s downfall began on March 20, 2003, when the United States led an invasion force into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years.

Saddam Hussein was born into a poor family in Tikrit, 100 miles outside of Baghdad, in 1937. After moving to Baghdad as a teenager, Saddam joined the now-infamous Baath party, which he would later lead. He participated in several coup attempts, finally helping to install his cousin as dictator of Iraq in July 1968. Saddam took over for his cousin 11 years later. During his 24 years in office, Saddam’s secret police, charged with protecting his power, terrorized the public, ignoring the human rights of the nation’s citizens. While many of his people faced poverty, he lived in incredible luxury, building more than 20 lavish palaces throughout the country. Obsessed with security, he is said to have moved among them often, always sleeping in secret locations.

In the early 1980s, Saddam involved his country in an eight-year war with Iran, which is estimated to have taken more than a million lives on both sides. He is alleged to have used nerve agents and mustard gas on Iranian soldiers during the conflict, as well as chemical weapons on Iraq’s own Kurdish population in northern Iraq in 1988. After he invaded Kuwait in 1990, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 1991, forcing the dictator’s army to leave its smaller neighbor, but failing to remove Saddam from power. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam faced both U.N. economic sanctions and air strikes aimed at crippling his ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. With Iraq continuing to face allegations of illegal oil sales and weapons-building, the United States again invaded the country in March 2003, this time with the expressed purpose of ousting Saddam and his regime.

Despite proclaiming in early March 2003 that, “it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression,” Saddam went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape, and his government soon fell. After declaring Saddam the most important of a list of his regime’s 55 most-wanted members, the United States began an intense search for the former leader and his closest advisors. On July 22, 2003, Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, who many believe he was grooming to one day fill his shoes, were killed when U.S. soldiers raided a villa in which they were staying in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Five months later, on December 13, 2003, U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. The man once obsessed with hygiene was found to be unkempt, with a bushy beard and matted hair. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.”

After standing trial, he was executed on December 30, 2006. Despite a prolonged search, weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq.

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Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto assassinated


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Year
2007
Month Day
December 27

On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister and the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country, is assassinated at age 54 in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. A polarizing figure at home and abroad, Bhutto had spent three decades struggling to stay afloat in the murky waters of Pakistani politics. To many of her supporters, she represented the strongest hope for democratic and egalitarian leadership in a country unhinged by political corruption and Islamic extremism.

Born in 1953 to a wealthy landowning family, Bhutto grew up in the privileged world of Pakistan’s political elite, receiving degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founded the populist-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967. He then served as president and prime minister from 1971 to 1977, when he was ousted in a bloodless military coup led by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq and charged with authorizing a political opponent’s murder.

Her father’s overthrow and subsequent execution in April 1979 thrust a young Benazir Bhutto into the political spotlight. She and her mother, Nusrat, whom she succeeded in 1982 as the PPP’s chairperson, spent several years in and out of detention for protesting his arrest and campaigning against General Zia. In August 1988, Zia died in a plane crash; three months later, Bhutto won the general election and formed a government, becoming the first woman—and, at 35, the youngest person—to head a Muslim state in modern times. Dismissed in 1990 after less than half a term as prime minister, she was reelected in 1993 and served again until 1996. Both times, she was removed from office by the sitting president—Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and Farooq Leghari in 1996—amid charges of corruption and incompetent governance.

After her second dismissal from office, Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, faced allegations of various forms of financial misconduct, including accepting multimillion-dollar kickbacks and laundering money through Swiss banks. Zardari spent eight years in prison, while Bhutto lived in exile in London and Dubai with the couple’s three children. In 2007, under pressure from Bhutto’s supporters within the U.S. government, President Pervez Musharraf granted amnesty to Bhutto, Zardari and other Pakistani politicians with pending graft charges. On October 18 of that year, despite a spate of death threats from Islamic militants, Bhutto returned to Pakistan with plans to participate in the 2008 general election. On the day of her arrival, she narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack on her convoy that killed at least 136 people and injured more than 450.

On December 27, 2007, as Bhutto was waving to a crowd at a PPP rally in Rawalpindi, a gunman opened fire on her bulletproof vehicle. A bomb then exploded near the car, killing more than 20 people and wounding 100 others, including Bhutto. She was pronounced dead later that night and buried the next day in her hometown of Gardi Khuda Bakhsh, next to her father’s grave. The exact cause of her death remains in dispute: A subsequent investigation by Britain’s Scotland Yard ruled that Bhutto died of head injuries caused by the force of the explosion, while the PPP maintained that she died from gunshot wounds.

Bhutto’s death sparked widespread violence across Pakistan, with riots and demonstrations leading to violent police crackdowns. The political turmoil caused international fears of instability in a nuclear-armed nation already embroiled in a fight against Islamic extremists. In the weeks and months following Bhutto’s death, Pakistani moderates and Western leaders waited anxiously to see who would emerge as her successor. Zardari, who had taken the helm of the PPP after his wife’s assassination, was elected president of Pakistan in September 2008.

In the month following Bhutto’s murder, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistani officials named Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant with links to al-Qaeda, as the mastermind behind the assassination. Mehsud, who denied the charge, was killed in a U.S. drone attack in August 2009.

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Shah flees Iran


Year
1979
Month Day
January 16

Faced with an army mutiny and violent demonstrations against his rule, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran since 1941, is forced to flee the country. Fourteen days later, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, returned after 15 years of exile and took control of Iran.

In 1941, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran, and the first Pahlavi shah, who they regarded with suspicion, was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza. The new shah promised to act as a constitutional monarch but often meddled in the elected government’s affairs. After a Communist plot against him was thwarted in 1949, he took on even more powers. However, in the early 1950s, the shah was eclipsed by Mohammad Mosaddeq, a zealous Iranian nationalist who convinced the Parliament to nationalize Britain’s extensive oil interests in Iran. Mohammad Reza, who maintained close relations with Britain and the United States, opposed the decision. Nevertheless, he was forced in 1951 to appoint Mosaddeq premier, and two years of tension followed.

In August 1953, Mohammad Reza attempted to dismiss Mosaddeq, but the premier’s popular support was so great that the shah himself was forced out of Iran. A few days later, British and U.S. intelligence agents orchestrated a stunning coup d’etat against Mosaddeq, and the shah returned to take power as the sole leader of Iran. He repealed Mosaddeq’s legislation and became a close Cold War ally of the United States in the Middle East.

In 1963, the shah launched his “White Revolution,” a broad government program that included land reform, infrastructure development, voting rights for women, and the reduction of illiteracy. Although these programs were applauded by many in Iran, Islamic leaders were critical of what they saw as the westernization of Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shiite cleric, was particularly vocal in his criticism and called for the overthrow of the shah and the establishment of an Islamic state. In 1964, Khomeini was exiled and settled across the border in Iraq, where he sent radio messages to incite his supporters.

The shah saw himself foremost as a Persian king and in 1971 held an extravagant celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the pre-Islamic Persian monarchy. In 1976, he formally replaced the Islamic calendar with a Persian calendar. Religious discontent grew, and the shah became more repressive, using his brutal secret police force to suppress opposition. This alienated students and intellectuals in Iran, and support for Khomeini grew. Discontent was also rampant in the poor and middle classes, who felt that the economic developments of the White Revolution had only benefited the ruling elite. In 1978, anti-shah demonstrations broke out in Iran’s major cities.

On September 8, 1978, the shah’s security force fired on a large group of demonstrators, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Two months later, thousands took to the streets of Tehran, rioting and destroying symbols of westernization, such as banks and liquor stores. Khomeini called for the shah’s immediate overthrow, and on December 11 a group of soldiers mutinied and attacked the shah’s security officers. With that, his regime collapsed and the shah fled.

The shah traveled to several countries before entering the United States in October 1979 for medical treatment of his cancer. In Tehran, Islamic militants responded on November 4 by storming the U.S. embassy and taking the staff hostage. With the approval of Khomeini, the militants demanded the return of the shah to Iran to stand trial for his crimes. The United States refused to negotiate, and 52 American hostages were held for 444 days. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi died in Egypt in July 1980. 

READ MORE: U.S.-Iran Tensions: From Political Coup to Hostage Crisis to Drone Strikes

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American journalist Terry Anderson kidnapped


Year
1985
Month Day
March 16

In Beirut, Lebanon, Islamic militants kidnap American journalist Terry Anderson and take him to the southern suburbs of the war-torn city, where other Western hostages are being held in scattered dungeons under ruined buildings. Before his abduction, Anderson covered the Lebanese Civil War for The Associated Press (AP) and also served as the AP’s Beirut bureau chief.

On December 4, 1991, Anderson’s Hezbollah captors finally released him after 2,455 days. He was the last and longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. Although his seven-year ordeal was the longest of the 92 foreigners abducted during Lebanon’s civil war, he was saved the fate of 11 hostages who died or were believed murdered. Anderson spent his entire captivity blindfolded and was released when the 16-year civil war came to an end.

In 1993, Anderson published Den of Lions, a memoir of his time in captivity. In 2002, he won a lawsuit against the Iranian government and was granted a multi-million dollar settlement. The next year, Anderson ran for the Ohio Senate as a Democrat, but was defeated.

READ MORE: Hostage Terry Anderson freed in Lebanon

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King Faisal of Saudi Arabia assassinated


Year
1975
Month Day
March 25

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, King Faisal is shot to death by his nephew, Prince Faisal.

King Faisal, son of King Ibn Saud, fought in the military campaigns in the 1920s and ’30s that helped forge modern Saudi Arabia. He later served as Saudi ambassador to the United Nations and in 1953 was made premier upon the ascension of his older brother, Saud. In 1964, King Saud was pressured to abdicate, and Faisal became the absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia. As king, he sought to modernize his nation, and lent financial and moral support to anti-Israeli efforts in the Middle East. In 1975, Faisal was assassinated for reasons that remain obscure, and his son, Crown Prince Khalid, ascended to the throne.

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Last U.S. Marines leave Beirut


Year
1984
Month Day
February 26

The last U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational peacekeeping force leave Beirut, the war-torn Lebanese capital where some 250 of the original 800 Marines lost their lives during the problem-plagued 18-month mission.

In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and on August 20, 1982, a multinational force including 800 U.S. Marines was ordered to Beirut to help coordinate the Palestinian withdrawal.

The Marines left Lebanese territory on September 10 but returned in strengthened numbers on September 29, following the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia. The next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb. Other Marines fell prey to snipers. On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber driving a van devastated the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. Then, on October 23, a Lebanese terrorist drove a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. That same morning, 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks two miles away in a separate suicide terrorist attack. The identities of the embassy and barracks bombers were not determined, but they were suspected to be Shiite terrorists associated with Iran.

After the barracks bombing, many questioned whether President Ronald Reagan had a solid policy aim in Lebanon. Serious questions also arose over the quality of security in the American sector of war-torn Beirut. The U.S. peacekeeping force occupied an exposed area near the airport, but for political reasons the Marine commander had not been allowed to maintain a completely secure perimeter before the barracks attack. In a national address on the night of October 23, President Reagan vowed to keep the Marines in Lebanon, but just four months later he announced the end of the American role in the peacekeeping force. On February 26, 1984, the main force of Marines left Lebanon, leaving just a small contingent to guard the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

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Intifada begins on Gaza Strip


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Year
1987
Month Day
December 09

In the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, the first riots of the Palestinian intifada, or “shaking off” in Arabic, begin one day after an Israeli truck crashed into a station wagon carrying Palestinian workers in the Jabalya refugee district of Gaza, killing four and wounding 10. Gaza Palestinians saw the incident as a deliberate act of retaliation against the killing of a Jew in Gaza several days before, and on December 9 they took to the streets in protest, burning tires and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli police and troops. At Jabalya, an Israeli army patrol car fired on Palestinian attackers, killing a 17-year-old and wounding 16 others. The next day, crack Israeli paratroopers were sent into Gaza to quell the violence, and riots spread to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

December 9 marked the formal beginning of the intifada, but demonstrations, small-scale riots, and violence directed against Israelis had been steadily escalating for months. The year 1987 marked the 20-year anniversary of the Israeli conquest of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the formerly Egyptian- and Jordanian-controlled lands that the Palestinians called home. After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel set up military administrations in the occupied territories and permanently annexed East Jerusalem in the West Bank. With the support of the Israeli government, Israeli settlers moved into the occupied territories, seizing Arab land. By December 1987, 2,200 armed Jewish settlers occupied 40 percent of the Gaza Strip, while 650,000 impoverished Palestinians were crowded into the other 60 percent, making the Palestinian portion of the tiny Gaza Strip one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

In December 1987, despair by the Palestinians over their plight exploded in the intifada. The grassroots uprising soon came under the control of Palestinian leaders who formed the Unified National Command of the Uprising, which had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Although images of young refugee-camp Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli troops dominated television reports of the intifada, the movement was widespread across Palestinian society. Affluent Palestinians and women’s groups joined militant groups in strikes, boycotts, and other sophisticated tactics in their effort to win Palestinian self-rule.

In July 1988, Jordan’s King Hussein renounced all administrative responsibility for the West Bank, thereby strengthening the Palestinian influence there. In November 1988, the PLO voted to proclaim the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Meanwhile, the intifada raged on, and by its first anniversary more than 300 Palestinians had been killed, more than 11,000 had been wounded, and many more were arrested.

In the final weeks of 1988, PLO leader Yasser Arafat surprised the world by denouncing terrorism, recognizing the State of Israel’s right to exist, and authorizing the beginning of “land-for-peace” negotiations with Israel. In 1992, Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin became Israeli prime minister and vowed to move quickly on the peace process. He froze new Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, and the intifada was called off after five years.

In 1993, secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Oslo, Norway, resulted in the signing of the historic Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements in Washington, D.C., on September 13. The accord called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho and the establishment of a Palestinian government that would eventually be granted authority over much of the West Bank.

Despite attempts by extremists on both sides to sabotage the peace process with violence, the Israelis completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho in May 1994. In July, Arafat entered Jericho amid much Palestinian jubilation and set up his government–the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at reconciliation.

In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stalled under his successors: Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak. In September 2000, the worst violence since the end of the intifada erupted between Israelis and Palestinians after rightist Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, a religious site in Jerusalem of great importance to both Jews and Muslims, the latter of whom control it. Seeking a strong leader to suppress the bloodshed, Israelis elected Sharon prime minister in February 2001. After suffering a stroke, he was replaced by his deputy, Ehud Olmert, in April 2006. 

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Gulf War ground offensive begins


Year
1991
Month Day
February 24

After six weeks of intensive bombing against Iraq and its armed forces, U.S.-led coalition forces launch a ground invasion of Kuwait and Iraq.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, its tiny oil-rich neighbor, and within hours had occupied most strategic positions in the country. One week later, Operation Desert Shield, the American defense of Saudi Arabia, began as U.S. forces massed in the Persian Gulf. Three months later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if it failed to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991.

At 4:30 p.m. EST on January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm, a massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, began as the first fighter aircraft were launched from Saudi Arabia and off U.S. and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. All evening, aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere.

Operation Desert Storm was conducted by an international coalition under the command of U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf and featured forces from 32 nations, including Britain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. During the next six weeks, the allied force engaged in a massive air war against Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure, encountering little effective resistance from the Iraqi air force. Iraqi ground forces were also helpless during this stage of the war, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s only significant retaliatory measure was the launching of SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that the missile attacks would provoke Israel, and thus other Arab nations, to enter the conflict; however, at the request of the United States, Israel remained out of the war.

On February 24, a massive coalition ground offensive began, and Iraq’s outdated and poorly supplied armed forces were rapidly overwhelmed. By the end of the day, the Iraqi army had effectively folded, 10,000 of its troops were held as prisoners, and a U.S. air base had been established deep inside Iraq. After less than four days, Kuwait was liberated, and a majority of Iraq’s armed forces had either been destroyed or had surrendered or retreated to Iraq. On February 28, U.S. President George Bush declared a cease-fire, and Iraq pledged to honor future coalition and U.N. peace terms. One hundred and twenty-five American soldiers were killed in the Persian Gulf War, with another 21 regarded as missing in action.

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Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran


Year
1979
Month Day
February 01

On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in triumph after 15 years of exile. The shah and his family had fled the country two weeks before, and jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were eager to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government under Khomeini’s leadership.

Born around the turn of the century, Ruhollah Khomeini was the son of an Islamic religious scholar and in his youth memorized the Qur’an. He was a Shiite—the branch of Islam practiced by a majority of Iranians—and soon devoted himself to the formal study of Shia Islam in the city of Qom. A devout cleric, he rose steadily in the Shiite hierarchy and attracted many disciples.

In 1941, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the second modern shah of Iran. The new shah had close ties with the West, and in 1953 British and U.S. intelligence agents helped him overthrow a popular political rival. Mohammad Reza embraced many Western ideas and in 1963 launched his “White Revolution,” a broad government program that called for the reduction of religious estates in the name of land redistribution, equal rights for women, and other modern reforms.

Khomeini, now known by the high Shiite title “ayatollah,” was the first religious leader to openly condemn the shah’s program of westernization. In fiery dispatches from his Faziye Seminary in Qom, Khomeini called for the overthrow of the shah and the establishment of an Islamic state. In 1963, Mohammad Reza imprisoned him, which led to riots, and on November 4, 1964, expelled him from Iran.

Khomeini settled in An Najaf, a Shiite holy city across the border in Iraq, and sent home recordings of his sermons that continued to incite his student followers. Breaking precedence with the Shiite tradition that discouraged clerical participation in government, he called for Shiite leaders to govern Iran.

In the 1970s, Mohammad Reza further enraged Islamic fundamentalists in Iran by holding an extravagant celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the pre-Islamic Persian monarchy and replaced the Islamic calendar with a Persian calendar. As discontent grew, the shah became more repressive, and support for Khomeini grew. In 1978, massive anti-shah demonstrations broke out in Iran’s major cities. Dissatisfied members of the lower and middle classes joined the radical students, and Khomeini called for the shah’s immediate overthrow. In December, the army mutinied, and on January 16, 1979, the shah fled.

Khomeini arrived in Tehran in triumph on February 1, 1979, and was acclaimed as the leader of the Iranian Revolution. With religious fervor running high, he consolidated his authority and set out to transform Iran into a religious state. On November 4, 1979, the 15th anniversary of his exile, students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage. With Khomeini’s approval, the radicals demanded the return of the shah to Iran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The shah died in Egypt of cancer in July 1980.

In December 1979, a new Iranian constitution was approved, naming Khomeini as Iran’s political and religious leader for life. Under his rule, Iranian women were denied equal rights and required to wear a veil, Western culture was banned, and traditional Islamic law and its often-brutal punishments were reinstated. In suppressing opposition, Khomeini proved as ruthless as the shah, and thousands of political dissidents were executed during his decade of rule.

In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran’s oil-producing province of Khuzestan. After initial advances, the Iraqi offense was repulsed. In 1982, Iraq voluntarily withdrew and sought a peace agreement, but Khomeini renewed fighting. Stalemates and the deaths of thousands of young Iranian conscripts in Iraq followed. In 1988, Khomeini finally agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.

After the Ayatollah Khomeini died on June 3, 1989, more than two million anguished mourners attended his funeral. Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader. Gradual democratization began in Iran in early the 1990s, culminating in a free election in 1997 in which the moderate reformist Mohammed Khatami was elected president. 

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