Who runs Iran? Given that they're holding elections, I thought it would be a good idea to post a short description.
Who runs Iran?
Iran has combined an Islamic theocracy with a limited democracy -- with the theocracy being the ultimate authority. The military, the judiciary and main councils (Expediency and Guardian) all report to the Supreme Leader (currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). He is appointed by the clerics that make up the Assembly of Experts, the real power in Iran.
The Assembly of Experts and councils are up for election this week.
Here is an interactive link to a BBC analysis of Iran's government.
Here is the link to the State Department's 10/06 profile on Iran.
Iran was not always a theocracy. As Zoroastrians, the original Iranians were tolerant toward other religions. They also had freedoms that were unheard of in other parts of the ancient world. Their Elamite court system allowed for a king or satrap (ruling governor or local king) to be held to account by the lowest servant and Elamite property laws protected a system of land ownership by both sexes.
For a complete history of Iran, see this link
Iran changed significantly after the Iranian Revolution.
There were many events that led up to the Revolution.
Here is some info on its suppression of dissent.
There are also stories coming out of Iran currently that its judiciary is performing a wide range of executions against various minorities, including the Khuzestani Arabs.
There is also the story of this sixteen year old girl who was executed for "crimes against chastity."
Iran has also been accused of attempting to export its revolution:
Iran's relations with many of its Arab neighbors have been strained by Iranian attempts to spread its Islamic revolution, a strictly ideological goal. In 1981, Iran supported a plot to overthrow the Bahrain Government. In 1983, Iran expressed support for Shi'ites who bombed Western embassies in Kuwait, and in 1987, Iranian pilgrims rioted during the hajj (pilgrimage) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Nations with strong fundamentalist movements, such as Egypt and Algeria, also mistrust Iran. Iran backs Hizballah (in Lebanon), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
State Department Profile 10/06
And of seeking to build nuclear weapons:
An IAEA report in November 2003 provided evidence that Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), had concealed secret nuclear activities for eighteen years.
Here an article with a collection of responses to the conference.
There has also been a controversy surrounding the wording of Ahamedinejad's statement on Israel's right to exist. There has been no question, however, that he has stated his objection to the establishment of Israel post-WWII. Here's a link to a post on the history of Iran and Israel (from another diary) that Ahmadinejad doesn't talk about.
It should be noted, that some Iranians may not agree with Ahmadinejad, as Daniel's tomb is regularly visited by both Jews and Muslims.
The Rise of Mahdism
Equally (or more) worrisome to many is Ahamedinejad's seemingly apocalyptal belief in the reappearance of the 12th Imam.
To understand the implications of an absolute belief in this theology, see this link.
Iran is a complex country with a rich heritage that is currently an Islamic theocracy with a limited version of democracy that is subordinated to the clerics who actually run their government.
Their president, Ahamedinejad, who is considered a hardliner by the standards of Iranian politics, has been pushing for Iran to become a nuclear state, has stated that the Holocaust was a myth, and has professed himself to be a follower of the "end-time" theology of the 12th Imam.
According to the State Department profile, Iran has been accused of attempts to export its theology through violence:
The Department of State's Patterns of Global Terrorism report stated that "Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism"
In conclusion, while it is true that their founders were Zoroastrians who followed the Elamite system of government and were ancient promoters of human rights and freedom of religion, a position that many ordianary Iranians may still support, their current government, according to Human Rights Watch's latest press releases and summary, does not follow that ancient model and has been given, by Human Rights Watch, the society rating of "Not Free."
Here's that link to the BBC's analysis of the Iranian government.
And to the State Department profile.