Glossary: Iran and the Bomb

Sunni is one of two branches of Islam.  Its followers believe the first four caliphs (successors of the prophet Mohammed) rightfully took his place as the leaders of Muslim people. They recognize these successors as legitimate religious leaders. The caliphs ruled continuously in the Arab world until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War.  A vast majority of Muslims follow the Sunni branch of Islam.

Shiite is one of two branches of Islam.  Its followers believe that believe that only the heirs of the fourth caliph, Ali, are the legitimate successors of Mohammed.  Throughout history, Shiite Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself.  A minority within Islam, Shiite followers represent between 10-15 percent of Muslims.

Shah is the Persian term for “King of Kings.”  Designated for lords and kings, the term was the title of the ruler of Iran until the Iranian Revolution of 1979

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 resulted in the end of the Pahlavi dynasty and the overthrow of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  Following the revolution, Iranians replaces their westernizing monarchy with a democratic-theocratic hybrid constitution, appointing Ayatollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader of the country.

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim militant group and political party based in Lebanon formed in response to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Isreal.  Its original leaders included Ayatolla Khomeini.  Trained by the Iranian Revolutionary guards and funded primarily by Iran and Syria, the group is considered a resistance movement in much of the Arab world.  The United States considers the group a terrorist organization.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the sixth and current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Known for his inflammatory remarks, he is the leader of the conservative political group, Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) an Arab country in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf.  A federation of seven principalities, each governed by a hereditary emir, the country is unified under a single national president.

Revolutionary Guard is a branch of the Iranian military formed during the country’s revolution in 1979.  Formally known as the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, the group’s expressed mission is to defend the Islamic system of Iran.  Growing in power following the election of President Ahmadinejad, the Guard is regarded among the most powerful political forces in Iran after the Shiite clerical system that governs the country.

President Bashar Hafez al-Assad is the current President of Syria.  A trained physician, he was groomed to assume leadership of Syria following the unexpected death of his elder brother in a car crash.  He was elected President of Syria in 2000, succeeding his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country for 29 years until his death that year.  Initially called “The Hope” due to the promise of his initial reforms, President al-Assad now faces a strong challenge from domestic opposition forces in the country’s ongoing civil war.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization that aims to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to specifically inhibit its use for nuclear weapons.  Initially created by the United Nations, the agency became an autonomous body on July 29, 1957.