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jordan LIES TO THE NORTHWEST of thé Arabian Peninsula. Apart from a short coastline along thé Gulf of Aqaba, it is completely landlocked, or eut off from thé sea. Much of eastern Jordan is désert, with mountains in the north and south. Most of its people are Muslim and speak Arabie. Jordan is a relatively new country (it became fully independent in 1946), but some of the world's oldest sites are found here. In recent years, the government has played a part in peace talks between the Israelis and their Arab neighbors.


When Israël was formed in 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes and become refugees in Jordan and other Arab countries. More than 40 years later, they are still there. In Jordan alone, there are 1.8 million Palestinian refugees. Many have been born and brought up in refugee camps. This Palestinian refugee camp is near Amman.


Water is in short supply throughout the Middle East. Control of the Jordan River, which forms the border between Jordan and Israël, has become an important issue in peace talks between the two countries. Jordan, a relatively poor country, has a particular need for a greater share of the water to irrigate its land so it can produce more crops.


Iraq is one of the largest and most powerful countries in the Middle East. Most of its people are Muslim and Arabic speaking. There are also around 4 million Kurds living in the north. Apart from the fertile plains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, most of Iraq is mountainous or covered in desert. Only about a sixth of the country is suitable for farming and much of Iraq's food is imported. Since Iraq became a republic in 1958, it has experienced great political unrest. During the 1980s a bitter war was fought against Iran, and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait led to the Gulf War (1990-91) and to intervention by an international force.


Many ancient peoples settled in Mesopotamia (part of which is now Iraq) because it lay in the fertile crescent of land formed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The area has many ancient ruins, including stepped, pyramidlike structures called ziggurats, found at Babylon and Ur. The steps led to a temple at the top.


Iraq's most important natural resources are oil and natural gas. Oil production began on a large scale in 1945 and now dominates the economy. Because Iraq has only a short stretch of coastline along the Persian Gulf, it relies on pipelines through turkey, Syria, and Saudi Arabia to export its oil.



Iran is the largest non-arab country in the Middle East; its people are Persian in origin. In ancient times, Iran was called Persia, and it was at the center of a great empire. The Persian language has survived from that time and is spoken by most Iranians. The country consists of a huge, central plateau ringed by the Zagros and Elburz mountains. In 1979, the last Shah, or king, of Iran was overthrown by an Islamic revolution and the country was declared a republic. Today, oil is Iran's biggest export.


Ayatollah Khomeini was a key figure in the Iranian revolution and remained Iran's political and religious leader until his death in 1989. The Shah had tried to introduce Western ideas to Iran, but Khomeini wanted the country to be governed by traditional Islamic laws and values. His ideas still dominate Iran.


Iran is famous for its handwoven Persian carpets. Each consists of thousands of pieces of wool knotted into elaborate patterns. The weavers always make a deliberate mistake in their work because, as Muslims, they believe that nothing is perfect except God. Carpets are Iran's second largest export, after oil.


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