President: Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (1996)
Prime Minister: Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (2013)
Land area: 38,707 sq mi (100,251 sq km); total area: 39,768 sq mi (103,000 sq km)1
Population (2014 est.): 317,351 (growth rate: 0.65%); birth rate: 13.09/1000; infant mortality rate: 3.15/1000; life expectancy: 81.22
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Reykjavik, 206,000
Monetary unit: Icelandic króna
Iceland, an island about the size of Kentucky, lies in the north Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland and just touches the Arctic Circle. It is one of the most volcanic regions in the world. More than 13% is covered by snowfields and glaciers, and most of the people live in the 7% of the island that is made up of fertile coastland. The Gulf Stream keeps Iceland's climate milder than one would expect from an island near the Arctic Circle.
The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish hermits, who left the island upon the arrival of the pagan Norse people in the late 9th century. A constitution drawn up c. 930 created a form of democracy and provided for an Althing , the world's oldest practicing legislative assembly. The island's early history was preserved in the Icelandic sagas of the 13th century.
In 1262–1264, Iceland came under Norwegian rule and passed to ultimate Danish control through the unification of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (the Kalmar Union) in 1397.
In 1874, Icelanders obtained their own constitution, and in 1918, Denmark recognized Iceland, via the Act of Union, as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty. It remained, however, nominally under the Danish monarchy.
During the German occupation of Denmark in World War II, British, then American, troops occupied Iceland and used it for a strategic air base. While officially neutral, Iceland cooperated with the Allies throughout the conflict. On June 17, 1944, after a popular referendum, the Althing proclaimed Iceland an independent republic.