Nine million Iranians cannot read or write out of a population of at least 71.5 million, a newspaper reported today.

"At the moment, there are 9.45 million people who are completely illiterate in the country,'' the deputy head of the Literacy Movement Organization, Parviz Kosari, was quoted as saying in the Kayan newspaper.

The organization was set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution as the successor of other such bodies that already existed in Iran, in a bid to reach out to adults in remote areas deprived of regular education.

"The highest illiteracy rate is in the Sistan-Baluchestan province and Tehran has the highest literacy rate,'' Kosari said.

The southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan is one of the most deprived areas of the country, stricken by poverty and a lack of water.

The statistics underline that illiteracy remains an issue in Iran despite successive efforts by governments under the shah and then after the revolution to eradicate the problem.

In the 1950s, only around 15 percent of the Iran's then largely agrarian population was literate. But government campaigns and mass migration to the cities meant literacy soared in the next decades.

"About 85 percent of our target population are women and 53 percent reside in villages,'' Kosari said.

He said women were more motivated to learn reading and writing, while men were busy trying to make a living.