MESOP Arguments & Analysis – “Chemical Wonders” (Joost Hiltermann, London Review of Books)

 “The Iran-Iraq War offers as useful a case study as any in how conflicts begin and are brought to an end. The war started in September 1980, when Saddam Hussein, perceiving a significant threat in Iran’s recent Islamic Revolution, sent his troops across the border with the intention of dealing his neighbour a quick and humiliating blow. He was worried that the Islamic Republic’s radical ideology and revolutionary zeal might incite Iraq’s majority Shia population to revolt against his own secular rule. He also sensed a momentary weakness on Iran’s part, as the new regime was busy eliminating its internal enemies. Strategically, he hoped to rein in Iran’s hegemonic pretensions in Iraq and the Gulf, a region with a significant Shia population.

After eight years of war, and hundreds of thousands of dead and injured on both sides, Iran’s younger generation was dangerously depleted, its troops exhausted and its population demoralised. The new republic had also become isolated internationally as a result of the 1979-81 US hostage crisis. By contrast, Iraq, while vulnerable on a number of fronts, was gathering strength with the help of Arab and Western support. Yet the war was brought to an end, and what clinched it, Pierre Razoux argues in his new history of the conflict, was the Soviet decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.” Read all