The Persian Gulf: The Iran-Iraq War

Courtesy Reuters

The Iran-Iraq war is now in its fourth year. For those of us in the West, the conflict has had a quality of remoteness for much of its course, an impression brought about in part by the nature of the struggle itself. We feel revulsion at a war that has sent teenagers by the thousands to their deaths against entrenched gun positions, at the use of poison gas which we had hoped the conscience of mankind had abolished as a method of warfare. We have been unable to comprehend fully the ideologies and motivations driving the leaders of these two nations to pursue a conflict that has led to such carnage and cynical disregard for human life. It has been easy-indeed a relief-to put this war out of mind. And besides, we ask, what can anybody do to bring it to an end?

The policymakers of all the major powers whose interests are engaged in the Gulf-the United States, our European allies, Japan, and the Soviet Union-have felt a similar sense of frustration in dealing with the conflict. They know that while interests of great importance to them are jeopardized by the Gulf crisis, their ability to influence the course of the struggle is limited. America's leverage in particular has been circumscribed: at the outset of the war we did not have diplomatic relations with either Baghdad or Teheran and were not supplying arms to either side. Moreover, once the U.S. position in Iran had been lost as the result of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution, and once the world saw that it could absorb the loss of a major portion of Iraqi and Iranian oil without shortages or continuing price increases, the stake for the United States and its allies in the progress of the war no longer seemed as great. This was the case, at least, as long as the war appeared headed toward a military impasse, and as long as it did not spread to other countries

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