Iran and Iraq resemble two exhausted boxers after a dozen rounds of high-stakes pugilism. The two have different fighting styles. Iran is more aggressive, Iraq wilier. Iran is more acutely motivated, Iraq better trained. Iran has no devoted handlers in its corner, whereas Iraq has an entourage of supporters. Neither combatant seems able to summon strength beyond that needed for one more good round, but each insists it will fight on until the other gives in. For the two of them, it is a grudge match. Both are apparently as stubborn as they claim.
Yet, devastating though it is in terms of lives and money, no one has much of a sense of when the fighting is likely to end, nor does anyone feel very confident about predicting the winner. After six years the prospect of endless war has created deep anxieties throughout the oil-rich Persian Gulf and sent intimations of calamity reverberating over a steadily widening area. Washington, with its vital Middle East interests, admits it is also worried. But sending confusing signals about arms supplies to the area, it appears to have no clear vision, much less a policy, for bringing the war to an end.
By conventional strategic assessment, Iran should win this war. With 42 million inhabitants, its population is three times the size of Iraq’s. With a fervor born of a successful revolution, it has brought to the battlefield far more élan. But Iraq has defied the gloomy prophesies of outside experts and continued to fight with surprising obstinacy. To make up for its deficiencies in manpower, it has mobilized more effectively. Accurate figures in this war are hard to come by, but according to American estimates Iraq may have as many as 750,000 men permanently under arms, about 200,000 more than Iran. Furthermore, thanks to various friendly nations in the region and farther afield, Iraq has kept its men much better equipped.
Only a few years ago, Iran and Iraq were great oil powers, working to
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