Courtesy Reuters

The eighth year of the Iran-Iraq War is nearly over, but the conflict shows little sign of ending anytime soon. Despite the dramatic events of April, when U.S. and Iranian naval forces clashed in the Persian Gulf, 1988 appears destined to be just another year of bloody stalemate in a seemingly endless war.

Appearances, however, may be deceptive. In the course of the last year or so, Iraq has continued to make significant economic and diplomatic gains while holding its own militarily. Its clear edge in missiles and air power has made the "war of the cities" a decidedly one-sided contest. Much more importantly, with its recapture of the strategic Fao peninsula April 17-18, and despite serious setbacks in the north, Iraq may have actually managed to wrest the land initiative from Iran for the first time in six years.

To appreciate properly the significance of these developments, one must

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