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 first understand the military situation that has prevailed since the Iranians drove the Iraqi invaders back behind their own borders in the summer of 1982. Since that time, Iran has been slowly winning the war on the ground, while losing it on the economic and diplomatic fronts.
That Iran, with an estimated 6.2 million men fit for military service out of a population of 45.2 million, could be winning a war of attrition against Iraq, whose 15.5 million population includes only 2.03 million men fit for duty, is hardly surprising. If anything, it is surprising that Iraq, despite over two dozen major Iranian offenses since 1982, has kept the numerically superior Iranians at bay for so long.
The combatants face each other along a 730-mile front from Turkey to the Persian Gulf. Since 1982 the front lines have approximately coincided with the international border.
Along this vast front, only about 250 miles along the central sector, from Mandali, Iraq, to Bostan, Iran, provide the relatively flat, dry terrain and clear fields of fire that permit the high degree of artillery support, air support and armored mobility necessary for
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