The Social Origins of the Iran-Iraq War

Article excerpt

The Social Origins of the Iran-Iraq War, by W. Thom Workman. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994. x + 174 pages. Index to p. 178. $35.

Reviewed by Louay Bahry

The Iran-Iraq war, with eight years of active hostilities (1980-88), was the longest conventional war fought in the 20th century. Although, for the two belligerents, the war ended in a virtual military draw, it caused hundreds of thousands of human casualties and significant damage to the economies of both Iran and Iraq. Neither country has yet recuperated. Moreover, the consequences of the war did not end with the cease-fire. Iraqi president Saddam Husayn, frustrated by the war's unsatisfactory outcome and suffering from an empty treasury, sought to regain his prestige and recoup his financial losses by invading and then annexing the defenseless but oil-rich Kuwait.

W. Thom Workman, seeking a social basis for the monumental Iran-Iraq conflict, finds that this "was a war between two societies in crisis ... [that] entrenched repressive political regimes and continually eroded the social power of subordinate constituancies" (p. 171). With such a construct as the foundation of his study, the author draws the reader into the intricacies of the recent sociopolitical history of the two countries. He sketches the last days of the Iranian monarchy and the rise of the Islamic revolution in Iran. He claims that the repressive methods used by the new revolutionary regime to silence and repress its opponents, and impoverish the middle and lower classes, made it easier to conduct and justify the war against Iraq. The new Iranian government appealed to the Islamic sentiments of its population, urging them to march first on Iraq to help the oppressed Muslim population of Iraq and then on to Israel to free Palestine. When the Iranian government failed to deliver on these outsized ambitions, its leaders were forced to accept the cease fire offered by Iraq through the United Nations. As usual, the poorer classes were the ones who suffered the highest loss of life and the greatest economic losses.

Workman's analysis of Iraq since the arrival to power of the Ba`th party in 1968 generally follows the same line of reasoning. The Ba`th used its power to oppress the majority of the Iraqi people, and the war with Iran helped secure this objective. …