Immortal: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces

Article excerpt

Immortal: A Military History of Iran and its Armed Forces. By Steven R. Ward. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 2009. 361 pp. $27.95.

Iran has had more than its share of wars; its history can, to a large extent, be understood by studying the military operations on its soil. With only brief interludes, Iranian leaders during the last century have seen the military as the centerpiece of their rule. That was as true of Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1921-41) and his son as of the Islamic Republic, which uses its Pasdaran, or Revolutionary Guard, to maintain its iron grip on the country.

CIA analyst Ward provides detailed accounts of the grand martial dreams envisaged by these regimes - dreams that came crashing down in costly failure. When Iraqi forces unilaterally withdrew from Iranian soil in 1982, for example, the Islamic Republic could have ended the war with Iraq on terms no worse - arguably better - than what it was offered in 1988. By fighting on, the Islamic Republic lost about 200,000 citizens and exhausted its people, who no longer were prepared to sacrifice for the revolutionary cause.

Ward skillfully illustrates how the Islamic Republic in many important ways continues the millennia-long trends of its forebears. Hc recalls historian Sir Percy Sykes's comment that the ancient Sassanians, the lastpre-Islamic Persian empire, "considered] the altar and throne as inseparable," pointing to its continuing relevance to many Iranian regimes, especially today's mullocracy. …