IMMORTAL: A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces

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IMMORTAL: A Military History of Iran and its Armed Forces, Steven R. Ward, Georgetown University Press, Georgetown, Washington, DC, 2009, 380 pages, $29.95.

The title of Immortal refers to soldiers who were known for their military prowess and their loyalty, the famous elite corps of the ancient Persian rulers. It also alludes to the long history of Persian and Iranian culture and the central military role it has played throughout the history of the Middle East. The author, Steven Ward, is highly qualified for the task, having served as a CIA intelligence analyst on Iran and the Middle East, as deputy intelligence officer at the National Intelligence Council, and as a member of the National Security Council.

The book provides a long historical perspective of Iranian military culture beginning with the fabled Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great and continuing with the Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanians. It discusses the Arab invasion and Islamization of Persia, the Mongol conquests, and the emergence of the Shi'a Safavid dynasty as a force in the Islamic world that contested the dominance of the Sunni Ottoman Empire. The author also examines the significance of Iran's geography to its strategic vision and self-image-"Fortress Iran." After a discussion of the impact of Russian and British colonialism, the emergence of oil as a strategic resource, and both World Wars, the narrative continues with a detailed account of the U.S. relationship with the Pahlavi Shahs and their program of secularization and modernization.

The book's most original and revealing aspect is its analysis and evaluation of Iran's military since the Islamic Revolution. …