The Iran-Iraq War (Twentieth-Century Wars)

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The Iran-Iraq War (Twentieth-Century Wars). By Rob Johnson. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.192 pp. $88 ($29, paper).

Perhaps the most vicious war of the late twentieth century, the 1980-88 conflict between Iran and Iraq deserves a fresh appraisal. In The IranIraq War, Johnson, a former U.S. army officer, intended to provide a politically neutral analysis of the conflict that would explain how it shaped subsequent events in the Middle East. Such an undertaking is a worthy goal as bias mars many works on the subject: Stephen C. Pelletiere's The Iran-Iraq War: Chaos in a Vacuum} astonishingly questions whether Iraq used poison gas against the Kurds at Halabja while Farhang Rajaee's The Iran-Iraq War: Politics of Aggression2 downplays Khomeini's promotion of revolutionary activity in neighboring countries. Further, since most of the voluminous literature on the Iran-Iraq war was written during or shortly after the conflict, few books explain how the war influenced the region's history.

Unfortunately, Johnson's book leaves largely unfulfilled its promise to explain "how the war shaped the region and set in motion the events that followed." Reminding readers that Saddam Hussein's motivations for invading Kuwait in 1990 included increasing Iraq's oil reserves to pay potentially mutinous returning soldiers and to revive an economy shattered by war does not suffice.

While Johnson avoids repeating as fact the wartime propaganda of either belligerent, he promotes the discredited "October Surprise" conspiracy theory. That story maintains that, to increase Carter's unpopularity and win the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan secretly promised to supply the Iranians with weapons if they would prolong the hostage crisis until after the vote. …