Gulf Relations -- Iran and Iraq: The Threat from the Northern Gulf by Anthony H. Cordesman

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Iran and Iraq: The Threat from the Northern Gulf, by Anthony H. Cordesman. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. xi + 290 pages. Notes to p. 345. Select. Bibl. to p. 357. Biog. Note to p. 358. Index to g. 380. $64.95 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Anthony H. Cordesman has become a one-man cottage industry in the field of Middle Eastern defense and security analysis. Only a year after his massive After the Storm: The Changing Military Balance in the Middle East,(1) he has produced another timely work, Iran and Iraq. While Cordesman naturally covers some of the same ground in the second book, he gives much greater detail, which has always been one of his trademarks.

As this reviewer was reading the book, Iraq captured two US civilians who inadvertently crossed the border from Kuwait, US Secretary of Defense William Perry visited Abu Dhabi and warned of Iran's build-up of antishipping and antiaircraft missiles and chemical weapons on islands near the Strait of Hormuz, and 35,000 Turkish troops began operating inside northern Iraq. Thus, there is really no room for disagreement that the Gulf is--and is likely to remain--a dangerous place and that both of the powers of the northern Gulf, Iran and Iraq, are potential sources of military confrontation for the southern Gulf states and the West.

Cordesman's books are difficult to review in a conventional way because they are packed with data, as anyone who has read even one of them knows. Iran and Iraq is no exception: it is filled with data, tables, charts, chronologies, and summaries of technologies and capabilities. The data is drawn from a wide variety of sources, all meticulously cited. Even if one disagrees occasionally with one of the author's conclusions, he has assembled the data to support them.

Cordesman is sometimes weaker on the analysis of the internal politics of Iran and Iraq, or the historical and personal aspects of their relations with the other Gulf-states. But there are plenty of books that provide that sort of information, and few that assemble in one place the data needed to make a realistic assessment of military capabilities and threats. Op-ed pieces, and similar discussions, often debate issues involving chemical weapons capabilities or nuclear proliferation with little understanding of the technologies involved. …