Iraq: Eastern Flank of the Arab World

Iraq: Eastern Flank of the Arab World

Iraq: Eastern Flank of the Arab World

Iraq: Eastern Flank of the Arab World

Excerpt

Since September 1980 the state of Iraq has been engaged in a war with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the course and outcome of which will affect the energy economy of the West and the prospects for political stability in the Arabian Gulf. Expansion of the war could place in jeopardy the world's largest known oil reserves, those of Saudi Arabia, and the oilfields of Iraq itself. Of immediate concern is the possibility that an escalation of hostilities between Iraq and Iran might lead other Arab Gulf states to intervene militarily and test the United States' commitment to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to world commerce. Every evidence suggests that the U.S. government would take the steps necessary to fulfill that commitment. Although less dramatic, this war will have a subtle but equally important impact on the content of political discussion in the Middle East generally and on its relations with the Western world.

In a situation of such import to Western policymakers, it is ironic that Iraq, a key player in the drama unfolding in the Gulf, receded from the attention of senior officials in Washington after the overthrow of the last openly pro-Western government in Baghdad in 1958. Diplomatic relations were formally broken nine years later, further restricting first-hand knowledge of Iraq and of the successive regimes that have governed it. If nothing else, the war and the stakes it involves have brought home the need to enlarge our understanding of Iraq, of its people, and of the concerns that motivate its leaders.

As in other Middle Eastern countries, the Iraqi leaders find themselves both motivated and constrained by popular aspirations. Those aspirations are shaped by a history of foreign intervention in domestic affairs; by traditions that are, in the main, Arab and Islamic; by evolving and sometimes contradictory perceptions of nationalism; by expectations of rising living standards; by tensions among ethnic, religious, and linguistic . . .

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