Iraq and Iran are two of three important players in the Gulf, the third one being Saudi Arabia. Since this region has two-thirds of the proven world petroleum deposits it is of vital importance to the West. Over the next decade or so they will be among a handful of countries that will be able to export crude oil. It is worth noting that petroleum is the source not only of gasoline for cars, but also asphalt for road construction, fertilizers for agriculture, jet fuel for aircraft, paints for domestic and other purposes, heating oil and synthetic rubber.
Most of the Gulf oil and natural gas lie underground or under the territorial waters of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Of these states - aside from Saudi Arabia - Iran and Iraq are more significant than the rest. Together, they own the second largest natural gas deposits on the planet and one-fifth of its petroleum reserves, almost equaling those of Saudi Arabia. Home to large populations, their geographical position has endowed them with extraordinary strategic importance.
Iran shares land frontiers with the Indian sub-continent, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbajian, Armenia, Turkey and Iraq, and fluvial boundaries with Russia, Kazakhstan and Oman. Its coastline runs not only all along the Persian/Arabian Gulf, which is only 30-210 miles (50-340 km) wide, but also along the Arabian Sea. Iraq, the easternmost part of the Arabic-speaking world that stretches westward to Mauritania along the Atlantic Coast, has common frontiers with six countries, three of which are major oil producers.
In the Gulf region, Iranians made history by overthrowing a pro-Western, secular monarch with a septuagenarian Shia cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, who set out to purge his country of all Western, especially American, influence. His Islamic revolutionary rhetoric and actions threatened the secular Baathist regime in the Shia-majority Iraq, headed by Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, more seriously than any other in the region.
The subsequent 1980-88 armed conflict, often called the First Gulf War, which ended in a draw, left a deep imprint on both nations as well as the region. It helped Khomeini to consolidate the revolution in Iran. On the other hand, backed actively by the West and the regional monarchs, Saddam Hussein succeeded in containing the tide of Islamic revolution - to the relief of his backers as