M. S. el-Azhary, ed., The Iran-Iraq War (London and New York: Croom Helm and St. Martin’s Press, 1984).

This volume comprises papers presented at a conference organized by the Universities of Exeter and Basra, at Exeter in July 1982, together with an introduction and conclusion written in the spring or summer of 1983. Some of the contributions thus have a rather dated air. John Duke Anthony, for example, thought that it was “unlikely that the Gulf states [would] be able to finance Iraq in the period ahead” in the way that they had in the first two years of the war, when in fact their munificence shows no immediate signs of abating.

Given the provenance of the collection, readers will not be surprised at the absence of contributions from an Iranian perspective or dealing very fully with Iran. There are some attempts to analyze the effect of the conflict on the Iraqi economy, and to a lesser extent on the Iranian, generally in the context of oil. There are virtually no references to political or social affairs in either country. Another curious feature for a publication emanating from an academic symposium is the general lack of footnotes or references. Only the contributions by Mustafa al-Najjar and Najdat Fathi Safwat on the Shatt al-‘Arab in the eighteenth century, and by el-Azhary on the superpowers, are properly footnoted. Thus Anthony makes tantalizing references to Israel’s collaboration with Iran without any indication of where his information comes from.

The first two historical essays, on the antecedents of the Shatt dispute (Peter Hünseler) and the Ka‘bid dynasty in the Shatt region (al-Najjar and Safwat) attempt to show the continuity of an Arab presence on the “east Shatt al-‘Arab,” which is thus considered “an integral part of Iraq.” This claim would benefit from more rigorous documentation, and some of Hünseler’s introductory remarks deserved more careful editing: thus the Buyids came to Baghdad in 945, not 954, and the Safavids cannot really be considered to have founded the first separate Shi’i state, an honor which belongs to the Carmathians, or the Zaydis of Yemen, or the Fatimids, all of whom preceded the Safavids by at least seven centuries.

The economic chapters by David Long, John Townsend and Basil al-Bustany contain some useful tables, particularly the detailed breakdown of Iranian and Iraqi oil production and Iraqi public sector spending in 1980-1982. But they do not seem sufficiently aware of the fact that the private sector was already booming before September 1980, and that developments since then are very much a continuation of previous practice rather than major departures. Thus Townsend’s characterization of the Iraqi regime as “strong centralized public sector dirigisme” is something of an oversimplification, at least in the context of the period since 1977. Bustany’s description of Iraq as an “independent economy” is difficult to square with contemporary realities.

The three papers on regional and international aspects, by G. H. Jansen, el-Azhary and Anthony, suffer particularly from having been written two years ago. Jansen’s characterization of the war as having a “racial basis since it is a dispute between Semitic Arabs and Aryan Persians” is typical of his other animadversions on the conflict. El-Azhary and Anthony both overlook or underplay the very clear community of interest between the United States and Iraq, a factor which has been apparent since well before the conflict began. Indeed, it is not too fanciful to suggest that Iraq’s decision to start the conflict was encouraged by the United States, who wanted to take advantage of the confusion in Iran to replace Khomeini by Shahpour Bakhtiar, who was in Baghdad at the time of the September 1980 invasion.

This collection adds little to the current state of knowledge or analysis of this tragic conflict. Perhaps its major weakness is the one-sided nature of almost all the contributions — “one-sided” not in the sense of “partisan,” but in the sense that the discussion is so superficial that an important dimension is almost entirely lacking. Furthermore, the quality and, on occasion, the accuracy of some of the pieces is not always of a decent academic standard.

How to cite this article:

Peter Sluglett "El-Azhary, The Iran-Iraq War," Middle East Report 125/126 (July-September 1984).

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