The Iran-Iraq War

by Pierre Razoux

The Iran-Iraq War is an in-depth exploration of the terrible conflict that wracked the Middle East through most of the ’80s. Razoux starts us off by thrusting us into the heated political climate in the region immediately before the war broke out, moves into the initial, largely ineffectual military campaigns, and then bounces between detailed accounts of specific battles and related issues occurring domestically and internationally that provide better context for an understanding of the reasons things unfolded the way they did. In presenting the book this way, the author showcases a great understanding of how to keep a flow that enhances interest and readability, only slowing things down or backtracking to explain background information when it becomes immediately necessary.

As much as I hate to admit it, I found The Iran-Iraq War at least a bit funny. Yes, I understand the tragic human toll that came out of the conflict, but Razoux presents things almost like a farce, a dark satire, so I don’t think I can be entirely faulted for starting off in this mindset. This can be partially attributed to the facts presented, which can be best summed up as overconfident rulers throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the advice of experienced advisers, systematically destroying any accumulated advantages for entirely political reasons. But, the almost flippant ways the author relates this makes portions of the read sarcastic and hilarious. I assume this has to do with Razoux wanting to demonstrate how senseless these conflicts actually were and that, despite their bluster on the world stage, these leaders were incompetent when it came to military strategy, such as when he describes the long string of ineffective tactical airstrikes in the early stages of combat or the Iraqi artillery bombardment of Abadan that would “last for several weeks and amount to a tremendous waste of ammunition.” His biting remarks largely fall by the wayside as we progress through the book, giving way to an impartial account of things based on the author’s exhaustive research, but, to my enjoyment, they did occasionally resurface. (One of the most memorable cases had to do with the US government getting caught supplying the Iranians with weapons in the middle of the US-imposed embargo on weapon sales to Iran: The head of the CIA was said to have “escaped public disgrace by dying of cancer … only a few days before his scheduled hearing before Congress.”)

Despite the way I’m presenting things, The Iran-Iraq War is ultimately an account of needless suffering imposed by the selfish and callous people in power the world over. Things were instigated by a despot looking to better establish his importance in the region, and the conflict went on so long both because the tyrants on the other side wanted to tighten their stranglehold on their country and because the international community gained so much, financially and politically, by supplying both belligerents with weapons and support. (Of course, many countries chose to do so clandestinely so as not to ruin relations with the other side and to not overtly align themselves with regimes connected with human rights abuses and war crimes.) It’s a sobering look at how human lives don’t seem to matter so long as the powerful profit, and I think the author makes clear that, while such terrible people deserve our ridicule and our ire, the millions of innocents affected by these political games deserve our understanding of what they went through and all the senseless reasons why.