A blow-by-blow account of how two wars have affected the fortunes of two nations.
Drawing on myriad sources, from newspapers to interviews, Hiro (Desert Shield to Desert Storm, not reviewed) presents a good primer on contemporary Iraqi and Iranian history. Both Gulf Wars—the first (1980–88) between Iraq and Iran, the second (1991) between Iraq and a coalition of forces headed by the US—led to divergent consolidations of power. In Iraq, after both wars, Saddam Hussein tightened his control. In Iran, the first war solidified the Islamic revolution in giving the Iranian people a common enemy, while the second provided oxygen to a moderate movement that led to the election of current President Muhammad Khatami in 1997. The author devotes much time to Hussein’s takeover of the Baath party apparatus, his build-up of the Republican Guard, and his control of the intelligence and security services, which have enabled him to keep a thumb on his would-be challengers and US spies. He gives a pretty clear diagram of Iran’s numerous religious and non-religious government bodies (which are currently wrestling with each other over social and economic reforms), and documents how the US (under Presidents Bush and Clinton) sought to isolate both Iraq and Iran economically and diplomatically—despite significant differences between the police-state government of the former and the vibrant, partially democratic culture of the latter. He argues that Bush chose to leave Hussein in power so as not to allow Iran to profit from his demise, and that Clinton cynically bombed Iraq to halt impeachment proceedings then being raised against him in Congress. Unfortunately, Hiro never directly synthesizes this material, and his account is divided in half—with each country dealt with separately in its own section. Indeed, each section could have been its own historical monograph.
Necessary, if painstaking, reading for anyone interested in the contemporary history of two “rogue” states.