Iraq, holding oil reserves second only to those of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, is locked in a war with Iran whose outcome will affect Western energy supplies and the prospects for stability in the Arabian Gulf. Yet Iraq even now remains little known to Western governments and publics. This study is intended to enlarge understanding of Iraqi behavior and of the concerns that motivate its leaders. Some may find it unconventional. Rather than selecting issues of importance to other countries, the author focuses on the forces that influence policy formulation in Iraq and evokes the perspective from which the Iraqi government itself views its problems and sets its priorities. Part 1 examines the country’s evolution into modern Iraq, explaining why problems that have recurred throughout Iraqi history have bedeviled all recent Iraqi governments and created tension between “Iraq the nation” and “Iraq the state.” Part 2 discusses the Arab Ba’th Socialist party, which has dominated Iraqi political life since 1968. The author neither condemns nor praises this controversial party and its current leader, President Saddam Husain, but seeks to explain why they have adopted the positions and taken the actions that have characterized their rule. Part 3 analyzes the war between Iraq and Iran, its causes, and the decisions Iraq has made in light of its goals and its assumptions about Iran. The author finds that this is not simply “a war over borders” but a deeper conflict between Islamic conservatism and Arab nationalism. Looking beyond the war, the final chapter assesses Iraq’s potential importance in the Middle East and to the world economy.
December 1, 1982
Christine Moss Helms is a research associate in the Brookings Foreign Policy Studies program.