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No End in Sight

September 22, 1987

Seven years ago today Iraq invaded Iran, unsuspectingly inaugurating what would become one of this century's longest wars. President Saddam Hussein had it in mind to grab a piece of his neighbor's territory on the cheap while Iran was preoccupied with its Islamic revolution. His miscalculation has cost Iraq a generation of progress. Hussein's ability to survive this epic blunder is testimony to the iron control that he exercises over an especially nasty police state. The survival of Iran's leaders despite enormous battle casualties and growing domestic deprivations appears, conversely, to reflect genuine popular support for their insistence on continuing the war. It is for these reasons that the fighting could go on for years to come.

Another recent round of international political efforts to end the war seems predictably headed for failure. The U.N. Security Council, though it has talked of cutting off weapons to the belligerents, shows no stomach for trying to enforce an arms embargo. The Soviet Union, for one, now argues that more consultations are needed before any action is taken--a sure prescription for inactivity. That's fine with any number of nations--including China, a Security Council member--that are making a lot of money selling war supplies to Iran, to Iraq or, indiscriminately, to both.

The most significant recent development in the long war has come with the more or less uncoordinated emergence of an international naval presence in the Persian Gulf. The purpose is to protect freedom of shipping. The risks of confrontation inherent in this effort were demonstrated Monday, when a U.S. helicopter fired on an Iranian vessel allegedly seen laying mines. Meanwhile, the land war also continues, brutally and inconclusively, with Iran once again reported preparing to launch one of its monumentally costly "final offensives." The willingness of Iranians to continue sacrificing tens of thousands of their young men in fruitless battles is surely one of the more remarkable facets of this war. Without doubt, it is also the most appalling.

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