Iraq's New Image

August 22, 1980

Report Outline
Iraq's Emergence as Gulf Power
Long Quest for Arab Leadership
Keys to Stability and Preeminence

Iraq's Emergence as Gulf Power

Changes in Foreign and Domestic Policy

Iraq's recent transformation from a “radical” to a “moderate” Arab state has brought this once-obscure country to world attention. Iraqis long have viewed their nation as the leader of the Arab world. Now, because of the country's increasing oil production, pragmatic diplomacy and large-scale military buildup, others agree that Iraq is the preeminent power in the Persian Gulf region and perhaps in the whole Arab world.

Many factors account for Iraq's new prominence, particularly the ouster of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, in January 1979 and the subsequent chaos that befell that country under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The growing isolation of Egypt in the Arab world after the signing of the U.S.-sponsored Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, in March 1979, also enhanced Iraq's image. Other reasons include Iraq's movement away from the Soviet Union, its improved relations with neighboring Arab states, increased contacts and trade with Western Europe and Japan, and efforts to resolve ethnic and religious problems that long have plagued the country.

Iraq's growing importance in the Persian Gulf region was described by William B. Quandt in a recent study published by the Brookings Institution. “Iran's loss of military and economic strength has created a new balance of power in which its immediate neighbor, Iraq, assumes much greater influence…,” he wrote. “Iraq's position is by no means totally secure because it has internal weaknesses, including a large part of its population that feels unrepresented by the current government. Nonetheless, Iraq enjoyed a degree of political continuity in the 1970s, which allowed for positive internal and economic development and the building of a strong military establishment. Oil income is high and appears likely to rise, and Iraq, as a result, is certain to be a dominant influence in the Gulf region in the 1980s.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Mar. 01, 2013  The Iraq War: 10 Years Later
Apr. 25, 2008  Cost of the Iraq War
Feb. 23, 2007  New Strategy in Iraq
Oct. 21, 2005  War in Iraq
Jul. 25, 2003  Rebuilding Iraq
Oct. 04, 2002  Confronting Iraq
Mar. 15, 1991  Calculating the Cost of the Gulf War
Nov. 16, 1990  Iraq and Beyond: Post-Cold War Military Choices
Aug. 22, 1980  Iraq's New Image
International Energy Trade and Cooperation
Regional Political Affairs: Middle East and South Asia