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Saddam Hussein the Iraqi dictator is a ruthless despot who has brought enormous misery on his own people It is a pity he remains in power Finley The tension between Iran and Iraq had deep roots Long-standing major problems included rivalries between the minority Sunni Muslims who dominated Iraq and the majority Shiites and disputes over borders that confined Iraq to its narrow access to the Persian Gulf by way of the Shatt al Arab waterway In 1969 when Britain announced its intent to withdraw from the Gulf Iran and Iraq already seemed ready for war That year there was a small confrontation over the boundary along the Gulf and disputes flared in the 1970s as well once when Iran occupied three Gulf islands in 1971 and several times later over the border Most of those differences appeared to have been put to rest by the Algiers Treaty in 1975 This agreement settled the border dispute over the Shatt al Arab waterway in Irans favor At the same time Iraq renounced a long-standing claim to the southwestern portion of Iran an area called Arabistan by Iraq and Khuzestan by Iran and recognized Iranian control of the disputed Gulf Islands Saddam Hussein took over the presidency in 1979 When the Iranian monarchy was overthrown Iraq denounced the Algiers Treaty and demanded restoration of the eastern bank of the Shatt al Arab as the border After a period of mutual sporadic border violations and skirmishes Iraq attacked its neighbor in the summer of 1980 Iran appeared weak and disorganized and the Iraqi president thought he could easily win The Ronald W Reagan administration took office in 1981 when the war between Iran and Iraq was only a few months old and it built on the Carter Doctrine Regan indicated his readiness to keep open the Strait of Hormuz in the event that Iran tried to close the Persian Gulf to shipping
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