The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 presented Iran with a rare opportunity to expand its influence: the Iraqi state was in disarray and its military apparatus destroyed. Chaos in Greater Mesopotamia, of which Iraq is a part, has long been a requirement for Iranian expansion. But Tehran's ability to take advantage of such opportunities has inherent geographic limitations.
The Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s is instructive: despite having a population almost three times larger than the population of Iraq (some 38 million versus about 13 million), Iran could not achieve anything beyond a stalemate. While there were many reasons for this, one of the most salient was Iran's Zagros Mountains, which while an excellent defensive asset are a difficult place from which to mount an overwhelming offensive attack. The logistics of supporting an army through the Zagros are complicated and costly, making it nearly impossible to push great numbers of troops through the mountain range.
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