Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of Iran bringing about the largest war between Muslim states in history (1980). It resulted in hundreds of thousands probably more than a million casualties, including countless poorly trained Irainan boy soldiers. Sadam was concerned about the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the potential impact on Shite Iraqis. Border skirmishes occurred in September 1980 with artillery exchanges on both sides. Saddam as a result officially abrogated the 1975 treaty between Iraq and Iran and decalred that the Shatt al Arab waterway between the two countries belonged to Iraq. Iran rejected this and hostilities escalated. The two countries conducted bombing raids into each other's territory. Saddam felt that a quick victory over the Iranians was possible. He anticipated the Arabic-speaking, oil-rich area of Khuzistan would rise up against Ayatolah Khomeini's fundamentalist Islamic regime. This did not occur and the Arab minority in Iran remained loyal to Iran. Saddam began the War with a surprise air attack designed to destroy the Iraina air force on the ground--a tactic learned from the Isrealis. Iraqui Soviet-supplied MiG-23s and MiG21s on September 22, 1980, attacked major Iranian air bases. They caused substantial damage, but did not knock out the Iranian Air Force which launched its American supplied F-4 Phantoms to strike targets near major Iraqi cities. Coordinating with the air strikes, Saddam ordered six Iraqi army divisions into Iran on three fronts. This surprise attack was successful and drove 8 kilometers into Iran.
Saddam launched an invasion of Iran in 1980 bringing about the largest war between Muslim states in history and resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties, including countless poorly trained Irainan boy soldiers.
The Iran-Iraw War was the latest phase of the centuries old vonflict between Persians and Arabs complicated by border disputes between the modern states of Iran and Iraq. Coloring the dispute is the Sunni-versus-Shia religious dispute which has split the Islamic world from the remarkable explosion of the Arabs out of the Arabian desert in the 7th century. Adding to the religious dispute is the ethnic differences between Arabs and Persians.
Sadam was concerned about the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the potential impact on Shite Iraqis. Saddam's personal animosity toward Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini was an important factor in his decission to invade Iran. Saddam saw the Ayatollah's Islamic fundmentalist agenda as threatening to his vision of pan-Arabism. Khomeini had lived at An Najaf in Iraq for 15 years. Sadam saw him as potentially helpful in his disputes with the Shah, Eventually Saddam began to see Khomeini's influence as harmful to his plans. He this expelled Khomeini in 1977. Khomeini went to France where helived in exile at Neauphle le Chateau in the south of Paris as political refugee. He resented his expullsion as well as the many Shia victims of Saddam's Baathist repression. Disorders inspired by Khomeini's fundamentalist supporters forced the Shah to flee in 1978 and the Ayatollah returned to the acclaim of massive street demonstrations. One impact of the Iranian Revolution closely watched by Saddam was the decline of the Imperial Iranian Army. Most of its highest ranking officers who were loyal to the Shah were executed or fled Iran. And by attacking the Ameruicvans, Iran lost its main arms supplier. Saddam tried to fuel disorders within Iran. Iraqi agents in the south (Arab-speaking Khuzestan) incited riots over labor disputes. Saddam in the north supported Iranian Kurdish region, inciting a new rebellion which created further problems for the already unstable Revolutionary regime.
Border skirmishes occurred in September 1980 with artillery exchanges on both sides. Saddam as a result officially abrogated the 1975 treaty between Iraq and Iran and decalred that the Shatt al Arab waterway between the two countries belonged to Iraq. Iran rejected this and hostilities escalated. The two countries conducted bombing raids into each other's territory. Border skirmishes between Iran and Iraq were nothing new. The major issue was the status off the Shatt al Arab waterway. Iraq claimed the entire 200-km channel including the Iranian shore as Iraqi territory. Iran on the other hand insisted that the thalweg, a line running down the middle of the channel, negotiated in 1975, was the rightful border between the two countries.
Saddam felt that a quick victory over the Iranians was possible. He anticipated the Arabic-speaking, oil-rich area of Khuzistan would rise up against Ayatolah Khomeini's fundamentalist Islamic regime. This did not occur and the Arab minority in Iran remained loyal to Iran. Saddam saw an invasion of Iran as a means of confirming his rising power in the Arab world and to replace Iran as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. Saddam apparently thought he could score a quick decissive victory at a time that Iran was weak and no longer had an Americam ally. It was one in a series of miscalculations and faulty poltical judgement on Saddam's part.
Saddam began the War with a surprise air attack designed to destroy the Iraina air force on the ground--a tactic learned from the Isrealis. Iraqui Soviet-supplied MiG-23s and MiG21s on September 22, 1980, attacked major Iranian air bases. They caused substantial damage, but did not knock out the Iranian Air Force which launched its American supplied F-4 Phantoms to strike targets near major Iraqi cities. Coordinating with the air strikes, Saddam ordered six Iraqi army divisions into Iran on three fronts. This surprise attack was successful and drove 8 kilometers (km) into Iran.
The main Iraqi offensive was conducted in the south. Iraq with five armored and mechanized divisions invaded Khuzestan. Iraq's blitzkrieg armoured assaults initually encountered scattered and largely demoralized Iranian resiarance. Some foreign observers concluded that Baghdad would emerge victorious within a short period. The Iraqis seized Khorramshahr and headed for Susangerd, site of a major military base. The Iraqi forces were supported by heavy artillery and advanced nearly 80 km into Iran in only a few days. Local Iranian army commanders pleaded for air support. Iranian air operations had been hindered because many pilots had been arrested because of suspeted loyalty to the Shah. President Bani Sadr released many pilots and the Iranian Air Force was able to slow the Iraqi advance. The last major Iraqui advances occurred in November naer Abadan and Khorramshahr.
Iran's Revolutionary regime managed to revent a quick Iraqi victory by quickly mobilizing untrained, but fervent volunteers and deploying loyal Pasdaran forces. The Iranians also enlisted jailed Iranian pilots. In one of the many ironies of history, given the Revolutionary Government drevent hatred of America, it was the Iranian Air Fotce that played a key role in stopping the Iraqis. The Iranians used American planes which proved superior to Soviet aircraft and the American trained pilots outperforned the Soviet-trained Iraqis. Iranian hostility to America, however, proved a major imediment as it closed off the supply of spare parts and advanced eaponry--especially for the Air Force. The Revolutionary regime also recalled Imperial Army veterans. The Pasdaran and Basij (what Khomeini called the "Army of Twenty Million" or People's Militia) proved to be ideologically committed troops--far more committed than Iraqi soldiers. Some Iranians reprtedly carried their own shrouds anticipating martyrdom. The soldiers offered a determined resistance despite adequate armor and artillery support.
Saddam realizing that the anticiapted quick victory was impossible offered peace. The Revolutinary regime rejected these offers and preapred a counter-offensive. The Iranians began counter-strikes in January 1981, but the initial results failed, in large measure because of poor planning and lack of coordination between the reliougusly fanatical volunteers and the more professional Iranian Army. It was at this time that Iranians initiated "human wave" assaults used thousands of Basij (Popular Mobilization Army or People's Army) volunteers. Following Bani Sadr was ousture as president and commander in chief, Iran managed to gain its first important victory. Khomeini demanded that the army and Pasdaran cooperated and, as a result, the Iraqis had lift the siege of Abadan in September 1981. Revolutionary forces also scored victories in the Qasr-e Shirin area in December 1981 and January 1982. A major factor in the fighting was that Iraqi units were unwilling to accept as high a casualty rate as the Iranians. This made it difficult for Iraqi units to launch new offensives.
The Iranian clergy gained contol of military operations in mid-1982. Iranian offensives penetrated Iraqi defenses near Susangerd, and three Iraqi divisions weew largely destroyed. The strategic initiative shifted from Iraq to Iran. This prompted a change in startegy on Saddam's part. He announced that Iraqi units would withdraw from Iranian territory. He apparently was convinced that a withdrawal to the international borders before the invasion would satidy the Iranians. It did not. Baghdad in June 1982 offered to negotiate an end to the War withdraw from Iran. The Revolutionary Government flatly refused to deal with Saddam.
The Iranians, especially the Ayatollah, were intent on destroying Saddam. The war as resulted continued 6 more years. Fighting on the El Faw Peninsula was particularly firece. The Iranians sustained horrendous casualties, but pressed the Iraqs on many different fronts. We are no going to discuss the many different campaigns here, but there are several major developments during this period that need top be discussed.
The Iranian clergy which counducted the War beginning in 1982 rejected professional military doctrine. This was because they felt God endorsed their struggle and because they had not professional military training. The lack of modern weapons was another factor here. One of the major tactics they adopted was "human-wave" attacks. Pasdaran forces and Basij volunteers as young as 9 years old were used to sweep pver over minefields and entrenched positions developed by the more professional Iraqi military. The Iranians lacked the equipment to breach Iraqi minefields and having realtively few few tanks did not want to put them at rusk. The Iranian clergy this relied heavily on human-wave tatics, often involving children who were apparently considered expendable. One
East European journalist reports seeing "tens of thousands of children, roped together in groups of about 20 to prevent the faint-hearted from deserting, make such an attack." A HBC reader writes, "Not only Iranian boys were sent against the Iraqi possitions, but also a large number of girls. The Mullahs who stayed safely in the mosques told the children that they would go to paradise. For the Mullahs girls were of little consequence." A reader reports, "I remember television and newspaperreports at the time. Before going to her sacrifice, the Mullahs gave the children a paradise key as a symbol of martyrdom .
The number of these girls killed were very substatial. Their special assignment was mine clearance at the front lines. The boys were more commonly used in human wave assaults on Iraqi positions."
Both sides initially had difficulty obtaining replacements and new supplies of war material.
United States: The Revolutionary regime's hostility to America, especuially after thecseizure of American diplomats, meant that spare parts and replacement for its army were unavailable. This was an especially severe contraint because the Imperial Army had been equipped with mostly American weapons. The United States under President Ronald Reagan began secret negotiations with Iranian officials that resulted in several arms shipments to Iran. This was eventually to leak to the press resulting in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Soviet Union: The Soviets which had supplied the Iraqis suspended arms shipments after Saddam invaded Iran in 1980s. Soviet shipments were resumed in 1982 after Iran banned the Tudeh (Iranian Communist Part) and tried and executed most of its leaders. Soviet deliveries of new material began reaching the front by the end of the yaer. Weapons like the T-55 and T-62 tanks, BM-21 Stalin Organ rocket launchers, and Mi-24 helicopter gunships helped to strengthen the fortified defense lines the Iraqis were building. Despite an official position of neutrality, the Soviets were the major supplier of sophisticated weaponry to Iraq.
France: Saddam also obtained modern French weapons, especially aircraft amd air to sea missles. These weapons played a major role in the War of the Tankers.
The Iraqi military clearly conducted the War in a much more professional way than the Iranian clergy. The Iraqi persued Soviet military doctrine in the constrruction of defensive lines. Iraq at considerable ciost built effective fortifications along the 1,200-kilometer war front, especially in the south. This difference in large part expalins the disportionately high casulaties experienced by the Iranians. The comparison with the Iranians, however, is a matter of degrees. The Iraqis never succeeded in effectively integrating air and ground forces in well coordinated attacks or effectively maneuver their armor. Military analysts generally agree that neither army, even the suposedly professional Iraqis rffectively coordinated major operations and units in the field were often left to fight largely withoit central control. Often soldiers were poorly trained and unable to use their weapons to maximum advantage. An especially severe limitation on both sides was the inability to maintain high-tech weapons and make minor battlefied repairs. As a result, weapons had to be adandoned or idled.
Iraq at the order of Saddam, secretly developed chemical weapons during the 1970s. The Iraqi chemical weapons included H-series blister and G-series nerve agents. Iraq alsp developed the munitions capable of delivering these agents in military operations, including rockets, artillery shells, aerial bombs, and warheads on the Al Hussein Scud missile variant.
Iraqi forces, despite repeated official denials, without doubt used chemical weapons (poison gas) against the Iranians. Iraqi fighters dropped mustard-filled and tabun-filled 250 kg bombs and mustard-filled 500 kg bombs on Iranian targets. Other reports indicate that Iraq may have also installed spray tanks on an unknown number of helicopters or dropped 55-gallon drums filled with unknown agents (probably mustard) from low altitudes. Saddam beginning in 1981 had ordered the use of chenical weapons. He again in February 1984 ordered the use of chemical weapons. The Iranians claims that during May-March 1984 there were 40 Iraqi poison gas attacks. Iraqi denials were contradicted when United Nations Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, formally accused Iraq of using chemical weapons in the War. Four chemical warfare experts dispatched by U.N. to Iran in February and March 1986 substantiated the Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Cuellar called on Saddam to immediately end the violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol on the use of chemical weapons. The U.N. report concluded that "Iraqi forces have used chemical warfare against Iranian forces"; the weapons used included both mustard gas and nerve gas. The report further stated that "the use of chemical weapons
appear[ed] to be more extensive [in 1981] than in 1984." Iraqi officials cintinued to blatantly lie amd deny using poison gas. There is no doubt, however, that they were used extensively in the War. In addition to the U.N. report there is extensive evidence of the use of these weapons. Iran flew many badly burned casualties to European hospitals for treatment. A British representative at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in July 1986, satated "Iraqi chemical warfare was responsible for about 10,000 casualties." Nor did Saddam cease the use of these weapons, in March 1988, Iraqi forces used chemical weapons in taking Halabjah, a Kurdish town in northeast, close to the Iranian border.
Both Iran and Iraq when the War began were building nuclear reactors. These reactots became priority targets. Iranian fighters attacked the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor on September 30, 1980, but failed to hit it. Israel launched an air attack on the
Iraqi reactor and destroyee it on June 7, 1981. Iraq as part of its effort to increase the vost of the War for the Iranians launched a series of aerial attacks on the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr during 1984-88 and finally managed to destroy it.
Saddam's war goals changed by 1984 from gaining Iranian territoru to preventing the loss of Iraqi terrotory. Saddam used various strategies to force the Revolutionary regime to negotiate an end to the War. 1) Saddam attempted to increase the cost of the war in both human caualtiescand economic losses. Here in addition to obtaining modern Soviet and French weapons, Saddam orderded the use pf chenical weapons (poison gas) resulting in high casualties. In addition, economic centers, especially connected with oil exports were targeted. Saddam in 1985 ordered increased attacks on Teheran using aircraft and balistic missles. 2) Sadam adopted diplomatic and political means and in April 1984 offered to the Ayatollah at a neutral location. Khomeini refused any negotiations with Saddam. 3) Iraq decided to involve other countries, especially the superpowers. At first this meant targetting Iranian shipping. French-built Super Etendard and later Mirage F-1 fighters equipped with Exocet missiles were used. This eventually led to the War of the Tamkers in the Persian Gulf.
The War reached a climax in 1988. Four major battles occurred between April to August 1988, all of which resulted in serious Iranian defeats. The Iraqi victories were in large part due to changing tactics developed by Army Chief of Staff General Nizar Khazraji. [Frankel, p. 12.] These Iraqi victories occurred for two major reasons. 1) The Soviets since 1982 had been supplying sophisticated weaponry to Iraq. The Iranians on the other hand could not obtain comaprable weaponry having alienated both the Soviets and Americams. The Iranians at the beginning of the War had a supply of modern weapons purchased by the Shah from America. By 1988 these weapons had been largely exahusted and the Iranians were having increasing difficuly, especially keeping their aging American fighters in the air. This imbalance was all to obvious on the battlefield when the Iraqis launched their offenmsive strikes. 2) The Iraqi showed evidence of learning from past mistakes and comducyed increasingly sophisticated and well-coordinated attacks. The Iraqi Republican Guard in a text-book 36-hour battle finally retook the Al-Faw Peninsula. The Iraqis again used chemical weapons. 3) Iraq responding to Iranian air attacks in 1988 fired 190 missiles over a 6-week period at Iranian cities. This was caused the 'War of the Cities'. The missiles attacks caused little real damage, but had a devestating imapct on Iranian morale. Almost 30 percent of Tehran's population fleed the city. The threat of continued missle attack, possibly with chemical warhears, is believed to be an important reason that Iran finally agreed to end the War. 4) Ayatollah Khomeini died June 3, 1989. The Assembly of Experts--an elected body of senior clerics--chose the outgoing president, but by 1988 he notably weakening. This was almost ceratinly an important factor.
Iran finally accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598, leading to a August 20, 1988 cease-fire. The UN-brokered cease-fire ended the fighting. This was, however, only an armistace addressing none of the issues between the two countries.
The caulaties as a result of the war were enormous. Actual casualty figures relaeased by each country are unrelaiable. Military experts nelieve that there were more than 1.5 million war and war-related casualties. As many as 1.0 million people probably died, many more were wounded, and millions were displaced am made refugees. Casualties were highly diproprtionate. Iraq is believed to have suffered nearly 0.4 million casualties.
Iran may have suffered more than 1.0 million people killed or maimed and probanly about 0.3 million. While these numbers are horendous, it should be noted that they are not as high in proprtion to the population as sustained by the major European combatants in World War I.
After all that human suffering, absolutely nothing was resolved in the War. All of the major territorial issues between Iran and Iraq which led to the War remain unresolved.
Sadam's military power by the end of the War was considerable. He had an army of more than a million men. The army had demonstrated an ability to conduct increasing complicated large scale operations. He had a large, well well-equipped airforce, an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, and extended range Scud missiles. Iraq was the most powerful military force in the Middle East, with the exception of the Israel Defense Force.
Iraqi also had an enormous debt because of the War--a substantail part of it to Kiwait. Saddam demanded that Kuwait forgive the debt. He also accussed Kuwait of over producing oil, keeping prices low. As tensions rose, Saddam personally assured Egyptian Ptesident Mubarack, who attempted to mediate, that he would never invade Kuwait. Claiming that Kuwait was in reality the 16th province of Iraq, he ordered his army in 1990 to conduct a new surprise attack, this time south to Kuwait. With its minimal military force, Kuwait was in Saddam's hands in a matter of hours.
Frankel, Glenn. "A would-be Iraqi leader, caught by his past," Washington Post November 25, 2002, pp. A1 and 12.
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