Iran–Iraq War

1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq
(Redirected from Iran-Iraq War)

The Iran–Iraq War was a war between the armed forces of Iraq and Iran lasting from September 1980 to August 1988. It began when Iraq invaded Iran on 22 September 1980, after a long history of border disputes and after Iran demanded the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Iraqi forces did well at the beginning of the war, taking Iranian Khuzestan province, but they were stopped and forced out of Iran before long. The war continued for years, and neither side gained much ground in the resulting trench warfare. About a million soldiers died, and a similar number of civilians. Both sides used blockade, which other countries opposed. Despite several calls for an end to the fighting by the United Nations Security Council, the two countries fought until 20 August 1988; the last prisoners of war were exchanged in 2003. The war changed politics in the Middle East and worldwide.

Explosion in Mehrabad Air Base in Tehran after Iraqi forces attacked Tehran on September 22, 1980

The Iran–Iraq War is also noted for Iraq's use of chemical weapons and biological weapons against Iranian troops and civilians. The role of the United States and Soviet Union was vital, dating back to the Cold War. In 1953, the US encouraged a coup d'état against Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was the Prime Minister of Iran. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi returned to power, supporting his military and his government. The United States sold many weapons to the Shah's government. Meanwhile, revolutionaries of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party overthrew the king of Iraq and, with the help of the Soviet Union, built up their army. Starting with the United Arab Republic, they sought to unite all the Arabs into one state, including the Arab minority in Iran.

After the war started (especially between 1983 and 1988), the United States sold weapons to the Iraqis. This move was mainly due to America's interest in containing the revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini. Thus, both the Soviet Union and the United States supplied Iraq with weapons against Iran.[1] The United States had sold many weapons to Iran before the war. It was believed the Soviet Union was selling weapons to both sides during the war.



Situation in Iraq


Ba'ath ideology and Iraqi demographics


In the middle of the 20th century, the Ba'ath parties were ruling both in Syria and Iraq.[2] The ideology behind Ba'athism is to unite the Arab regions and create a Pan-Arab state. The ideology is also oriented towards socialism. Although the Ba'ath ideology has nationalist roots and is not related to religion, Ba'ath leaders and politicians have often used religious outlets to gain popularity and support of the people.[2] Although the Pan-Arab nationalism worked out in other Arab countries such as Egypt, this was a difficult case in Iraq. The reason for this, is the diversity of the Iraqi population. Because of the Sunni - Shi'a and Arab-Kurd divide, Iraq is seen as one of the most difficult countries to govern.[3] It was especially difficult, as the Ba'ath party was dominantly Sunni, whereas the population of Iraq, the origin place of Shia Islam, is dominantly Shia (55%).[4] The president of Iraq at the time, was Saddam Hussein, who took most of the power in his own hands and strived for strong Arab leadership. His ambitions to take the lead in the Arab world were also a key element for his later attack on Iran.[5]

ShattEl-Arabb flowing into the Persian Gulf on the southern border between Iraq and Iran

Shatt al-Arab


The Shatt al-Arab waterway, bordering Iraq and Iran, is crucial to Iraq, because it is its only major outlet to the sea.[6] The waterway is controlled by Iraq and has been a source of tension between the states long before the Iranian revolution. The main reason for tension around this waterway has been its function as a border. Because of this, it has been an issue between the Ottomans and Iran. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the waterway was controlled by Iraq.[7] However, in 1969 Shah Reza refused to pay fees for Iranian ships passing the waterway.[2] He also started backing up Kurdish separatists groups in Northern Iraq. To stop the support of Iran to the Kurds, Saddam signed the Algiers agreement in 1975. Iran stopped supporting the Kurds, and the border was placed in the middle of the waterway. One of the reasons, according to Saddam himself, for being pressured to sign this agreement was the military advancement of Iran during the rule of the Shah.[6] Saddam withdrew the agreement several days before invading Iran, in September 1980, drawing upon the importance of the waterway.[5] Before and during the war, Saddam was vocal about the right of Iraq to Shatt al-Arab as well as Khuzestan, the bordering Iranian region that is mainly inhabited by Iranian Arabs.[5]

Threat of the Iranian revolution


The Pan-Islamic nature of the new Iranian state was in contrast with the Arab nationalist context of Iraq.[6] After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, the secular yet authoritarian rule of Hussein felt threatened.[5] A large Persian state posed a threat against the Pan-Arab ideology of Hussein. The Shia Muslims in Iraq were already posing a threat to Saddam by protesting and mobilizing against the Ba'ath regime. This only became worse after the Iranian revolutionaries called upon Iraqis also to initiate a revolution.[5] Other than these political threats, Iraq was in a more fragile position geographically.

Situation in Iran


The Iranian revolution


In Iran, the Pahlavi dynasty had been ruling since 1925, after the overthrow of the Qajar dynasty.[8] The Pahlavi empire aimed to create a westernised and progressive Iranian state. The second and last monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza, started implementing bolder reforms that affected citizens' daily lives.[8] As a reaction, opposition from all parts of society began growing. Especially clergymen were encouraging the people to stand up against westernization and strive for an Islamic state ruled by Islamic jurists.[8] Khomeini was one of the leading clerics during the period of political tension. In 1977, these tensions led to large-scale demonstrations and eventually the exile of the Shah. In 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran was officially established, headed by Ayatollah Khomeini.[8] This sudden turn of events in Iran came as a surprise to most countries. The rise of a shia power caused concerns in several surrounding countries. Especially in Iraq, where the Shia majority was ruled by the Sunni minority.[4] It was not only the rise to power of clerics that was concerning. Khomeini and his counterparts were also vocal about their desires to create Islamic states in the surrounding Muslim majority countries. The ultimate goal was to create a united Pan-Islamic state under Khomeini's rule.[7]

Military power


Shah Mohammed Reza had invested a lot into the modernization of the Iranian army. He was fully backed by the United States, as they supported the anti-communist stance of Iran and saw this as an opportunity to have a state that supported US interests in that region.[6] Thus, the Shah expanded navy, air and ground forces with modern weapons and imported western trainers for the army. For this reason, Iran became more capable than Iraq, also taking into account the army officers that were almost twice as many in Iraq.[6] However, the revolution changed this military upper hand drastically. The revolutionaries did not understand the need for extensive arming supplies and did not want to be the policeman of the US. Therefore, Khomeini and his reign immediately canceled military contracts and sent away the western trainers. Because of the sudden regime change, the morale of the officers also lowered significantly, according to Iraqi intelligence at the time. A parallel military force was created by Khomeini, as the previous officers were in danger of a potential counter-revolution.[6] These factors caused Iran to remain with a limited military force.

The war


Iraqi invasion


Start of the invasion


Iraq invaded Iran on September 22, 1980. Hussein was confident that the invasion would move swiftly, as the Iraqi army was well-equipped thanks to Saddam's investments in the military.[6] Hussein also believed in a quick win due to intelligence reports stating that the Iranian army had been ineffective after the Iranian Revolution.[6] It would later become clear that this invasion would benefit Khomeini by allowing him to eliminate his opposes and uniting his nation for national defense[6] At the center of Iraq's objectives was the annexation of the East Bank of the Shaat Al-Arab waterway which had been the site of numerous border skirmishes between the two countries going back to the late 1960s. The president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, also wanted to annex the Iranian province of Khuzestan, substantially populated by Iranian Arabs.[9]

Offensive battles


Iraq mobilized many aircraft to carry out air strikes on 15 cities and air bases in Iran, including the capital Tehran. Beginning in March 1982, Iranian forces shifted to the counter-offensive. On 29 June 1982,[10] Iraq announced that it had withdrawn its forces from the occupied Iranian territory and the border between the two countries was restored to its pre-war status. Iranian defenses are focused on the northern front to block the main routes and delay the Iraqi army's advance. Iran blocked the momentum of the Iraqi offensive and gradually seized the initiative in the war. In September 1981, Iran launched a major counteroffensive. At the end of September, the Iraqi siege of Abadan was lifted with the launch of a major Abadan counter-offensive. On April 20, Iran again concentrated the forces of nearly three divisions, and a large number of revolutionary Guards, about 100,000, launched the "Jerusalem Al-Quds Operation" offensive to recover the city of Khorramshahr. After 25 days of fierce fighting, the city of Khorramshahr, an important port city in the south, was finally recaptured. On 10 June, Iraq proposed and unilaterally implemented a cease-fire, announced that it recognized the continued validity of the Algiers Agreement signed by the two countries in 1975, and was ready to negotiate with Iran based on the recognition of Iraq's fundamental rights.[10]

1988 was the year when the Iran–Iraq War took a turning point. Between February and April, the two sides used hundreds of missiles to strike each other's towns, unleashing a "city assault" on an unprecedented scale.[10]



End of the war


The War lasted for seven years and 11 months (from September 2, 1980, to August 20, 1988, and successively experienced four strategic stages: Iraq's attack, Iran's counter-attack, Iran-Iraq stalemate, and Iraq's counter-attack.[11] The two sides were inflexible and demanding too high a price for a ceasefire. And Iran planned to use up the entire country's resources to participate in there, their insistence on playing the long encouraged by its vast population and religious fanaticism.

The Iran–Iraq War was one of the longest wars of the 20th century. It was a veritable war of attrition, a pyrrhic war with no victor. Before the war, Iraq had foreign exchange reserves of us $37 billion. At the end of the war, its foreign debt was over US$70 billion, of which over US$40 billion was arms debt owed to western countries and the Soviet Union, and the ver US$30 billion was loans owed to other Arab countries.

Iraq suffered 180,000 deaths, 250,000 injuries, and $350 billion in direct losses (including military expenditures, war damage, and economic losses). Iran also owes $45 billion in foreign debt, has 350,000 deaths and more than 700,000 injuries, and 200,000 women in Tehran alone have lost their husbands; Direct losses of $300 billion. The war has set back the economic development plans of both countries by at least 20 to 30 years. The battle took a heavy toll on both countries, halting economic growth, plummeting oil exports, and killing millions. As a result, Iraq has also been saddled with a large debt, amounting to $14 billion for Kuwait alone. That was one of the reasons Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.[12]

At the end of the war, the national border between the two countries was restored to the pre-war situation.

Postwar situation


The mediation of the international community failed several times. Iran and Iraq did not accept the mediation of the United Nations until July 1988, and the formal armistice ended in August. From the perspective of international factors, the US and the Soviet Union's interference doomed the war to be inconclusive and protracted from the beginning, which restricted meaningful outcomes and caused unjustifiable long-lasting social and political problems.

The United States and the Soviet Union happened to have a similar position on the Iran–Iraq War: they both adopted the policy of neutrality and balance of power and tried to maintain the balance of power on both sides. They both wooed and suppressed Iran, but there were differences in tactics. Both Iraq and Iran are located in the Gulf region, which is extremely important in the global strategy of the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the United States and the Soviet Union declared neutral and not directly involved in the Gulf region, they grouped up with their allies. They took advantage of the opportunity of the war to step up the competition in the Gulf region and squeeze out each other for their own national benefit.[13]

Other Facts


The Iran–Iraq War is an international interpretation of this war, and it has various titles depending on the country. It is known, in Iran, as "the Iraqi Invasion[14]", "the Holy War of Resistance", and "the Iranian Revolutionary War[15]". In Iraq, it is known as "Saddam Hussein's Qadisyah". Essentially, the war was an eight-year direct military conflict between Iran and Iraq.

Both Iraq and Iran suffered heavy losses in the war. When the failed to make progress on the battlefield, they tried to destroy the enemy's logistics and economic facilities by attacking cities, ships, and oil fields. Many ships from other countries suffered casualties. As the Iran-Iraq ship attack affected the interests of non-belligerent countries, Kuwait, in November and December, 1986, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and the United Kingdom, the five permanent members of the United Nations, proposed to charter ships and escort requirements.



  1. Chomsky, Noam. What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007. Namely, pages 58 – 59, which talk about US involvement in the war.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Razoux, Pierre (2015). The Iran-Iraq War. Nicholas Elliott. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 978-0-674-91570-1. OCLC 934433836.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. Hassan, Hamdi A. (1999). The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait : religion, identity, and otherness in the analysis of war and conflict. London: Pluto Press. ISBN 978-1-84964-037-4. OCLC 51008604.
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  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Asadzade, Peyman (2019-06-25). "War and Religion: The Iran−Iraq War". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.812. ISBN 978-0-19-022863-7. Retrieved 2022-05-18.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Woods, Kevin M.; Murray, Williamson, eds. (2014), "The opponents", The Iran–Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 51–84, doi:10.1017/cbo9781107449794.005, ISBN 978-1-107-06229-0, retrieved 2022-05-18
  7. 7.0 7.1 MARINE CORPS COMMAND AND STAFF COLL QUANTICO VA, & Cruze, G. S. (1988, January). Iran and Iraq: Perspectives in Conflict. Defense Technical Information Center.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Anderson, B.S. (2016). A History of the Modern Middle East: Rulers, Rebels and Rogues. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 510–612, 896–997. ISBN 9780804798754.
  9. Lahijani, Alireza Shams (1 May 2016). "The Iran–Iraq War. By Pierre Razoux and translated by Nicholas Elliott". International Affairs. 92 (3): 746–747. doi:10.1111/1468-2346.12632. ISSN 0020-5850.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Murray, Williamson; Woods, Kevin M. (2014), "Timeline", The Iran–Iraq War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 344–347, doi:10.1017/cbo9781107449794.013, ISBN 9781107449794, retrieved 2022-05-18
  11. 杨, 明星 (2005). "试论两伊战争及其遗产" (PDF). 阿拉伯世界. 97: 49–52.
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  14. Murray, Williamson (2014). The Iran-Iraq War : a military and strategic history. Kevin M. Woods. New York. ISBN 978-1-107-06229-0. OCLC 877852628.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. EL-Azhary, M. (2012-05-23). The Iran-Iraq War (RLE Iran A). doi:10.4324/9780203833223. ISBN 9781136841767.