The Iran And Iraq War

The Iran and Iraq War was one of the most bloody conflicts of recent times, lasting nearly a decade. Read how events unfolded here.

The history of the Iran-Iraq war can be traced back as far as the 1500's, when the powerful Ottoman Empire regarded the Persians of Iran as a great enemy. Although border disputes were apparent, even back then, the main area of dispute came to be best known by the Western world following the conclusion of World War One, when Iraq became an independent state. It concerned a waterway known as Shatt al Arab, an area that had historical, political and religious significance. Disputes over the area occurred after the Great War, until in 1937 it was given to Iraq.

The more naïve observers may have believed that deal which was brokered to be the end of conflict in the area, but for several reasons the climate remained unstable. First, a group of Arabs lived on the predominantly Persian side of Iran, causing a lack of political stability in that area. Secondly, both countries held large populations of Shiite Muslims, but neither of the governments at the time were controlled by them. So, if a Shiite religious leader was expelled from one country, he could seek refuge in the other, which again caused political instability. Also, there was a Kurdish population in both countries that were neither Persian nor Arabian, further confounding the situation. A pattern emerged whereby when one country sensed the other was politically weak, a military attack would be made.

The problem in the area escalated when the Iraqi Kurds rebelled against the government. Their stand was supported by the Iranians, which eventually led to the Iraqis accepting new peace talks in 1975. In them, the waterway of Shatt al Arab was split down the middle, giving each country an even share.

In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been in political exile in Iraq, returned to Iran and led a rebellion that toppled the secular government of the time. Consequently, the army was split politically and religiously, and was therefore poorly organised. Also, the new government of Islamic revolution that formed took hostage several Americans, so isolating Iran from the International community. Iraq saw the situation as a brilliant opportunity to attack Iran and topple the Islamic government. Paradoxically, the position of the Iraqi government, headed by Saddam Hussein, was weakened, because it gave Iraqi Shiites confidence and motivation to overthrow its own government. After executing one Iraqi Shiite revolutionary, Hussein decided he must invade Iran.

On September 22, 1980, the invasion began, and the superior Iraqi troops, equipped with the latest weapons from their allies behind the Iron Curtain, overran the Iranian border defences. Thus, they had quickly regained all of the disputed area of Shatt al Arab. Similarly, their air force had attacked Iranian airbases, and intelligence reports suggested the latter's had been decimated. The Iraqis moved on confidently, taking the border city of Khorramshahr, and besieging many others. If they could control that oil rich area, the first stage of their plan would be complete.

However, the Iranian air force had not been as badly hit as reported, and they used their planes to prevent Iraqi troops advancing further. Also, they used their considerable naval presence to instigate a sea blockade, starving Iraq of supplies. Then, the Iranians launched a counter offensive, but this proved to be unsuccessful. A stalemate was reached with neither side willing to back down. Iran continued to make small gains that were subsequently repelled by the better-organised Iraqis.

In 1982, Iraq, due to becoming politically unstable and weaker militarily, sought to internationalise the war, by agreeing to international mediation. Iran, being in a reasonably strong position, was reluctant to accept the offer, unless the Iraqis accepted full responsibility for the initiation of war. Also, Iraq began to attack Iranian ships. In retaliation, the Iranians attacked back, including sinking several ships of countries that had allied themselves to Iraq, such as Kuwait. As a consequence, the US Navy arrived in the Persian Gulf, to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers and the like.

As Iraq's situation became more desperate, they began to use deadly methods in war. Chemical and biological weapons began to be used frequently, and this shocked the international community as a whole. In 1986, Iran had managed to capture Al Faw, a Gulf town, and it looked like they might conquer Baghdad. However, the American presence in the Gulf meant that the sea blockade enforced by Iran was finally broken in 1987; the Iraqis were able to replenish their supplies. Ayatollah Khomeini was reluctant to accept a cease-fire, but saw the International community to be in favour of his enemy. In a situation of increased isolation and weakness, both leaders signed Resolution 598 and the fighting ended.

The Iran-Iraq war claimed between one and two million casualties, and either side gained very little territory. At the beginning of the new millennium, the dispute over border remained active.

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