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The Iran–Iraq War, also known as the Imposed War (جنگ تحمیلی, Jang-e-tahmīlī) and Holy Defense (دفاع مقدس, Defā'-e-moghaddas) in Iran, and Saddām's Qādisiyyah (قادسيّة صدّام, Qādisiyyat Ṣaddām) in Iraq, and the First Persian Gulf War (حرب الخليج الفارس الأولى Ḥarb al-Khalīj al-Fāris al-'Ūlā) in the Arab world (the 1990 - 1991 Persian Gulf War being the Second Gulf War), was a war between the armed forces of Iraq and Iran lasting from September 1980 to August 1988.
The war began when Iraq invaded Iran on 22 September 1980 following a long history of border disputes and fears of Shia insurgency among Iraq's long suppressed Shia majority influenced by the Iranian Revolution (mostly known as the Islamic Revolution). Although Iraq hoped to take advantage of revolutionary chaos in Iran and attacked without formal warning, they made only limited progress into Iran and within several months were repelled by the Iranians who regained virtually all lost territory by June 1982. For the next six years Iran was on the offensive. Despite several calls for a ceasefire by the United Nations Security Council, hostilities continued until 20 August 1988. The last prisoners of war were exchanged in 2003.The war came at a great cost in lives and economic damage - a half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers as well as civilians are believed to have died in the war with many more injured and wounded - but brought neither reparations nor change in borders. The conflict is often compared to World War I, in that the tactics used closely mirrored those of the 1914-1918 war, including large scale trench warfare, manned machine-gun posts, bayonet charges, use of barbed wire across trenches and on no-mans land, human wave attacks and Iraq's extensive use of chemical weapons (such as mustard gas) against Iranian troops and civilians as well as Iraqi Kurds.
History of war's name
The war was commonly referred to as the Gulf War or Persian Gulf War until the Iraq-Kuwait conflict (Operation Desert Storm Jan-Feb 1991), and for a while thereafter as the First Persian Gulf War. The Iraq-Kuwait conflict, while originally known as the Second Persian Gulf War, later became known simply as "The Gulf War." The United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the ongoing conflict there has since been called the Second Persian Gulf War.
Iraqi president Saddam Hussein initially dubbed the conflict "The Whirlwind War".
Although the Iran–Iraq War from 1980–1988 was a war for dominance of the Persian Gulf region, the roots of the war go back many centuries. There has been rivalry between kingdoms of Assyria (the Fertile Crescent valley, modern Syria) and the rugged highlands to the East (Persia or modern Iran) since the beginning of recorded history in Sumer.
Of strategic importance was the question of sovereignty over the resource-rich province of Khuzestan. Before the Ottoman empire 1299–1922, Iraq was part of Persia. The rising power of the Ottomans put an end to this when Suleyman I annexed Arabian Iraq. The Turkish Sultan and general, Murad IV recaptured Baghdad from the Safavids of Persia in 1638 via the Treaty of Zuhab (Peace of Qasr-e-Shirin). The border disputes between Persia and the Ottomans never ended. Between 1555 and 1918, Persia and the Ottoman empire signed no fewer than 18 treaties delineating their disputed borders. Today's border comes from the Treaty of Zuhab. Modern Iraq was created from the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, formed after the final collapse of the Ottoman empire following World War I, thereby inheriting all the disputes with Persia.
Biographers have described Saddam's anti-Iranianism, developed in his formative years living with his virulently anti-Iranian uncle Khairallah Talfah as a factor in his later foreign policy, including the Iran–Iraq War. Talfah was the author of Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies, a pamphlet Saddam's government was later to republish.
On 18 December 1959, the new leader of Iraq Abdul Karim Qassim, declared: "We do not wish to refer to the history of Arab tribes residing in Al-Ahwaz and Mohammareh [Khorramshahr]. The Ottomans handed over Mohammareh, which was part of Iraqi territory, to Iran." The Iraqi regime's dissatisfaction with Iran's possession of the oil-rich Khuzestan province was not limited to rhetorical statements; Iraq began supporting secessionist movements in Khuzestan, and even raised the issue of its territorial claims at the next meeting of the Arab League, without success. Iraq showed reluctance in fulfilling existing agreements with Iran—especially after the death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the rise of the Ba'ath Party, when Iraq decided to take on the role of "leader of the Arab world".
In 1969, the deputy prime minister of Iraq stated: "Iraq's dispute with Iran is in connection with Arabistan (Khuzestan) which is part of Iraq's soil and was annexed to Iran during foreign rule." Soon Iraqi radio stations began exclusively broadcasting into "Arabistan", encouraging Arabs living in Iran and even Balūchīs to revolt against the Shah of Iran's government. Basra TV stations even began showing Iran's Khuzestan province as part of Iraq's new province called Nasiriyyah, renaming all Iranian cities with Arabic names.
In 1971, Iraq broke diplomatic relations with Iran after claiming sovereignty rights over the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb in the Persian Gulf, following the withdrawal of the British. Iraq then expropriated the properties of 70,000 Iraqis of Iranian origin and expelled them from its territory, after complaining to the Arab League and the UN without success. Many, if not most of those expelled were in fact Iraqi Shia who had little to no family ties with Iran, and the vast majority of whom spoke Arabic, rather than Persian. The expulsions formed part of a longstanding Iraqi Baathist tradition of marginalizing and deligitimizing the Shia majority by alleging subversive ties with Iran.
One of the factors contributing to hostility between the two powers was a dispute over full control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway (known as Arvand Rud in Iran) at the head of the Persian Gulf, an important channel for the oil exports of both countries.
In addition to Iraq's fomenting of separatism in Iran's Khuzestan and Iranian Balochistan provinces, both countries encouraged separatist activities by Kurdish nationalists in the other country. During the first few years of the 1980–1988 Iraq-Iran war, the Iraqi government tried to accommodate the Kurds in order to focus on the war against Iran. In 1984, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan agreed to cooperate with Baghdad, but the Kurdish Democratic Party remained opposed.
In the 1975 Algiers Accord Iraq made territorial concessions — including the waterway — in exchange for normalized relations.
The relationship between Iranian and Iraqi governments briefly improved in 1978, when Iranian agents in Iraq discovered a pro-Soviet coup d'etat against the Iraqi government. When informed of this plot, Saddam Hussein, who was Vice President at the time, ordered the execution of dozens of his army officers, and to return the favor, expelled Ruhollah Khomeini, an exiled leader of clerical opposition to the Shah, from Iraq.
After the Islamic Revolution
Iraqi 25-dinar note, with the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah depicted in the backgroundThe Pan-Islamism and revolutionary Shia Islamism of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran; and the Arab nationalism of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime were central to the conflict.
Saddam Hussein was keenly interested in elevating Iraq to a strong regional power. A successful invasion of Iran would enlarge Iraq's oil reserves and make Iraq the dominant power in the Persian Gulf region.
On several occasions Saddam alluded to the Islamic conquest of Iran in propagating his position against Iran. For example, on 2 April 1980, half a year before the outbreak of the war, in a visit by Saddam to al-Mustansiriyyah University in Baghdad, drawing parallels with the 7th century defeat of Persia in the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, he announced:
"In your name, brothers, and on behalf of the Iraqis and Arabs everywhere we tell those Persian cowards and dwarfs who try to avenge Al-Qadisiyah that the spirit of Al-Qadisiyah as well as the blood and honor of the people of Al-Qadisiyah who carried the message on their spearheads are greater than their attempts."
In turn the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini believed Muslims, particularly the Shias in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, whom he saw as oppressed, could and should follow the Iranian example, rise up against their governments to join a united Islamic republic. Khomeini and Iran's Islamic revolutionaries despised Saddam's secularist, Arab nationalist Ba'athist regime in particular as un-Islamic and "a puppet of Satan," and called on Iraqis to overthrow Saddam and his regime. At the same time severe officer purges (including several executions ordered by Sadegh Khalkhali, the post-revolution sharia ruler), and spare parts shortages for Iran's American-made equipment, had crippled Iran's once mighty military. The bulk of the Iranian military was made up of poorly armed, though committed, militias. Iran had minimal defenses in the Shatt al-Arab river.
Iraq started the war believing that Sunnis of Iran would join the opposing forces, failing to fully appreciate the power of Iranian nationalism over historically clan-centered differences, and the power of Iranian government control of the press. Few of the ethnic Arabs of Khuzestan or Sunnis of Iran collaborated with Iraqis.
Iran's embassy in London was attacked by Iraqi-sponsored terrorist forces a few months prior to the war in 1980, in what came to be known as the Iranian Embassy Siege.
The UN Secretary General report dated 9 December 1991 (S/23273)[clarification needed] explicitly cites "Iraq's aggression against Iran" in starting the war and breaching International security and peace.