Iran-Iraq War

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Iran-Iraq War
Part of War on Terror
Date 1980-1988
Location Iraq, Iran, Persian Gulf
People's Mujahedin of Iran
Saddam Hussein Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini
Ali Khamenei
Abolhassan Banisadr
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
between 105.000 to 375.000 deaths between 262.000 to 500.000 deaths

The Iran-Iraq War (Referred to as قادسيّة صدّام "Saddām's Qādisiyyah" in Iraq, and جنگ تحمیلی "Iraqi Imposed War" in Iran) was a major war fought between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Ba'athist Iraq from 1980 to 1988.[1] This was one of the largest and most costly wars of the entire 20th century.


The war began on September 22, 1980, when Iraqi armored forces crossed the border in to Iran, taking advantage of the turmoil caused by the Iranian Revolution. Though the Iraqi forces had the element of surprise, they were soon turned back by the Iranians. By mid-1982, Iraq had been forced to give up almost all of its initial territorial gains.

Financial Backing

Iraq received much support from neighboring Arab Gulf states, mostly in the form of monetary loans. The most significant contributions included $30.9 billion from Saudi Arabia, $8.2 billion from Kuwait, and $8 billion from the United Arab Emirates.

Saddam Hussein expected these loans to be forgiven without repayment, leading to conflict when they were not. Most notably, tensions between Kuwait and Iraq lead to Hussein's 1990 invasion (see Invasion of Kuwait), among other factors.

Iranian child soldiers

In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini created the Basij Mostazafan a mass movement of young people under 17 years of age. When the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980, Khomeini issued a fatwa and promise of paradise and they were incorporated into the Iranian military. The Iranian clergy took over command from the regular military leaders in mid-1982. In July 1982 Iran launched Operation Ramadan near Basra. The clergy used "human-wave" attacks calling for the young people from age 9 years old and up to move forward in human wave attacks to clear minefields so the regular Army could follow.[2] Matthias Küntzel quotes an Iraqi officer's description of one such encounter in the summer of 1982.

“They come toward our positions in huge hordes with their fists swinging...You can shoot down the first wave and then the second. But at some point the corpses are piling up in front of you, and all you want to do is scream and throw away your weapon. Those are human beings, after all! [3]

Other reports appeared in the Iranian daily newspaper Ettelaat and later an eyewitness gave an account to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine in 2002. Some 100,000 were killed this way.

The "Tanker War"

The United States had been at odds with Iran since the Iran Hostage Crisis. After Iranian and Iraqi forces both began attacking oil tankers from noncombatant nations, the US began to provide direct financial and military aid to Iraqi forces. In 1987, at the request of the Kuwaiti government, the U.S. initiated Operation Earnest Will, escorting neutral tankers through the battle zone. This led to a number of confrontations between U.S. and Iranian forces.[4]

Chemical Warfare

The war was marked by Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran and Kurdish populations in northern Iraq. The first use of chemical weapons was during an Iranian assault of Basra in 1982. The weapons were non-lethal, but succeeded in turning back an entire Iranian division. Subsequent attacks by the Iraqi forces involved mustard gas, nerve agents, and cyanide. Chemical attacks achieved varied levels of success during the war.[5]

In 1987 and 1988, chemical weapons, including mustard gas, tabun nerve gas, and cyanide, were released on civilian populations in Kurdistan in punitive attacks to suppress Kurdish rebels and prevent them from collaborating with the Iranian forces. The attacks killed thousands and turned hundreds of thousands of Kurds into refugees.[1] See: Operation Anfal.

As far as is known, Iranian forces never deployed chemical weapons, partly because the Iranians had nowhere near the capability the Iraqis had, and partly because Iran was hoping for a propaganda victory and international condemnation of the Iraqi government. Western response, however, was generally muted.

Years later, Hussein's use of chemical weapons against his own people were listed among the many reasons the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.


During the eight years of warfare, nearly 1,000,000 people lost their lives.[6] The Iran-Iraq War was the first since World War I to see extensive use of chemical weapons, and the first since World War II to see such an intensive campaign against non-belligerent shipping. The war bankrupted the Iraqi economy, and the massive war debt was the main reason for the attempted Iraqi annexation of Kuwait in 1990, leading to the Gulf War.

See also


  2. Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Iraqi Retreats, 1982-84,, retrieved 20 March 2007.
  3. Ahmadinejad's Demons: A Child of the Revolution Takes Over, Matthias Küntzel, The New Republic, 24 April 2006 .
  4. Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symonds, the Naval Institute, 1995
  5. The Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988, by Efraim Karsh, Osprey Publishing, 2002