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, 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 Iran's 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 is noted for several things. It was of 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. It is also noted for its similarity to World War I. Tactics used included 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.
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 the First World War, thereby inheriting all the disputes with Persia.
Saddam Hussein 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.
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.
One of the factors contributing to hostility between the two powers was a dispute over full control of the Arvand Rūd waterway 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.
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.
"Relations deteriorated rapidly until in March 1980, Iran unilaterally downgraded its diplomatic ties to the charge d'affaires level, withdrew its ambassador, and demanded that Iraq do the same. The tension increased in April following the attempted assassination of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and, three days later, the bombing of a funeral procession being held to bury students who had died in an earlier attack. Iraq blamed Iran, and in September, attacked.
On September 17, in a statement addressed to the Iraqi parliament, Saddam Hussein stated that "The frequent and blatant Iranian violations of Iraqi sovereignty...have rendered the 1975 Algiers Agreement null and void... This river...must have its Iraqi-Arab identity restored as it was throughout history in name and in reality with all the disposal rights emanating from full sovereignty over the river."
On September 22 1980, Iraqi air force attacked Iran, attacking ten airfields inside Iran, but failed to achieve their objective of destroying the Iranian air force on the ground. The next day Iraq initiated a ground invasion of Iran along a front measuring 644 kilometres, in three simultaneous thrusts. The purpose of the invasion, according to Saddam Hussein, was to blunt the edge of Khomeini's movement and to thwart his attempt to export his Islamic revolution to Iraq and the Persian Gulf states." Of the six Iraqi divisions that were invading, four were sent against the Iranian province of Khuzestan, which was located near the southern end of the border, to cut-off the Shatt al-Arab from the rest of Iran, and to establish a territorial security zone. The other two divisions invaded through the northern, and central part of the border, to prevent an Iranian counter-attack into Iraq. Two of the four Iraqi divisions operating near the southern end, one mechanized and one armored, began a siege of the strategically important towns of Abadan and Khorramshahr. The other two, both armoured, secured the territory bounded by the line Khorramshahr-Ahvaz-Susangerd-Musian, due to an enveloping movement. On the central front, the Iraqis occupied Mehran, advanced towards the foothills of the Zagros Mountains; and were able to block the traditional Tehran-Baghdad invasion route by securing some territory forward of Qasr-e-Shirin. On the northern front, the Iraqis attempted to establish a strong defensive position opposite Suleimaniya to protect the Iraqi Kirkuk oil complex.
Since the Iranian regular military and the Pasdaran conducted their operations separately, the Iraqi invading forces did not face co-ordinated resistance. On September 24, though, the Iranian navy attacked Basra and, on the way, had destroyed two oil terminals near the Iraqi port of Fao, which reduced Iraq's ability to export oil. The Iranian air force also begun air strikes in September against strategically important Iraqi targets, including oil facilities, dams, petrochemical plants, and a nuclear reactor near Baghdad. Baghdad was subjected to eight air raids by October 1. In response to these air attacks, Iraq launched a number of aerial strikes against Iranian targets. The Pasdaran fought against the Iraqi invasion with "great fervour and tenacity", and bore the brunt of the invasion. On October 24, Khorramshahr was captured, and by November Saddam ordered his forces to advance towards Dezful and Ahvaz, but they were not successful in occupying these two settlements.
Iraq had mobilized 21 divisions for the invasion, while Iran countered with only 13 regular army divisions and one brigade. Of these divisions, only 7 of those were deployed to the border.
The objectives of Iraq's invasion of Iran were:
The surprise offensive advanced quickly against the still disorganized Iranian forces, advancing on a wide front into Iranian territory along the Mehran-Khorramabad axis in central Iran and towards Ahvaz in the oil-rich southern province of Khuzestan.
The Iraqi invasion soon encountered unexpected resistance, however, and around March 1981 it stalled. A preemptive strike executed by the Iraqi Air Force on the first day of the war successfully destroyed parts of Iran's airbase infrastructure, but failed to destroy a significant number of aircraft. The IQAF was only able to strike in depth with a few MiG-23BN, Tu-22 and Su-20 aircraft, ineffective in a country as large as Iran. When three MiG-23BN's flew over Tehran, they attacked its airport but damaged only a few aircraft. Over the next day dozens of Iranian F-4s attacked Iraqi targets, and in a few days the IRIAF gained air superiority over IQAF, allowing them to conduct ground attack missions with fighter-bombers and helicopters.
Also, rather than turning against the Ayatollah's government as exiles had promised, the people of Iran rallied around their country and mounted a stiff resistance. An estimated 200,000 additional troops arrived at the front by November, many of them "ideologically committed" volunteers. The Iraqis soon found the Iranian military was not nearly as depleted as they had thought.
For about a year after the Iraqi offensive stalled in March 1981 there was little change in the front, but in mid-March 1982 Iran took the offensive and the Iraqi military was forced to retreat. By June 1982, an Iranian counter-offensive had recovered the areas lost to Iraq earlier in the war. An especially significant battle of this counter-offensive in the Khuzestan province was the liberation of Khorramshahr from the Iraqis on May 24 1982.
Saddam decided to withdraw his armed forces completely from Iran, and that they should be deployed along the international border between Iraq and Iran. Efraim Karsh states that Saddam made this choice because the Iraqi leader believed that his army was now too demoralised and damaged to hold onto any territory in Iran, and that Iran could be successfully resisted through a line of defence on Iraqi land near the border. Using the Israeli invasion of Lebanon on June 6 1982 as a pretext for a withdrawal, Saddam suggested to Iran that they should stop fighting, and that they should send their troops to assist the Palestinians fighting in Lebanon, an offer which was refused. The withdrawal began on June 20, and was complete by June 30. Karsh describes Saddam's decision to withdraw his forces from Iran as "one of his wisest strategic moves during the war".
A Saudi Arabia-backed plan to end the war agreed to by Iraq included $70 billion in war reparations to be paid by Arabian states of the Persian Gulf on behalf of Iraq, and complete the Iraqi evacuation from Iranian territory - an offer called by some critics of Iranian government as "extraordinarily favorable to Iran." Iran rejected Iraq's offer, demanding the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime, the repatriation of 100,000 Shi'ites expelled from Iraq before the war, and $150 billion in war reparations.
On June 21, Khomeini indicated that Iran would invade Iraq shortly, and on June 22, the Iranian Chief-of-Staff Shirazi declared to "continue the war until Saddam Hussein is overthrown so that we can pray at Karbala and Jerusalem". This matched a comment made by Khomeini on the issue of a truce with Iraq: "There are no conditions. The only condition is that the regime in Baghdad must fall and must be replaced by an Islamic Republic."
However, in this offensive, the Iranians encountered an Iraqi enemy which had entrenched itself in formidable defenses. Unlike the hastily improvised defenses that the Iraqis had manned in Iran during the 1980-1981 occupation of the conquered territories, the border defenses were, by necessity, well developed even before the war; and the Iraqis were able to utilize a highly-developed network of bunkers and artillery fire-bases. Saddam had also more than doubled the size of the Iraqi army from 1981's 500,000 soldiers (26 divisions and 3 independent brigades) to 1985's 1,050,000 (55 divisions and nine brigades).
The efforts of Saddam bore fruit. Iran had been using combined-arms operations to great effect when it was attacking the Iraqi troops in its country, and had launched the iconic human-wave attacks with great support from artillery, aircraft, and tanks. However, lack of ammunition, meant that the Iranians were now launching human-wave assaults, with no support from other branches of the military. The superior defenses of the Iraqis meant that tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers were lost in most operations after 1982, and the Iraqi defenses would continue to hold in most sectors.
In the Basra offensive, or Operation Ramadan five human-wave attacks were met with withering fire from the Iraqis. The boy-soldiers of Iran were particularly hard-hit, especially since they volunteered to run into minefields, in order to clear the way for the Iranian soldiers behind them. The Iranians were also hard-hit by the employment of gas by the Iraqis.
After the failure of their 1982 summer offensives, Iran believed that a major effort along the entire breadth of the front would yield the victory that they desired. Iranian numerical superiority might have achieved a break-through if they had attacked across all parts of the front at the same time, but they still lacked the organization for that type of assault. Iran was getting supplies from countries like North Korea, Libya, and China. The Iraqis had more suppliers like the Warsaw Pact nations, France, Great Britain, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
During the course of 1983, the Iranians launched five major assaults along the front. None met with substantial success. Khomeini's position on a truce remained unchanged.
Saddam had hoped that mounting casualties and the lack of progress would force the Iranians to accept peace, but the Khomeini government again re-iterated their demands for the overthrow of the Ba'ath regime in early 1984. Saddam realized that he would need to adopt a more aggressive posture to bring the Iranians to the bargaining table. He declared that eleven Iranian cities would come under attack unless Iran halted their acts of aggression by 7 February 1984.
As an answer to this ultimatum, the Iranians launched an attack against Iraqi forces along the northern sector of the front line. Although a minor attack, Saddam stuck to his pledge and ordered aerial and missile attacks against the eleven cities that he had designated. The bombardment ceased on 22 February. Iran soon retaliated against urban centers, and these exchanges become known as the first "war of the cities". There would be five throughout the course of the war.
The attacks on the Iranian cities did not destroy the Iranian government's resolve to fight. On 15 February, the Iranians launched a major attack against the central section of the front where the Second Iraqi Army Corps was deployed. 250,000 Iranians faced 250,000 Iraqis.
From 15 to 22 February, in Operation Dawn 5, and 22 to 24 February, in Operation Dawn 6, the Iranians attempted to capture the vital town of Kut al-Amara and to cut the key highway linking Baghdad and Basra. Capture of this road would have made it extremely difficult for the Iraqis to supply and co-ordinate the defenses, but the Iranian forces only came within of the highway.
However, Operation Khaibar met with much greater success. Involving a number of thrusts towards the key Iraqi city of Basra, the operation started on the 24 February and lasted until 19 March. The Iraqi defenses, under continuous strain since 15 February, seemed close to breaking conclusively. The Iraqis successfully stabilized the front but not before the Iranians captured part of the Majnun Islands. Despite a heavy Iraqi counterattack coupled with the use of mustard gas and sarin nerve gas, the Iranians held their gains and would continue to hold them almost until the end of the war.
With his armed forces now benefiting from financial support from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states, and substantial arms purchases from the Soviet Union, China and France (among others), Saddam went on the offensive on 28 January 1985, for the first time since late 1980. This offensive, however, did not produce any significant gains, and the Iranians responded in kind with their own offensive directed against Basra, codenamed Operation Badr, on 11 March 1985. By this time, the failure of the unsupported human wave attacks during 1984 meant that Iran was trying to develop a better working relationship between the army and the Pasdaran. The Iranian government also worked on molding the Pasdaran units into a much more conventional fighting force. The attack did succeed in capturing a part of the Baghdad-Basra highway that had proven elusive during Operation Dawn 5 and Operation Dawn 6. Saddam responded to this strategic emergency by launching chemical attacks against the Iranian positions along the highway and by initiating the second 'war of the cities' with a massive air and missile campaign against twenty Iranian towns, including Tehran.
In 1982 with Iranian success on the battlefield, the U.S. made its backing of Iraq more pronounced, supplying it with intelligence, economic aid, normalizing relations with the government (broken during the 1967 Six-Day War), and also supplying weapons. President Ronald Reagan decided that the United States "could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran", and that the United States "would do whatever was necessary to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran. President Reagan formalized this policy by issuing a National Security Decision Directive ("NSDD") to this effect in June, 1982.
On April 14 1988, the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts was badly damaged by an Iranian mine, suffering 10 wounded but no dead. U.S. forces responded with Operation Praying Mantis on April 18, the United States Navy's largest engagement of surface warships since World War II. Two Iranian oil platforms, two Iranian ships and six Iranian gunboats were destroyed. An American helicopter also crashed.
George H.W. Bush (U.S. Vice President) [July 14, 1988]:"One thing is clear, and that is that the USS Vincennes acted in self-defense."
Ted Koppel [voice-over]: An official story— Of the American warship as victim. At the right place. At the right time. Minding its own business.
Richard S. Williamson (Assistant Secretary of State, International Organization Affairs, 1988-1989) [July 13, 1988]: "The ship was, at the time of the incident, in international waters."
Ted Koppel [voice-over]: It was official. And untrue. Tonight, the real story of what happened. And why. On July 3, 1988. And why the U.S. government tried to cover it up.
According to an investigation conducted by ABC News' Nightline, decoys were set during the war by the US Navy inside the Persian Gulf to lure out the Iranian gunboats and destroy them, and at the time USS Vincennes shot down the Iranian airliner, it was performing such an operation.
In 1996 the U.S. agreed to pay $131,800,000 in compensation for the incident, but expressed regret only for the loss of innocent life, and did not make a specific apology to the Iranian government.
The shooting down of a civilian Iranian passenger plane Iran Air Flight 655 by the American cruiser USS Vincennes, was cited by an Iranian scholar as apparently giving Ruhollah Khomeini reason to withdraw from the conflict:
The relatively professional Iraqi armed forces could not make headway against the far more numerous Iranian infantry. The Iranians were outmatched in towed and self-propelled artillery, which left their tanks and troops vulnerable. What followed was the Iranians substituting infantry for artillery.
Iraq's air force soon began strategic bombing against Iranian cities, chiefly Tehran, in 1985. To minimize losses from the superior Iranian Air Force, Iraq rapidly switched to Scud and Al-Hussein improved Scud launches. In retaliation, Iran fired Scud missiles acquired from Libya and Syria against Baghdad. In all, Iraq launched 520 Scuds and Al-Husseins against Iran and received only 177 in exchange. In October 1986, Iraqi aircraft attacked civilian passenger trains and aircraft, including an Iran Air Boeing 737 unloading passengers at Shiraz International Airport.
In retaliation for the Iranian Operation Karbala-5, an early 1987 attempt to capture Basra, Iraq attacked 65 cities in 226 sorties over 42 days, bombing civilian neighborhoods. Eight Iranian cities came under attack from Iraqi missiles. The bombings killed 65 children in an elementary school in Borujerd alone. The Iranians also responded with Scud missile attacks on Baghdad and struck a primary school there. These events became known as "the war of the cities".
1987 saw a renewed wave of Iranian offensives against targets in both the north and south of Iraq. Iranian troops were stopped by Iraqi prepared defenses in the south in a month-and-a-half long battle for Basra (Operation Karbala-5), but met with more success later in the year in the north as Operations Nasr 4 and Karbala-10 threatened to capture the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk and other northern oilfields. However, the Iranian forces were unable to consolidate their gains and continue their advance, and so 1987 saw little land change hands. On 20 July, the Security Council of the United Nations passed the US-sponsored Resolution 598, which called for an end to fighting and a return to pre-war boundaries. Iraq, which had lost important pieces of land over the course of the war, accepted the resolution. Iran, however, was loathe to surrender its gains when total victory seemed close at hand, and so the fighting continued.
By April 1988, however, the Iraqi forces had regrouped sufficiently to begin a new series of devastating attacks on the Iranians, and in quick succession recaptured the strategic al-Faw peninsula (lost in 1986 in Operation Dawn-8) and territory around Basra and also struck deep into the Iranian north, capturing much matériel. In July 1988 Iraqi airplanes dropped chemical cyanide bombs on the Iranian Kurdish village of Zardan (as they had done four months earlier at their own Kurdish village of Halabja). Hundreds were killed at once, and the survivors are still suffering from a variety of physical and mental disorders. The enraged Iranians considered a huge rearming and nuclear weapons, but decided that this was beyond their means. Following these major setbacks, Iran accepted the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 598. However Iraq, which had seen major victories in the end of the war, thought at first it could invade Iran once more; in the end, Iraqi forces managed to make small gains in Khuzestan but were halted by the Iranians and so Iraq also accepted the terms and on 20 August 1988 peace was restored.
The People's Mujahedin of Iran started their ten day operation after the Iranian government accepted UN Resolution 598. While Iraqi forces attacked Khuzestan, the Mujahedin attacked western Iran and battled the Pasdaran for Kermanshah. Close air support from the Iraqis contributed to whatever gains the Mojahedin made. However, under heavy international pressure for ending the war, Saddam Hussein withdrew his fighter aircraft and the sky opened for the Iranian airborne forces to be deployed behind Mojahedin lines. The operation ended in a defeat for the Mojahedin. Casualty figures range from 2,000 to as high as 10,000.
During the war, Iraq was regarded by the West (and specifically the United States) as a counterbalance to post-revolutionary Iran. The support of Iraq took the form of technological aid, intelligence, the sale of dual-use and military equipment and satellite intelligence to Iraq. While there was direct combat between Iran and the United States, it is not universally agreed that the fighting between the U.S. and Iran was specifically to benefit Iraq, or for separate, although occurring at the same time, issues between the U.S. and Iran. American ambiguity towards which side to support was summed up by Henry Kissinger when the American statesman remarked that "it's a pity they [Iran and Iraq] both can't lose." More than 30 countries provided support to Iraq, Iran, or both. Iraq, in particular, had a complex clandestine procurement network to obtain munitions and critical materials, which, in some transactions, involved 6-10 countries. The most practical way to describe such complex procurement is to put the history in the article for the country in which the sale began.
When a country, at the same or different times, supported both Iran and Iraq, the "export control" section of both articles is apt to be identical, assuming it describes a national policy, or, in some cases, the lack of one. When a country made an exception, that will be noted. Articles in the following table detail of support of other nations to either Iran or Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War:
|Country||Foreign policy||Support to Iraq||Support to Iran|
|All countries||International aid to combatants in the Iran–Iraq War|
|Soviet Union||The Soviet Union and the Iran–Iraq War||Soviet support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war||Soviet support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq war|
|Saudi Arabia||Saudi support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war|
|United States||U.S. support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war||U.S. support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq war|
|Israel||Israeli support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq war|
|Singapore||Singapore support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war|
|Italy||Italian support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war|
|United Kingdom||British support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war|
|France||French support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war|
|People's Republic of China|
|North Korea||North Korean support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq war|
Among major powers, the United States' policy was to "tilt" toward Iraq by reopening diplomatic channels, lifting restrictions on the export of dual-use technology, overseeing the transfer of third party military hardware, and providing operational intelligence on the battlefield.
As will be seen in some of the country-specific sub-articles of this page, Iraq made extensive use of front companies, middlemen, secret ownership of all or part of companies all over the world, forged end user certificates and other methods to hide what it was acquiring. At this time, the country-level sub-articles emphasize the country in which the procurement started, but also illustrate how procurement infrastructure was established in different countries. Some transactions may have involved people, shipping, and manufacturing in as many as 10 countries.
British support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war especially illustrated the ways by which Iraq would circumvent export controls. Iraq bought at least one British company with operations in the U.K. and the U.S.
Singapore support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war discusses land mines assembled there, as well as chemical warfare precursors shipped from Singapore, possibly by an Iraqi front company.
Another country that had an important role in arming Iraq was Italy, whose greatest impact was financial, through the U.S. branch of the state-owned largest bank in Italy. The Italian article is one example of how Iraq circumvented a national embargo, by, as one example, moving land and sea mine production to Singapore.
Additional country details will be added as the articles become available, in some cases in stub format for individual yet significant support, such as providing the largest amount of precursor chemicals from which chemical weapons were produced.
Although the United Nations Security Council called for a cease-fire after a week of fighting and renewed the call on later occasions, the initial call was made while Iraq occupied Iranian territory. Moreover, the UN refused to come to Iran’s aid to repel the Iraqi invasion. The Iranians thus interpreted the UN as subtly biased in favor of Iraq .
North Korea was a major arms supplier to Iran. Its support provided included weapons it manufactured, Chinese and Soviet weapons for which the major power wanted deniability of the sale, and other Soviet-bloc weapons for which the major powers wanted deniability.
Besides the US and the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia also sold weapons to both countries for the entire duration of the conflict. Likewise Portugal helped both countries: it was not unusual seeing Iranian- and Iraqi-flagged ships side-by-side in Sines (a town with a deep-sea port).
During the early years of the war, Iran's arsenal was almost entirely American-made, left over from the Imperial Armed Forces of the dethroned Shah. Iran's foreign supporters gradually came to include Syria and Libya. Iran purchased weaponry from North Korea and the People's Republic of China, notably the Silkworm anti-ship missile. Iran operated many U.S.-manufactured aircraft. Iranian Armored divisions revolved mainly around M60 and Chieftain tanks. The fleet of around 900 tanks was on par with the British Army and these tanks were the most modern versions available. Iran acquired weapons and parts for its Shah-era U.S. systems through covert arms transactions from officials in the Reagan Administration, first indirectly through Israel and then directly. It was hoped Iran would, in exchange, persuade several radical groups to release U.S. embassy hostages, though this did eventually result. Proceeds from the sales were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
According to the report of the U.S. Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair issued in November 1987, "the sale of U.S. arms to Iran through Israel began in the summer of 1985, after receiving the approval of President Reagan. These sales included "2,008 BGM-71 TOW anti-Tank missiles, and 235 parts kits for MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missiles had been sent to Iran via Israel." Further shipments of up to US$2 billion of American weapons from Israel to Iran, consisting of 18 F-4 Phantom II fighter-bombers, 46 A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers, and nearly 4,000 missiles were foiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, and "unverified reports alleged that Israel agreed to sell Iran AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, radar equipment, mortar and machinegun ammunition, field telephones, M-60 tank engines and artillery shells, and spare parts for C-130 transport planes." The London Observer also estimated that Israel's arms sales to Iran during the war totaled US$ 500 million annually, For more on Israeli Hawk missile sales to Iran see the Financial Times article, "Arms Embargo Which Cannot Withstand The Profit Motive."
The sources of Iraqi arms purchases between 1970 and 1990 (10% of the world market during this period) are estimated to be:
|Suppliers||in Billions (1985 $US)||% of total|
|People's Republic of China||1.7||5|
The U.S. sold Iraq $200 million in helicopters, which were used by the Iraqi military in the war. These were the only direct U.S.-Iraqi military sales and were valued to be about 0.6% of Iraq's conventional weapons imports during the war.
Ted Koppel of ABC Nightline reported the following, however, on June 9, 1992: "It is becoming increasingly clear that George Bush Sr., operating largely behind the scenes throughout the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence, and military help that built Saddam's Iraq into [an aggressive power]" and “Reagan/Bush administrations permitted — and frequently encouraged — the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq.”
According to the New Yorker, the Reagan Administration began to allow Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt to transfer to Iraq American howitzers, helicopters, bombs and other weapons.
The United States, United Kingdom, and Germany also provided "dual use" technology (computers, engines, etc.) that allowed Iraq to expand its missile program and radar defenses. The U.S. Commerce Department, in violation of procedure, gave out licenses to companies for $1.5 billion in dual-use items to be sent to Iraq. The State Department was not informed of this. Over 1 billion of these authorized items were trucks that were never delivered. The rest consisted of advanced technology. Iraq's Soviet-made Scuds had their ranges expanded as a result.
Large numbers of Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters were made, which were more effective in close air support, using urban or mountain cover, than for antitank work. Soviet 3M11 Falanga (NATO reporting name AT-2 SWATTER) were ineffective on helicopters. Iraq bought the Anglo-French Aérospatiale Gazelle scout helicopter with the Euromissile HOT, as Syria already had done.
Soviet MiG-23 and Su-17 aircraft were not as effective for ground attack. Against shipping and ground targets, Iraq moved to French equipment and doctrine. The Exocet anti-shipping missile, launched first from Super Etendard and then Mirage F-1 aircraft, was effective. Iraqi Mirage F-1 ground attack pilots were trained by France. According to the U.S., "tactical changes accompanied the upgrading of equipment. On bombing missions the Iraqis started to use low-altitude attacks. Precision-guided munitions such as laser-guided bombs were used with increased accuracy."
In December 2002, Iraq's 1,200 page Weapons Declaration revealed a list of Eastern and Western corporations and countries, as well as individuals, that exported a total of 17,602 tons of "dual use" chemical precursors to Iraq in the past two decades, with potential for both industrial uses and manufacture of chemical weapons. By far, the largest suppliers of precursors for chemical weapons production were in Singapore (4,515 tons), the Netherlands (4,261 tons), Egypt (2,400 tons), India (2,343 tons), and Federal Republic of Germany (1,027 tons). One Indian company, Exomet Plastics (now part of EPC Industrie) sent 2,292 tons of precursor chemicals to Iraq. The Kim Al-Khaleej firm, located in Singapore and affiliated to United Arab Emirates, supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX, sarin, and mustard gas precursors and production equipment to Iraq.
According to Iraq's declarations, it had procured 340 pieces of equipment used for the production of chemical weapons. More than half came from a German company which re-exported US equipment to disguise its destination. , the remainder mostly from France, Spain, and Austria. In addition, Iraq declared that it imported more than 200,000 munitions made for delivering chemicals, 75,000 came from Italy, 57,500 from Spain, 45,000 from China, and 28,500 from Egypt. Declassified U.S. government documents indicate that the U.S. government had confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons "almost daily" during the Iran-Iraq conflict as early as 1983. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was unexpectedly confronted while meeting with Saddam Hussein with the release of a UN that Iraq had used mustard gas and tabun nerve agent against Iranian troops.
The New York Times reported from Baghdad on 29 March 1984, that "American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with Iraq and the U.S., and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been established in all but name." The chairman of the Senate committee, Don Riegle, said: “The executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think it’s a devastating record”.
According to the Washington Post, the CIA began in 1984 secretly to give Iraq intelligence that Iraq used to "calibrate" its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. In August, the CIA establishes a direct Washington-Baghdad intelligence link, and for 18 months, starting in early 1985, the CIA provided Iraq with "data from sensitive U.S. satellite reconnaissance photography...to assist Iraqi bombing raids." The Post’s source said that this data was essential to Iraq’s war effort.
In May 2003, an extended list of international companies involvements in Iraq was provided by The Independent. Howard Teicher and Radley Gayle, stated that 31 Bell helicopters that were given to Iraq by U.S. later were used to spray chemical weapons.
Iraq's chemical weapons program was mainly assisted by German companies such as Karl Kobe, which built a chemical weapons facility disguised as a pesticide plant. Iraq’s foreign contractors, including Karl Kolb with Massar for reinforcement, built five large research laboratories, an administrative building, eight large underground bunkers for the storage of chemical munitions, and the first production buildings. 150 tons of mustard were produced in 1983. About 60 tons of Tabun were produced in 1984. Pilot-scale production of Sarin began in 1984. Germany also supplied reactors, heat exchangers, condensers and vessels. France, Austria, Canada, and Spain provided similar equipment.
The Al Haddad trading company of Tennessee delivered 60 tons of DMMP, a chemical used to make sarin, a nerve gas implicated in the Gulf War Syndrome. The Al Haddad trading company appears to have been an Iraqi front company. The firm was owned by Sahib Abd al-Amir al-Haddad, an Iraqi-born, naturalized American citizen. Recent stories in The New York Times and The Tennessean reported that al-Haddad was arrested in Bulgaria in November 2002 while trying to arrange an arms sale to Iraq. Al-Haddad was charged with conspiring to purchase equipment for the manufacture of a giant Iraqi cannon, a design based on the Canadian HARP program. In 1984, U.S. Customs at New York's Kennedy Airport stopped an order addressed to the Iraqi State Enterprise for Pesticide Production for 74 drums of potassium fluoride, a dual-use chemical used in the production of Sarin. The order was placed by Al-Haddad Enterprises Incorporates, owned by an individual named Sahib al-Haddad.
The U.S. firm Alcolac International supplied one dual-use mustard-gas precursor, thiodiglycol, to Iraq & Iran in violation of U.S. export laws but the U.S. Justice Department for illegal exports indicted the company in 1988 only for its illegal exports to Iran and was forced to pay a fine. Overall between 300-400 tons were sent to Iraq.
A report by Berlin's Die Tageszeitung in 2002 reported that Iraq's 11,000-page report to the UN Security Council listed 150 foreign companies that supported Saddam Hussein's WMD program. Twenty-four U.S. firms were involved in exporting arms and materials to Baghdad. Donald Riegle, Chairman of the Senate committee that made the report, said, "UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and [established] that these items were used to further Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programs." He added, "the executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think that is a devastating record."
The Iraq-gate scandal revealed that an Atlanta branch of Italy's largest bank, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, relying partially on U.S. taxpayer-guaranteed loans, funneled $5 billion to Iraq from 1985 to 1989. In August 1989, when FBI agents finally raided the Atlanta branch of BNL, the branch manager, Christopher Drogoul, was charged with making unauthorized, clandestine, and illegal loans to Iraq — some of which, according to his indictment, were used to purchase arms and weapons technology.
The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and ABC's Ted Koppel, covered the Iraq-gate story, and the investigation by the U.S. Congress. This scandal is covered in Alan Friedman's book The Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq.
Beginning in September 1989, the Financial Times laid out the first charges that BNL, relying heavily on U.S. government-guaranteed loans, was funding Iraqi chemical and nuclear weapons work. For the next two and a half years, the Financial Times provided the only continuous newspaper reportage (over 300 articles) on the subject. Among the companies shipping militarily useful technology to Iraq under the eye of the U.S. government, according to the Financial Times, were Hewlett-Packard, Tektronix, and Matrix Churchill, through its Ohio branch.
In all, Iraq received $35 billion in loans from the West and between $30 and $40 billion from the Gulf States during the 1980s.
|Imbalance of Power (1980-1987)||Iraq||Iran|
|Tanks in 1980||2700||1740|
|Tanks in 1987||4500||1000|
|Fighter Aircraft in 1980||332||445|
|Fighter Aircraft in 1987||500+||65*|
|Helicopters in 1980||40||500|
|Helicopters in 1987||150||60|
|Artillery in 1980||1000||1000+|
|Artillery in 1987||4000+||1000+|
The official estimate does not include the civilian population contaminated in bordering towns or the children and relatives of veterans, many of whom have developed blood, lung and skin complications, according to the Organization for Veterans of Iran. According to a 2002 article in the Star-Ledger:
Iraq also used chemical weapons on Iranian civilians, killing many in villages and hospitals. Many civilians suffered severe burns and health problems, and still suffer from them. Furthermore, 308 Iraqi missiles were launched at population centers inside Iranian cities between 1980 and 1988 resulting in 12,931 casualties.
On 21 March 1986, the United Nations Security Council made a declaration stating that "members are profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops and the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons." The United States was the only member who voted against the issuance of this statement.
According to retired Colonel Walter Lang, senior defense intelligence officer for the United States Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, "the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern" to Reagan and his aides, because they "were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose." He claimed that the Defense Intelligence Agency "would have never accepted the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but the use against military objectives was seen as inevitable in the Iraqi struggle for survival", The Reagan administration did not stop aiding Iraq after receiving reports of the use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians. There is great resentment in Iran that the international community helped Iraq develop its chemical weapons arsenal and armed forces, and also that the world did nothing to punish Saddam's Ba'athist regime for its use of chemical weapons against Iran throughout the war — particularly since the US and other western powers soon felt obliged to oppose the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and eventually invade Iraq itself to remove Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency also accused Iran of using chemical weapons. These allegations however, have been disputed. Joost Hiltermann, who was the principal researcher for Human Rights Watch between 1992-1994, conducted a two year study, including a field investigation in Iraq, capturing Iraqi government documents in the process. According to Hiltermann, the literature on the Iran–Iraq War reflects a number of allegations of chemical weapons use by Iran, but these are "marred by a lack of specificity as to time and place, and the failure to provide any sort of evidence".
Gary Sick and Lawrence Potter call the allegations against Iran "mere assertions" and state: "no persuasive evidence of the claim that Iran was the primary culprit [of using chemical weapons] was ever presented". Policy consultant and author Joseph Tragert also states: "Iran did not retaliate with chemical weapons, probably because it did not possess any at the time".
At his trial in December 2006, Saddam Hussein said he would take responsibility "with honour" for any attacks on Iran using conventional or chemical weapons during the 1980-1988 war but he took issue with charges he ordered attacks on Iraqis. A medical analysis of the effects of Iraqi mustard gas is described a U.S. military textbook, and contrasted with slightly different effects in the First World War.
The war was extremely costly in lives and material, one of the deadliest wars since World War II (see list of wars and disasters by death toll). Both countries were devastated by the war's effect. It cost Iran an estimated 1 million casualties, killed or wounded, and Iranians continue to suffer and die as a consequence of Iraq's use of chemical weapons. Iraqi casualties are estimated at 250,000-500,000 killed or wounded. Thousands of Civilians died on both sides from air raids and missiles.
The financial loss was also heavy, at that time exceeding US$500 billion for each (US$1.2 trillion in total), but shortly after it turned out that the economic cost of war is more profound and long-lasting than estimated right after war. Economic development was stalled and oil exports disrupted. Iraq was left with serious debts to its former Arab backers, including US$14 billion loaned by Kuwait, a debt which contributed to Saddam's 1990 decision to invade.
Much of the oil industry in both countries was damaged in air raids. Iran's production capacity has yet to fully recover from the damages of the war. 10 million shells had landed in Iraq's oil fields at Basra, seriously damaging Iraq's oil production. Prisoners taken by both sides were not released until more than 10 years after the end of the conflict. Cities on both sides had also taken considerable damage.
Not all saw the war in negative terms. The Islamic Revolution of Iran was strengthened and radicalized. The Iranian government-owned Etelaat newspaper wrote:
"There is not a single school or town that is excluded from the happiness of waging war, from drinking the exquisite elixir of death or from the sweet death of the martyr, who dies in order to live forever in paradise.
The war left the borders unchanged. Two years later, as war with the western powers loomed, Saddam recognized Iranian rights over the eastern half of the Shatt al-Arab, a reversion to the status quo ante bellum that he had repudiated a decade earlier.
Declassified US intelligence available has explored both the domestic and foreign implications of Iran's apparent (in 1982) victory over Iraq in their then two-year old war.
"That Iraq's explanations do not appear sufficient or acceptable to the international community is a fact. Accordingly, the outstanding event under the violations referred to is the attack of 22 September 1980, against Iran, which cannot be justified under the charter of the United Nations, any recognized rules and principles of international law or any principles of international morality and entails the responsibility for conflict."
"Even if before the outbreak of the conflict there had been some encroachment by Iran on Iraqi territory, such encroachment did not justify Iraq's aggression against Iran—which was followed by Iraq's continuous occupation of Iranian territory during the conflict—in violation of the prohibition of the use of force, which is regarded as one of the rules of jus cogens."
"On one occasion I had to note with deep regret the experts' conclusion that "chemical weapons had been used against Iranian civilians in an area adjacent to an urban center lacking any protection against that kind of attack" (s/20134, annex). The Council expressed its dismay on the matter and its condemnation in resolution 620 (1988), adopted on 26 August 1988.