The Iran and Iraq War Of Attrition
Saddam Hussein was the President of Iraq from July 16, 1979, until April 9, 2003.He ruled
the country by inspiring fear and force combined with his intimidating ruthlessness in the heart
of people ,which allowed him to stay in power for 24 years ,during which committed genocide
and used (WMDs)against both over his people and neighboring countries. He became the leading
member of Baath party and espoused economic modernization, Pan-Arabism and socialism
which were in direst clash with that of Iran both under the Shah and after he was toppled down
by Khomeini and his cronies to bring an Islamic fundamentalism to life.
Saadam Hussein which came to terms with Shah of IRAN over the border disputes March 6,
1975 – Saddam and Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlavi of Iran sign a treaty of rapprochement in
which Iraq gives up claims to Arvandrude waterway, in return Iran agrees to end its support of
the independence seeking Kurds. thereafter at Shah’s insistence Saddam expels Ayatollah
Ruholla Khomeini from Iraq, where he has been in exile for 13 years. I really think the
hostility between Saddam and Khomeini and the political chasm within them started to
worsen from then on .Khomeini regarded toppling Saddam’s government as a goal
second only to consolidating power in Iran. however, by the ouster of Shah’s regime
and Khomeini’s successful take over on state of affairs ,empowered by his popularity
and pro-Shiia policies. Saddam’ withdrawal of the treaty signed with Shah of Iran and his
claims over south-west Arab populated Iranian territory led him on to a war of attrition
on wrong assumptions.
Provocative factors behind the war
After the Islamic revolution of Iran took place, US foreign policy makers were
determined that relations with Iran were far more than shattered, that was overshadowed
further more by the hostage taking crises, when Iranian paramilitary forces stormed the
USA embassy to hold them hostages for the next 444 days.
In 1979 under the Soviet Union and during the cold war, soviets were opportunistically
looking to whatever outcome turns out of Iranian revolution ,in fact Kremlin was almost
exactly ready to co-operate nearly with any kind of government established in
Iran just for the sake of taking any possible advantage against American interests in the
middle east. The Kremlin has been unable to exploit to any significant degree the
advantages thought to be inherent in the overthrow of the Shah and the demise of
American influence in Iran, and finds itself instead confronted with a number of issues
which hinder its ability to do so.
“The Soviet Union and her satellites were the main suppliers of arms to Iraq following
the 1972 signing of the Soviet-Iraqi Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. France was
another important supplier of weapons to Iraq during the 1970s. The United States, the
world’s leading arms exporter, did not have normal relations with Iraq from 1967 (due to
the Six-Day War) until 1984.” Iraqi abrogation of the 1975 agreements was not far off in
light of the countdown to war in September 1980., an Iranian assassination attempt on
Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz on the margins could be a provocative act of war thoguh.
Therefore my perception is that Iran-Iraq war was just one of the very last by-products of
the cold war. The war of course for Americans was meant to keep the oil resources in the
Persian Gulf away from Soviets by all means possible and for Soviets was a chance to
revive their economic predicament by arms sales to Iraq maybe partly because Iran didn’t
need them anyway for it having built an arms forces big enough to keep Saddam fettered
during the Shah’s regime thanks to American major supplies of air force, sea and ground
equipments during Shah’ regime.” The Iranian government dispatched a cargo ship with
naval and air escort through the estuary to Persian gulf, the ship arrived unmolested by
the Iraqis ,who took no action despite their previous threat.”
Aims and objectives behind Saddam’s invasion of IRAN
The Baath seizure of power in Iraq in 1968 marked a new prelude of a long lasting
adversary with Iran, under the Shah, Kurds were heavily armed and funded both by USA
and Iran which rendered an ever greater corporate aid to Kurds in return for Saddam’s
support of an amorphous front for the liberation of Khuzistan.
“In January 1970, the Baath regime executed 37 men and women on charges of
attempting to overthrow the government, allegedly with Iranian assistance. It then
expelled Iranian ambassador and closed down Iranian consulate in three cities ,and
expelled thousands of Iranians.”
Seeds of war were spawned soon after the soviet-Iraqi friendship treaty and USA major
economic and military and political aids and support for shah were established. Soon
after Shah’s dynasty was toppled, newly stood up, fledging revolution of Iran was about
to spread pro-Shiia revolutionary ideas throughout the middle east.
Saddam see’s the opportunity ripe to invade Iran however on a surprise attack.Saddam’s
perception was widely influenced by the fact that Arabs in oil rich Khuzestan will put up
support for Iraq, that idea miserably failed to work though ,thereafter he had in mind to
reach Tehran in 2 days and achieve a major speedy victory (his estimates of military
might have been correct due to major pro-shah purges that took place)however Iranians
came together as been the case before, to hold an Arab Semitic invasion of their country,
some were not even for the revolution but unable to bear an Arab occupation.Saddam had
in mind to rally support within the Persian Gulf Arab states on the basis of having
defended an Iranian pro-Shiia Islamic Revolution spread all throughout the middle east.
Saddam might have been a gambler or just a lucky politician, it was during 1970s when
the oil crisis hit western nations and oil importing countries hard ,some of which in return
increased exporting goods prices to the OPEC countries to retaliate and economic
“Acquisition of the three islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, on the
unilateral behalf of the UAE” ,was another objective which Saddam had in mind of
Iraqi shore lines are really restricted and they lack the huge capacity needed to handle this
economic boom and to meet huge oil tankers in larger amounts due to oil crisis, all of
which highlights the importance of Iraqi ports of UmmQasr and Basra along with
Arvandrude, which resulted in an urgent need to come to new terms with Iran over
Arvandrude while forthcoming, if not possible to invade Iran and put claim over
Khuzestan. Although on the other hand Khomeini put up rhetoric against all Arab nations
to be in clash with what the prophet aimed to achieve ,to unite all Muslims contrary to the
nationalistic predispositions of the Arab states. Khomeini declared :”The Ummayad
rule[661-750]was based on Arabism the principle of promoting Arabs over all other
peoples, which was an aim fundamentally opposed to Islam and it’s desire to abolish
nationality and unite all mankind in a single community under the aegis of a state
indifferent to the matter of race and color…”
I think those rhetorics pretty much scared the Soviets and Americans and even Arabs and
Israelis given the fact of Iran’s recent military build up and it’s geo-strategic importance
in oil rich Persian Gulf.
All the above emboldened Saddam after being supported by west and Arabs to wage a
war of attrition in which I will explain in the next part in details.
The beginning of a war of attrition
Iran-Iraq war also known as (Iraqi imposed war)and holy defense in Iran ,and in Iraq
best known as Qadisiyyah, perhaps an evocation of the past where Semitic Muslims
undertook an attack to access water and better lands and facilities in Persia.
“On 22 september 1980 Iraq’s armies invaded Iran along an 800-mile front, from
khorrramshahr in the south to Qasr-e-shirin to the north.” Iraqis attacked without formal
warnings ,although they were soon repelled by Iranian army, despite several calls from
UN security council for both sides to cease fire ,hostilities continued until 20 august
1998.The surprised offensive advanced quickly against still disorganized Iranian forces,
Iraqi army targeted Iranian Air-fields and Fighter crafts while unaware of the upgraded
hangers to shield the Aircrafts against incoming missiles,It’s said that Iranian airforce
was still disorganized due to major purges took place against pro-Shah pilots and
generals, However within 2 hours they were paid back in kind.
Formations of Iraqi Mig-21s and MiG23s attacked Iran’s airbases at Mehrrabad and
Doushan tappe (both near Tehran ),as well as Tabriz ,Bakhtaran, Mehrabad and
Dezful,Uromiye ,Hamedan, Sanandaj and Ababdan.Their aim was to destroy Iranian air
force on the ground –a lesson learned from Arab Israeli june 1967 war. they succeeded in
destroying runways and fuel and ammunition depots ,but much of Iran’s inventory was
left intact ,Iranian defenses were caught by surprise ,but Iraqi raids failed because Iranian
jets were protected in especially strengthened hangers ,and because bombes designed to
destroy runways didn’t totally incapacitate Iran’s very large airfields .
“Simultaneously, six Iraqi army divisions entered Iran on three fronts in an initially
successful surprise attack, where they drove as far as eight kilometers inland and
occupied 1,000 square kilometers of Iranian territory.”
within hours Iran F-4 phantoms took off from the same bases ,successfully attacked
strategically important targets close to Iraqi cities and returned home with very few
losses.” that was a stunt attack in which Iranian pilots re-fueled in mid-air to avoid fuel
shortage. The Iraqi armies had inadequate leadership and seemingly lacked offensive
spirit(just as the earlier conflict with Israelis they had proved logistically impressive but
inadequate in combat).”
In sending his army into Iran he believed he could accomplish three aims ”severely
undermine, or perhaps overthrow ,the revolutionary government in Iran and replace it
with a government beholden or at least friendly to Iraq, enhance his standing in Persian
gulf and middle east ,as a defender and champion of Arab cause ,and restore full Iraqi
control over Arvand River.”
Soon after the air attack Saddam undertakes a scorched earth policy, prior to war
Khuzestan was grown to be one of the worlds biggest ports and home to predominantly
affluent settlers of which the prevalent culture was that of modern Iranian
“The Iraqi objectives were to occupy the city outskirts, the Dej Barracks in the north, and
the port in the south. In the first days of the fighting, beginning on September 30th, the
Iraqis cleared the dykes and captured the area around the city, cutting it off from both
Abadan and the rest of the Khuzestan province. The first two attempts to enter the city,
launched by an armored division and Special Forces, were met with heavy losses for the
Iraqi forces. In response, the Iraqis planned on sending in additional commando units
with armor providing backup. Iraqi Special Forces and Commando units took the port
whilst Iraqi armored brigades took Dej, both before moving into the suburbs.”
Local counter attacks by tank-infantry and indigenous Arabs stalled the Iraqis advancing
further more into the city ,ironically the same Arabs Saddam raised hope on, now started
to shoot any Iraqi from on top the roofs or in co-operation with local commanders with
their tank chieftains which proved to be successful, although short afterwards Iranian
Pasdaran and chieftains stop attacks cold and forced into defensive, The sheer
weight of the Iraqi tank force settled the issue in their favor.
Based on the Basij and Pasdarans fanaticism war was fight house to house and floor to
floor, they were armed with anything possible to kill Iraqis from assault rifles all the way
down to sticks and knives.
As always been the case with Semitic Arab scavengers, looted, pillaged goods and
materials available and had them transferred to the port of Basra, meanwhile their
ignorance of human rights and Iraqi soldiers raping women and children was both
repulsive and intolerable but expected.
The city remains in Iraqi hands up until April 1982,when Iranians swiped through Iraqi
forces by an unexpected surprise operation called Jerusalem in order to recapture, liberate
Those were the highest points of Iraqi invasion but soon afterwards it was all going
downhill and into defensive.
Early days armaments
“In August 1980 the Iraqi Military had 212.000 troops, 2.000 tanks, 1.000 artillery
pieces, 370 combat aircraft, and 230 helicopters.
Soviets proved to be slow in delivering the choppers to Iraqis and Iraqi forces showed
handicap in learning the equipments and introducing them to the front line which bought
Iran some time.
In general, the units of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army were in very poor condition.
Most were down to only 50% of their strength (some even less) and under command of
lower-ranking officers, as all the generals of the former Imperial Iranian Army were
removed from their posts after the revolution in 1979. During the early days of the war
there was a considerable chaos within the chain of command, which led to a situation in
which most of larger units were scattered into small battle-groups, that fought in
cooperation with local militias and without a coherent overall command.
92nd Armored Division was covering 400km of front (which was attacked by five Iraqi
divisions and something like five brigades). This unit was at 50% of its nominal
menpower, but reinforced by following elements:
– 37th Armored Group, composed of parts of the 37th Armored Brigade deployed to
support the 2nd AB/92nd AD west of Dezful.
– 151 Fortification Battalion, manning the main fortifications north of Khoramshahr and
27 other fortifications developed along the border to Iraq (usually built some three
kilometres from the border); this unit was equipped with 80 M-4 Sherman and M-24
Chaffee tanks, emplaced in a number of static fortifications (each “fort” had two tank-
emplacements), 106mm recoilles guns, anti-aircraft artillery and anti-tang guided
missiles; it should have counted some 1.300 troops in total, but was badly understrenght.
– 1 infantry battalion from 21st ID
– 1 infantry battalion and 1 armored company from 77th ID
– 1 armored battalion from 88th AD
– 1 battalion of IRIN Marines (deployed at Khoramshahr Naval Base).”
Foreign intervention/gradual superpower intervention
United states was to remain neutral toward Iran-Iraq war ,meanwhile clandestinely
supported both Iran and Iraq during the course of the war, given the fact that Iran held
American personnel hostage for 444 days probably US administration hoped for their
release to alleviate the political sclerosis to escalate any further.
“Presumably the Iraqi army could render Iranian oil fields inoperable and, unlike
American marines, do so without provoking the Soviet Union to exercise its alleged right
of counter-intervention under articles 5 and 6 of the l92l Russo-Persian Treaty of
Friendship.29 These articles were unilaterally abrogated by Iran on November 5, l979,30
the day after the American diplomats were seized in Teheran”
soon after, from the very outset of the conflict American intelligence agencies and US
airborne warning and control aircraft (AWACS) based in Saudi Arabia for the sole
purpose of self defense of that country started to assist the Iraqis, by the way Americans
were aware of Iranian military tactics and weapons and handling of the war, therefore
Iraqis didn’t really have to spent much time on intelligence factors, all they got to do was
to pull the trigger.
There is a dictum in middle east that all middle eastern subscribe to (the enemy of my
enemy is my friend) although Islamic Republic of Iran was an anti-Jewish(anti-Semitic)
regime, it acquired some military help from Israel probably for the fact that Saddam was
considered a much active and dangerous threat to Israelis, Hafez al Assad keeps up
sporadic attacks on Iraqi border line and shuts one of the Iraqis oil pipes, which was a
valuable sources of income .Libya, china ,North Korea all sent weapons particularly
missiles to Iran, as for Iraq most Persian gulf countries and USA support in terms of
military weapons was evident. Although US administration at one point committed
themselves to free the hostages by any means possible ,even if given Iran what she wants.
Having said the aforementioned, USA failed in a rescue mission just to the south of
Tehran in the desert to liberate the hostages, therefore came into terms with Iran.
“In the midst of the war, the United States changed its position and unexpectedly helped
the Iranians. In 1985, the Reagan Administration agreed to secretly sell weapons to Iran
to win support for the freeing of American hostages being held by terrorists in Lebanon.
The principal negotiator on the U.S. side was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a military
aide to the National Security Council, who reported his activities to the National Security
Adviser Robert McFarlane and his successor John Poindexter”
Having said that ,Russians chose both sides, selling artilleries both to Iranians and
Iraqis, just wanted to recover their down falling economy ,although France heavily
supported Iraqi air force whereas Iraqis lacked the expertise needed against their Iranian
Military-Tactics-analysis/Armaments/ /Technology and supports
In July 1982 Iran regained the Iraqi occupied Khuzestan and refused Saddam’s request
for an armistice ,Khomeini kept up anti-Arab(anti-Semitic)rhetoric and psyched people
ranging from 9 to over 55 years old to enlist for military, these were untrained soldiers
but patriots of the revolution , they swept over the minefields and Iraqi fortifications in a
simultaneously coordinated air and ground cover to regain lands ,although Iran received
heavy casualties in what was know as Operation Ramadan.
“By the end of 1982, Iraq had been re-supplied with new Soviet materiel, and the ground
war entered a new phase. Iraq used newly acquired T-55 tanks and T-62 tanks, BM-21
Stalin Organ rocket launchers, and Mi-24 helicopter gunships to prepare a Soviet-type
three-line defense, replete with obstacles, minefields, and fortified positions. The Combat
Engineer Corps proved efficient in constructing bridges across water obstacles, in laying
minefields, and in preparing new defense lines and fortifications.”
In 1983 Iran attacked along a 40-kilometer stretch near Al Amarah, about 200 kilometers
southeast of Baghdad, a three division human wave forces were deployed ,ever since the
second world war it was the first time that such tactics being used however Iraqi
handicapped in numbers but they adroitly located artillery defenses in proper locations
and co0ordinated some 200 sorties with choppers which let Iran with 130.000 casualties
and for Iraq 60.000 ,both sides lacked the expertise needed to maneuver and to shoot
them targets properly by the use of tanks.
By 1984 Saddam’s goal to defeat Iran was second to reaching a settlement by all means
Possible, Iranian objective was to gain control over the oil fields and to cut off Iraqi
revenues by the way of controlling the Persian gulf all the way from Iraqi shores to the
straits of hurmuz, moreover Syrians played a significant role in cutting off Iraqi oil
revenues by shutting the Iraqi oil pipeline which had to pass through Syria.
Saddam wanted Iran to suffer more casualties and at some points purposely ham-handed
the war to let Iran into Iraqi lands which were strip of mountains and high land (kind of
territory they could maneuver in only)hoping for Khomeini to bow to an armistice after
Realizing the high casualties. Therefore buying both some time to recover war expenses
and to politically reach a settlement with Tehran.
At the end of the day Iranian Arabs and Kurds and even Turks were committed to the war
while Iraqi shia and Kurds were uprising against Saddam which led him to use chemical
weapons not only on Iranians but on his own people as well.
In 1984 Iraqis on defensive over Majnun Island and Iran lunching over 500.000 militants
of every age hoping to gaining some pockets of Iraqi lands, Iraqis just received new
equipments in terms of helicopters from France and tanks from Russia of which they
boasted to have killed 50.000 Iranians for 9.000 loss of their own, Iran lacked the
engineers and experts to repair aircrafts and tanks while their Iraqi counter part were
instantly given the needed spare parts and experts.
The tanker war started in 1984 was aimed by both sides to minimized the sales of oil
revenues by all means possible ,Iraqis attacked Iranian merchant ship all the way up to oil
tankers and oil fields on Iranian ports, but their effort to inflict a major damage failed for
the sake of strategically secure and well protected Khark island which proved to be
workable.” Repeated Iraqi efforts failed to put Iran’s main oil exporting terminal at Khark
Island out of commission, however. Iran retaliated by attacking first a Kuwaiti oil tanker
near Bahrain on May 13 and then a Saudi tanker in Saudi waters five days later, making it
clear that if Iraq continued to interfere with Iran’s shipping, no Gulf state would be
safe.” thereafter Iran and Iraq committed themselves to a US moratorium on shelling of
civilian targets ,of which was extended by Iran to include the oil tankers as well. the
moratorium was violated by Iraqis many times over with then made Iran to resort to china
and receiving short range smart missile to destroy tankers all throughout middle east,
USA and Russia reflag the Kuwaitis tankers while Iran kept up harassment and hit and
run attacks on USA naval forces in Persian gulf,of such background was American
retaliation of shooting down an Iranian commercial airplane which was then re-
compensated to the families of those who were killed.
“Although the Iraqis initially used chemical weapons to prevent defeat and to reduce
battlefield losses, they later integrated CW attacks into combined-armed operations
designed to regain lost territory and to gain the offensive. Iraq’s use of CW in the war
with Iran can be divided into three distinct phases:
1. 1983 to 1986–used in a defensive role; typically to deflect Iranian human-wave assaults. In 1984 Iraq became the first nation to use a nerve agent on the battlefield when it deployed Tabun-filled aerial bombs during the Iran-Iraq war. Some 5,500 Iranians were killed by the nerve agent between March 1984 and March 1985. Tabun kills within minutes. Some 16,000 Iranians were reported killed by the toxic blister agent mustard gas between August 1983 and February 1986.
2. 1986 to early 1988–iraq adapts use against Iran to disrupt Iranian offensive preparations.
3. early 1988 to conclusion of the war– Iraq integrated large nerve agent strikes into its overall offensive during the spring and summer of 1988 leading to the ceasefire.
Iran used chemical weapons late in the war, but never as extensively or successfully as
Iraq. The success of Iraqi offensive operations in the southern sector in mid-1988
ultimately caused the Iranians to cease hostilities. The use of chemical weapons
contributed to the success of these operations. “
variety of unconventional WMD’s were widely used against Iranian civilians and troops
which were in total violation of Geneva convention and UN and human rights.
The WMDs ude by Iraqis :
Mustard Blister Agent , CS Tear Gas , Nerve Gas ,VS Nerve Gas ,Agent 15, for related pictures and documents see footnote 16.
In terms of weapons :
“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
Other countries 2.9 6
Total 31.5 98.0
Power of Iranian and Iraqi armies were unbalanced. The strength of Iraq and Iran is seen
on the table by The Economist estimates:
Imbalance of Power (1980-1987) Iraq Iran
Tanks in 1980
Tanks in 1987
Fighter Aircraft in 1980
Fighter Aircraft in 1987
Helicopters in 1980
Helicopters in 1987
Artillery in 1980
Artillery in 1987
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.”
In august 1988 ,Iraq couldn’t keep up with the war expenses, already enjoyed donations
of every kind and by the way Saddam was begging Khomeini to reach a settlement for
cease fire just two years on after the war, where Iran had just it’s foreign exchange
exhausted and getting ready for loans and buy new weapons if needed, both the threat
to revolution in Iran and Kurds for Iraq ,plus war expenses in Iran ,brought them to an armistice.
It ended when Iran accepted United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 598,
leading to a 20 August 1988 cease-fire.
“Saudi Arabia for example was trying to assure Iran about it’s peaceful intentions ,and
it’s willingness to assist it with the task of reconstruction .Syria was already betraying it’s
intention to embarrass Iraq over the Kurds in hope of countering it’s pro Iranian stand
through out the gulf war :a revival of the Damascus-Baghdad rivalry in inter Arab
The war was one of the deadliest wars after the Second World War and most alike in
tactics and one of the spin-offs of the cold war.
The war was disastrous for both the neighboring countries, Iran and Iraq, stalling
economic development and disrupting oil exports, leaving Iraq in debt with billions of
dollars and Iran with an exhausted foreign exchange, but no debts though for the former.
The war cost Iran over one million casualties and around a trillion dollar. while Iraq
was left in debts wit money to US, Arab supporters and especially Kuwait which paved
the way for another deadly mistake, of which Saddam committed to.
After Saddam’s major defeat at the hands of UN forces backed and planed by USA, Iraqi
forces suffered major damage and wore on by then ,whereas their Iranian counter parts
already in the process of recovering the war casualties and building the oil fields ,after
war reparations generally, Saddam who achieved nothing in return for the expensive war
he waged to ,now comes to terms with Iran to get back to previous demarcated border
line, prisoners of war were not release after until up to 10 years after the war .
I have give my neutral research on the war of attrition ,but I think the war was not a
matter of culpability ,but it was rather a cold war by-product of which a race for primacy
and superiority in the Persian gulf was contested by both sides which has been
historically enjoyed by Iran and Persian civilization, now an Arab Semitic state
empowered by oil revenues and 1970s boom in oil prices emboldened,under civilized
nation to misbehave itself and divert the never-had amount of money into a war without
having a purpose in mind.
middle east foreign policy, Issues and Processes ,By R.D.Mclaurin,Don Pretz,Lewis W .Snider
Iran , Iraq , and the legacies of war . Edited by Llawrance G.Potter AND Gary G. Sick . p17
.Iraq from Sumer to Saddam ,Second edition. By Geoff Simons Forwarded by Tony Benn,MP
The middle east from the End of empire to the end of world war ,By P.J Vatikiotis