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THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR: Chaos in a Vacuum





Chaos in a Vacuum

New York Westport, Connecticut London

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pelletiere, Stephen C. The Iran-Iraq War : chaos in a vacuum / Stephen C. Pelletiere. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-275-93843-3 (alk. paper) 1. Iran-Iraq War, 19801988. I. Title. DS318.85.P45 1992 955.05'4dc20 91-28089 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. Copyright 1992 by Stephen C. Pelletiere All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, by any process or technique, without the express written consent of the publisher. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 91-28089 ISBN: 0-275-93843-3 First published in 1992 Praeger Publishers, One Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010 An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. Printed in the United States of America

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To my wife, Jean, and my son, Danilo

Maps Acknowledgments Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Origins of the War Iraqs Decision to Go to War Why Iran Invaded Iraq The Static Defense Phase Al Faw Karbala Tawakalna ala Allah ix xi xiii 1 23 49 71 93 117 141 151 Maps of Karbala V Battles 155 161 163

Epilogue Appendix Bibliography Index

Iraq Northern Iraq The Northern Gulf Basrah and Vicinity The Final Battles Karbala V Battles Late November 1986 January 911, 1987 January 1114, 1987 January 1421, 1987 January 27February 2, 1987 156 157 158 159 160 xvi 77 94 119 143

I would like to thank the following, who helped me in the writing of this book. I especially want to thank the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College and its director, Col. Karl Robinson. The institute provided a base for conducting research on the crucial final phase of the IranIraq War. Through the institute, I had access to much information that helped resolve vexing problems about the Iraqi army. Through my connection with the War College, I gained interviews with people inside and outside our government, as well as with individuals overseas. These people helped shape my ideas about the war. In this regard, I particularly want to thank Lt. Col. Douglas Johnson, who taught me how to evaluate military performance. Additional thanks go to Col. John Hickey and Gary Guertner, Shirley Martin, who typed the manuscript, Marianne Cowling, who edited a significant portion of it, and the Repro Department at the War College, which provided the maps. I also want to thank Carl Rosberg and Bob Scalapino at the Institute of International Studies at Berkeley, which provided funding to carry on my research, George Lenczowski, who gave me a basis for understanding the Middle East, and Kenneth Waltz, who taught me respect for systems.

This study of the Iran-Iraq War is designed for the general reader. The war was a complex business, with peculiar features that have to be grasped before any understanding is possible. For example, geopolitics was an extremely important part of the war. The Persian Gulf regionthe area where it took placeis one of the worlds most strategic locations. Both superpowers claimed it as their sphere of influence. They regarded it as their right to interfere in the war whenever they felt their interests were threatened. Iran, a revolutionary state, rejected this interference; Iraq sought to cooperate with the superpowers, and even to exploit their interference. Baghdad found this expedient, since its aims and those of the superpowers were similar: The United States, the Soviet Union, and Iraq all wanted a negotiated end to the fighting. Iran, on the other hand, wanted to destroy Iraq and set up an Islamic republic in its place. For reasons explained in this study, Iraqs objectives changed, and it then no longer had an incentive to cooperate with the superpowers. In secret, it planned a military solution that defied both Washington and Moscow. This decision by the Iraqi leadership brought Iraq the victory it craved but subsequently unleashed a storm of difficulties that led directly to the invasion of Kuwait. The war also was heavily influenced by demography. The Iranians vastly outnumbered the Iraqis (45 million Iranians, 16 million Iraqis), and a significant proportion of Irans forces were religious zealots. Against such odds Iraq could do little but husband its relatively meager human re-



sources. At the same time, however, it had to fight. And since Iraqs forces were relatively inexperienced in modern warfare techniques, they had to be trained. Iraq was fortunate to have an excellent general staff (shaped by the traditions of the Prussian military), which by the wars end had developed the army into a first-class fighting institution. The synergy between the generals and Iraqs civilian leadership made victory possible. The concentration of efforts occurred in 1986, when the Iraqis decided to switch strategies and seek a unilateral end to the conflict. Finally, the reader should be aware of the views of Irans clerics about war: They opposed modern armies, which they regarded as corrupt institutions. Just before the start of the war with Iraq they had purged the army that the shah had left them and, as a result, had only fragments with which to oppose the Iraqis when the invasion came. It was fortunate for the clerics that Irans people arose spontaneously to the nations defense. The clerics exploited this outpouring of support and organized it into newly mobilized forces under the command of youthful revolutionaries who had helped to overthrow the shah. The revolutionaries formed light infantry units, calling themselves the Revolutionary Guard. Like other institutions of this type, its quality was mixed. On the plus side, the Guard was full of zealits courage was phenomenal. However, few of its members had any military training, and a great many had no education. Indeed, the Guard and the Iraqi army were the antitheses of one another. The Guard, the product of revolution, comprised antisecular, religious zealots. The Iraqis were committed to modernization and all its trappings, including the most modern military capabilities that the regime could buy. Its officers strove to learn and apply the principles of modern warfare. The Iranians rejected the concept of military professionalism. They deemphasized training, depending instead on spontaneity. Their idea of a battle was a headlong charge. They believed that ultimately, by piling on more and more troops, they could smother Iraqi resistance and score a decisive breakthrough. In a struggle that pitted zealots against a smaller but modernized army, discipline and modern arms prevailed. Iraqs success was not painless, however. To achieve victory, it first had to radically transform its society. The changes that were made strained not only the fabric of the Iraqi state but ultimately the entire state system of the Persian Gulf. A major theme that the study will develop is one of change, and of the cost of change to a society like Iraqs. It is the authors belief that the crisis over Kuwait grew out of the Iran-Iraq War, specifically from Baghdads decision to impose a costly military solution on its enemy.



Origins of the War

The Iran-Iraq War came about as the result of a power vacuum that developed in the Persian Gulf with the announcement by Great Britain in the late 1960s that it would withdraw from the region, where it had exercised hegemony for over a century.1 Britains decision inspired the shah of Iran to assume Britains role as policeman of the Gulf, a step that he was encouraged to take by the United States. The shahs subsequent efforts to turn the Gulf into an Iranian lake disturbed relations among all the littoral states, but Iraq in particular perceived itself to be threatened, since the shah made no secret of his hatred for the Arab nationalist regime there. It was this vying for ascendancy between Iran and Iraq that led to the outbreak of war in 1980. An examination of the situation in the Gulf during the era of British control is a prerequisite to any study of the Iran-Iraq War.


Great Britains active involvement with the Persian Gulf dates back to the nineteenth century. In this period its interests in the region were mainly strategic. Britain feared that hostile forces would turn the Gulf into a staging area for an invasion of India, its prized colonial possession. The principal source of danger to Britain was imperial Russia, which since the time of Peter the Great had been waging campaigns of conquest along its southern border. Russias imperial advance to the south, the British felt, was deliberate, a search for warm water ports giving access to India.2

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Britain saw a second threat coming from Germany. Before World War I, the kaiser had contracted with the Ottoman Empire to build a Berlin-toBasrah railway. Basrah, the second largest city in Iraq, is located on the Shatt al Arab, a watercourse debouching into the Gulf. To Britain, a German rail line that terminated on the Gulf almost inevitably would become an avenue for transporting troops. To prevent the Gulf from becoming an enemy base, Britain consolidated its control over the area. Throughout the nineteenth century it concluded a series of treaties with the local rulers. The pacts forbade the rulers from allying themselves with parties of whom Britain might disapprove; the rulers also agreed not to alienate their territories, which meant they would not grant commercial concessions without British permission. At the turn of the century Britains interest in the Gulf expanded; in addition to viewing the area as a strategic asset, it took note of its commercial importance. The change came about after oil was discovered in southern Iran. Britain ultimately gained control of this concession and formed a company to exploit it, 51 percent of the shares of which were controlled by the British government.3 Britain was then in the process of converting its fleet to oil, and thus the discovery was of military as well as commercial importance. The outbreak of World War I delayed exploitation of Gulf oil resources until 1928, when Iraq granted a concession to a group of British, Dutch, French, and American interests. Shortly afterward the Bahrainis opened their territory to the Americansa violation of the nonalienation clause of their treaty with Great Britain. Britain put pressure on the Bahrainis to renege on this deal. Ultimately a compromise was struck whereby the Americans were permitted to take over the concession, after they had set up a company registered in the British Commonwealth. A similar dispute arose when Kuwait offered exploration rights to another American group. Again Britain intervened, and this time American and British interests shared the concession fifty-fifty. One by one all the states that today make up the Persian Gulf system let concessions; and in all but one of these states British interests were involved, either as monopoly holders or as participants: Qatar granted a concession in 1934; Abu Dhabi in 1959; Oman in 1963; Dubai in 1966; and Sharjah in 1972. Only in Saudi Arabia were the British shut out; there the concession was solely in the hands of Americans. The chief benefit to the local rulers from Britains hegemony over the Gulf was the military protection they received. The British suppressed piracy, the slave trade, and arms traffic; they regulated the successions in the various states; and they generally kept the peace. This regulatory activity on the part of the British persisted until the late 1950s, when they resolved a three-way dispute among Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Dubai. That intervention was one of the last such undertakings Britain performed in the Gulf. After that, its influence in the area deteriorated rapidly.

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Britains paramount position in the Gulf was jolted by three rude shocks, all occurring in the 1950s. In 1951 Iranian politicians representing the broad centerthe bazaar, the middle class, and the intelligentsiapushed through legislation in Irans majlis (parliament) to nationalize the Iranian National Oil Company, the principal owner of which was Britain. The British tried unsuccessfully to get the Iranians to rescind their action. After an initial violent confrontation, they took the matter to the World Court, where it languished. In the meantime, Irans economy practically ground to a halt. Britain, claiming that Iran had no legal right to dispose of its oil, threatened to sue would-be buyers. The tactic was effective; Iran sold only an insignificant amount of oil during the three years the dispute dragged on. Despite legal maneuvering, Britain ultimately lost in this test of wills with the Iranians. It had to concede Irans right to take over the company. The British settled for relatively meager compensation.4 The dispute with Iran had barely been resolved when the Middle East witnessed another nationalization crisis. Again British interests were involved. They, along with the French, had been the principal shareholders in the Suez Canal Company, which Egypts nationalist leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser, seized in 1956. Refusing to acknowledge the takeover, the Europeansalong with the Israelissent troops into the canal zone to drive out the Egyptians. The operation miscarried after the United States and the Soviet Union demanded that the invading forces be withdrawn.5 Unable to stand up to superpower pressure, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned. Although the Suez Canal crisis occurred relatively far from the Gulf, its impact was felt throughout the region. Britains withdrawal was perceived as an ignominious retreat. The coup de grace to Britains prestige came in 1958 in Iraq. Arab nationalists staged a coup that swept away the Hashemite dynasty, among Britains staunchest friends in the region. In contrast with previous instances, Britain could not restore its friends to power. Indeed, the king was killed during the takeover by the nationalists. Of all the reverses that Britain experienced during the difficult decade of the 1950s, this setback in Iraq probably proved the most costly.


Prior to the end of World War I, there was no formal entity of Iraq. The area that we know today by that name formerly was an out-of-the-way corner of the Ottoman Empire6 called Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia in the mid-1800s had fewer than 1.3 million inhabitants. Over three-quarters of its area was desert where in summer the temperature could soar as high as

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43.3 C. (about 110 F.). In the northeast corner of the region rainfall might reach 100 centimeters (40 inches) a year; elsewhere it averaged between only 10 and 17 centimeters (4 to 6.8 inches). The victorious Allies at the end of World War I demarcated the formal boundaries of the Iraqi state. They did so as part of the League of Nations mandate scheme. Not only Iraq but the states of Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon came into being at this time. All had formerly been possessions of the now defunct Ottoman Empire, lands the Turks had forfeited by backing the Germans in the Great War. The new states became clients of the European powers, who were enjoined to mentor their development and prepare them ultimately to become independent, self-sustaining entities. The great flaw of the mandate scheme was the way the states were composed. The mandate authorities failed in practically all cases to achieve internal cohesion. This was partially due to the impracticability of applying the European-derived state system to Middle Easterners. The Ottomans had ruled their vassals under the millet system, allowing the separate communities to police themselves and choose their own representatives, who acted as intermediaries with the Ottomans. But under the state system it was necessary to form an amalgam of many peoples within a single geographic entity, and the groups so joined by and large proved mutually antagonistic. As a result the new states were difficult to govern. Iraq was a prime example. The British, the mandate authorities for Iraq, originally had intended that it should be formed of two vilayets (provinces) of the Ottoman Empire, Baghdad and Basrah. Later the British decided that, to make Iraq more defensible, they should incorporate Mosul, a mountainous vilayet north of Baghdad. This move benefited the Iraqis and the British commercially, since it put the rich oil fields of Mosul in their possession. At the same time, however, Britains decision to tack Mosul on to the rest of Iraq created problems. Much of Mosul was thenand is todayinhabited by Kurds, who are neither Semites nor plains dwellers, as are the Baghdadis and Basrawis. They are mountain warriors of Aryan racial stock who are unsympathetic to their southern neighbors, an attitude they have evinced by numerous clashes over the years. In Chapter 4 we will see how the antipathy of the Kurds for their fellow Iraqis became a factor of military importance when the Iran-Iraq War erupted in September 1980. Boundary problems arose for Iraq in another area: It had no adequate outlet to the Gulf, being virtually sandwiched between Kuwait and Iran. To alleviate this difficulty, Britain supported Iraqs claim to major control over the Shatt al Arab, the waterway connecting Iraqs only significant port, Basrah, to the sea. The watercourse previously was shared with Iran. By compelling the Iranians to forgo their sovereignty over practically all of the Shatt, Britain revived a quarrel between the Arab Iraqis and Aryan Iran-

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ians that went back centuries. To us, the Shatt dispute is important because it later became the trigger that set off the Iran-Iraq War. Britains decision to set up a monarchy in Iraq also gave trouble. Professing to find no suitable candidate for kingship among the native Iraqis, it imported a king from the Hejaz area of the Arabian Peninsula. The king, Faisal, was a Hashemite, an old and aristocratic Arab family that traces its ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad. The decision to import a foreign dynasty alienated important elements of the local Iraqi elite. Britain, however, had incurred obligations to the Hashemites during World War I, and its desire to compensate them overrode arguments against the arrangement. In setting up Iraqs bureaucracy, Britain made another perhaps unwise decision: It staffed the new government with a number of British civil servants who were to assist in the rule. These Britishers served as advisers for many of the appointed Arab ministers. As might be expected, the setup caused keen resentment among nationalist-minded Iraqis, who accused the advisers of influencing the government to favor Great Britain; in particular they claimed that the advisers were behind Iraqs decision to grant lucrative oil concessions to British interests. Overall, the edifice Britain created in Iraq was fundamentally insecure. Nonetheless, Iraq ultimately became Britains bastion in the Middle East, a situation helped into being largely by the defection of Egypt from the Western camp. Prior to World War II, Egypt was foremost among Middle Eastern states with ties to Britain. After the 1953 Egyptian revolution, however, British influence in Egypt dimmed. Not only was Egypts President Nasser hostile to Britainwhich he viewed as an exploiter of the Egyptiansbut, in clashes with British interests, he turned for aid to the Soviet Union, which action alienated him generally from the West. As a result, Britain was forced to seek a new base in the region, and Iraq seemed a likely candidate. Unfortunately for the British, Arab nationalism soon spread to Iraq and poisoned relations in that corner of the world as well. Although British influence in Iraq had rankled Arab nationalists for some time, relations did not become critical until relatively late. In 1955 Britain and the United States decided to make Iraq the seat of the Baghdad Pact, which proved to be a disastrous move.


After World War II, Britain and the United States sought to contain the spread of Soviet influence in the Middle East, and to this end they considered forming an anticommunist bloc of Arab nations. Nasser vehemently opposed this, claiming that the Arabs had no grievance against the Soviets; rather, it was against Israel that they should ally. In the face

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of Cairos intransigence, the British and Americans abandoned their idea of an all-Arab anticommunist alliance and substituted the Northern Tier concept. Under it, the states of Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq formed a barrier along the Soviet Unions southern border, checking its advance toward the Gulf.7 The Hashemites offer of Iraq as a base for the Baghdad Pact brought down a storm of criticism on their heads. Nasserist propagandists portrayed them as lackeys of the West, and this fanned the barely repressed hostility of anti-Hashemite elements inside the country. In the midst of this furor, the Hashemites, usually adept at protecting themselves, blundered fatally. A number of officers in Iraqs army had been plotting against the Hashemites but had not found an opportunity to move against them. In the summer of 1958 the regime permitted a tank battalion, commanded by one of the disaffected officers, to transit Baghdad in the process of relocating to the Jordanian front. Once inside Baghdad, the unit mutinied and carried out a coup that eliminated the king and most of his retinue. The cost to Britain of the overthrow was considerableat a stroke it lost not only its foremost friend in the Middle East but also its base of power in the Gulf. Five years later the dictator-general who led the coup was himself deposed and assassinated, and after that Iraq was ruled by a succession of military regimes. Each of these successor regimes tended to be a little more acceptable to Western interests. By the late 1960s it appeared that the West would regain its former influence in the country. But in 1968 yet another coup reversed the trend toward moderation. The coup leaders, adherents of the Bath (Renaissance) Party, not only were extreme Arab nationalists but also followed Nassers lead in cultivating rapprochement with the Soviets. After a clash of interests with the Western powers, the Bathists committed Iraq to a fifteen-year friendship treaty with Moscow, the third Arab state (after Yemen and Egypt) to do so. It was the Wests misfortune that the Bathists takeover in Iraq practically coincided with the announcement by Britain that it was abandoning its military presence east of Suez. Britain declared that it no longer had the economic resources to police the Gulf, which raised the disturbing specter of a power vacuum in this strategic area of the globe.


Since the turn of the century, the British consistently had taken the lead in Gulf affairs; at the same time U.S. interest in the area was growing. The Americans, pursuing the Open Door policy, had competed with the British on all fronts. Gradually competition moderated as the two agreed to share in developing the regions rich resources. By the early 1950s the Americans had begun to surpass the British, largely because they had gained a monop-

Origins of the War

oly in Saudi Arabia, by far the areas richest oil producer. The more the Saudi fields produced, the more U.S. interests in the Gulf expanded. Thus, when Britain announced that it was pulling out of the Gulf, many anticipated the United States would become guarantor of the regions stability. In addition to having extensive commercial interests there, the United States led the Western alliance. Within the alliance, Europe at this time derived 50 percent of its oil from the Gulf; 80 percent of Japans oil imports were from there; and 70 percent of both Australias and New Zealands supplies came from there.8 As the Wests leader, the United States seemed the likely candidate to keep the oil lines open. That some sort of safeguard was required could not be doubted; on the eve of Britains departure, governing arrangements in the Gulf were disturbingly casual. During its tenure, Britain had dealt with the local rulers on a personal basis. In 1971, just prior to its exit, it cobbled together the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a unitary state made up of several minute shaykdoms. It also oversaw the creation of the states of Qatar and Bahrain. These were all fragile entities and hence vulnerable to subversion. During the late 1960s and into the 1970s radical movements sprouted everywhere in the Gulf region. Ethiopias pro-Western regime under Haile Selassie was replaced by a Marxist one. Aden expelled the British and formed a Marxist government. Arab radicals supported by Nasser seized power in North Yemen. Radicalism ultimately intruded into the Gulf proper with the outbreak of a Marxist revolt in Oman. Western interests everywhere were under attack. The United States did not assume Britains responsibilities in the area, largely because of Vietnam. In the late 1960s a formidable antiwar movement was under way in the United States. Although the movement did not enjoy broad-based support, questions about the war raised by the militants troubled many Americans. Since concurrently the U.S. economy had gone into recessionblamed by the militants on VietnamWashington could not easily justify taking on yet another costly overseas commitment. Nonetheless, President Richard Nixon recognized that Western interests in the Gulf must be protected, andin what appeared to many at the time to be an ingenious solutionhe made the shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the regional protector for the West. This study takes the position that Nixons scheme was unworkable. The shah lacked the resources for an assignment of this magnitude, and in trying to carry out his task, he thoroughly alarmed the Bathists in neighboring Iraq, which basically is what caused the Iran-Iraq War.


There seems to be no question of what was in Nixons mind when he set up the shah as the Gulfs policeman: He wanted him to be just that, some-

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one who would keep peace in the area. On the other hand, the shah seems to have believed that he could turn the Gulf into his own private preserve. For this he had to establish his undisputed hegemony over the region.9 Indeed, the shah had been working hard since at least 1968 to accomplish just this. In 1969 he unilaterally abrogated the treaty that Britain had brokered between Iran and Iraq over the Shatt al Arab.10 Under the treaty, Iraq controlled the whole of the waterway and could deny it to anyone at any time. The shah sent his gunboats, flying Irans colors, into the channel, a direct challenge to the Bathists authority. The Bathists did not assert themselves in this instanceother than to complain to the United Nations, which did nothingand thus Iran was free to come and go in the waterway. In 1970, the shah sponsored a coup against the Bathists, who frustrated his attempt. But once again they took no effective action against him. They merely expelled large numbers of expatriate Iranians, the bulk of whom had been residing in the southern, Shia-dominated province of Basrah. In 1971, the shah took another step that, although not directly aimed at the Bathists, antagonized them nonetheless. He revived an irredentist claim to the island of Bahrain. Bahrain then, as now, was ruled by a princely Arab family; and the Bathists, as Arab nationalists, felt themselves duty bound to resist attempts to alienate land from Arab control. As it turned out, they had no need to act because the shah was made to withdraw his claim under pressure from Britain and the United States. Washington has enjoyed basing rights for elements of its fleet in Bahrain since 1948, and so was unwilling to have the islands status disturbed in any way. Immediately after this, the shah resurrected another ancient claim, this time to three small islands in the Strait of Hormuz. These islands, the property of two of the tiny emirates that later became the UAE, were strategically located and, the shah maintained, in radical hands could become bases from which oil supplies moving out of the Gulf could be interdicted. To forestall any such radical takeover, the shah appropriated them.11 The Bathists response to this maneuver was to break off diplomatic relations with Iran and Great Britain, which they accused of collusion in the seizure. They also assisted Arab guerrillas fighting to topple the sultan of Oman, who maintained a close relationship with Great Britain. Partially in response to the Iraqis stepped-up aid to the guerrillas, the shah sent an expeditionary force to Oman to assist the sultan. By this time the competition between the shah and the Bathists had become intense.12 Increasingly apprehensive about arms supplies from the United States to the shah, the Bathists resolved to match his buildup man for man, tank for tank, and plane for plane. This set off a frenzied arms race in which the Iraqis principal supplier was the Soviet Union.13 In 1973 the shah considerably increased the stakes in his competition

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with the Iraqis by persuading Nixon that the Bathists were, in his words, a Trojan horse whereby the Russians would gain access to the warm waters of the Gulf.14 Nixon, won over to this argument, entered into what we may reasonably describe as a conspiracy against the Bathists. He agreed to support a scheme whereby the shah would incite a rebellion of the ever restless Kurds. The Kurds leader at that time, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, was easily persuaded to go along, once he knew the Americans were involved. Thus was reignited one of the longest, bloodiest revolts in Middle East history.15 The shahs arguments to Nixon received additional support from the Israelis, who drew from their private stores of American-supplied weapons to arm the rebelsfor which Washington reimbursed them something like $16 million.16 The operation made sense to the Israelis, who perceived the Aryan Kurds to be natural enemies of the Jews enemies, the Arab Iraqis. As the shah made his case to Nixon, funding the Kurds would not be expensive. The guerrillas adapted easily to difficult conditions, the shah claimed, and needed but a modest provision of weapons, really only small arms. Indeed, in the shahs view, the rugged terrain of Kurdistan would nullify whatever advantage the Bathists might possess in sophisticated weaponry; the Bathists, being plains dwellers, would not have the stomach for mountain fighting. In this case, however, the Bathists proved extremely resolute, committing enormous resources to the struggle against the guerrillas. By 1975 some Iraqi units were clashing directly with paramilitary forces from the shahs army, infiltrated into Iraq to help the rebels. It was becoming obvious that unless the situation of the Kurds improved radically, the shah was going to have to scrap his aid to the rebels or to provide direct aid in the form of Iranian reinforcements to keep the rebellion going. At this juncture both the shah and Iraqs strongman, Saddam Husayn, drew back. They agreed at a meeting of OPEC nations, held at Algiers in March 1975, to declare a truce. Under the terms of their Accord the shah agreed to close his border to the Kurds, which effectively killed the revolt; it collapsed within a fortnight. Saddam in return agreed to surrender Iraqs claim to sovereignty over the entire Shatt al Arab. Henceforth the waterway would be apportioned to both Iran and Iraq by means of a line drawn down the middle.17 The Algiers Accord was one of the more astonishing agreements of recent times. Few expected that the shah and Saddam, widely regarded as absolutely antipathetic toward each other, would make peace. What appears to have happened is that both sides were influenced by the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The embargo caused world oil prices to skyrocket, and this induced them to rethink their priorities. They saw it to be in their interest to sell oil, as much oil as possible, as fast as possible. Under the cir-


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cumstances, the Kurdish revolt became a hindrance to their commercial activities. With the Kurdish revolt extinguished, the Gulffor the first time since the late 1950swas reasonably stable. But the peace was in a very real sense poisoned. The Bathists were basically unhappy with the agreement, feeling they had been coerced into signing the pact by the shah, the CIA, and the Israelis. They had been forced, as they viewed the matter, to surrender their precious rights in the Shatt al Arab, their principal outlet to the Gulf. Thus the Iraqis were ill disposed to respect the accord. In fact it seems that they would abide by it only until they had sufficiently built up their strength, whereupon they would reclaim what they perceived to be their unjustly forfeited rights.18 As it happened, the Bathists were provoked to reopen the matter of the Shatt more quickly than anyone imagined by an astonishing development in Iran.


Practically all scholars who have investigated the shahs career divide it into two distinct phases: an early phase covering the period up to roughly 1962, in which he was generally perceived to be beleaguered by subversive forces at home, and a later strong phase, in which he gained control of Iran internally and pursued his forward policy of turning the Gulf into an Iranian lake. Under this interpretation, the forces that plagued the shah throughout his early years of rule gave way later on; this particularly was the case with his most formidable opponents, the Communists. Scholars, in attempting to account for this turnabout, have focused on the so-called White Revolution, an ambitious reform program undertaken by the shah to transform Iranian society from the top down. This program, in which estates were parceled out to the peasants, and in which other lesser but still critical reforms were enacted,19 is generally credited with broadening the base of the shahs regime and enabling him to consolidate his position. As to what motivated the shah to launch his reforms, it is generally understood that he was forced to do so under pressure from Washington.20 The theory goes that the Americans, unhappy with the appalling corruption of the Iranian system, held back aid from the shah. This goaded him to confront the corruption problem head-on, which he did by launching the White Revolution. While there are certainly elements of truth in this interpretation, it does not fully explain the transformation of the shahs power position. Something much more fundamental occurred in the early 1960s that affected his career: He and the Soviet Union achieved rapprochement.21 Whereas

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in the 1950s, in the time of Stalin, Moscow had assiduously tried to topple the shahfor this its principal instrument had been the Tudeh (Iranian Communist) Partywith the advent of Khrushchev, it eased pressure against him. This change in Irans relations with the Soviet Union was a concomitant of the era of dtente, when the Soviets saw it to be in their interest to work with established governments of the Middle East, even governments like that of Iran. As a consequence the Soviets at this time began cutting back their support for various dissident groups, including the local Communist parties. This change affected both Iran and Iraq. In the case of Iraq, Moscow continued to develop good relations with Baghdad into the late 1970s, when the Bathists purged the Iraqi Communist Party, executing twenty-one of its leaders and driving the senior cadre into exile, from which they have yet to return. To be sure, the shah had to make accommodations to the Soviets to neutralize their enmity for him. In 1962, for example, he agreed that no foreign missile bases would be established in Iranian territory. This, however, was not a significant concession; the United States did not need to base its short-range missiles in Iran after the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1965, the Soviet Union contracted to assist in the construction of a major metallurgical complex near Ispahan, paid for with gas from the Iranian oil fields. And, perhaps of most significance, Iran in 1966 contracted to purchase $100 million in small arms from the Soviets. But the bottom line is that once freed from obsessive concern about the threat of Soviet subversion, the shah could attack other entrenched and hostile centers of power inside his country, such as the wealthy landlords and the clergy. This in fact was what the White Revolution was all about. From a political standpoint, it was a vehicle for undercutting the power of the landowning interests, including the clergy, who controlled vast tracts of land through religious foundations.22 At the same time, however, while it was vitally important that the shah centralize his authority, by itself the move was insufficient to secure his rule. Eliminating opposition was, after all, a negative activity. The shah also needed to strengthen his rule positively. He needed to overcome the major weakness of his regime: the fact that there were no strong institutions in Iran on which he could rely to perpetuate the monarchical form of government. This situation was mainly due to shortcomings of his father, whose career we will now discuss.

Irans independence was not a gift from the Europeans, as was the case with Iraq after World War I. Iran was an independent state as far back as


The Iran-Iraq War

the sixteenth century. Since the eighteenth century, however, its independence had been considerably constrained. The Qajarswho ruled Iran prior to the Pahlavi dynasty founded by the father of the late shahwere not true rulers, in the sense that they exercised their writ throughout the farthest regions of Iran. They ruled only a small area, tightly circumscribed around the capital. The rest was held in fief by powerful tribal chiefs. The late shahs father, Reza Khan, was able to topple the Qajars with practically no effort. He commanded the so-called Cossack Brigade, an elite unit that guarded the royal family. Once he had decided to move against them, their fate was sealed, there being no other unit in the Qajars forces capable of standing up to the Cossacks. The coup took place in 1925, and Reza went on to proclaim himself emperor.23 Reza was one of the great modernizing autocrats of the twentieth century. In this respect he cast himself in the mold of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk, who had seized power several years prior to Reza, presided over the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the new Turkish state. He imposed secular rule, sharply curbing the power of the religious establishment. As a concomitant of his attack on the religious authorities, Ataturk emancipated Turkish women. He rebuilt the Turkish army along modern lines, and launched Turkey on the road to industrialization. Reza tried to emulate all of these reforms. He stripped the veil from Iranian women, created a modern, secular university system, crisscrossed the country with rail lines, built factories, and, most spectacularly, launched an all-out war on the Iranian clergy, whom he regarded as a totally regressive force in the country. In his fight against the clergy Reza did not hesitate to employ the most drastic methods, even physically attacking them.24 Reza failed in one key aspect of his reform programhe did not build strong institutions to support his rule. Here he parted company with Ataturk, who had created the Republican Peoples Party to carry on his work after he died.25 In Iran, Reza ruled mainly by the force of his personality. Moreover, he was saddled with a form of rulean autocratic monarchythat was an anachronism in the twentieth century. In todays complex world, it is extraordinary that a country should be run by a lone individual who must personally approve all actions before they can be carried out. Because there was so little to undergird Rezas regime, when the Allies decided in World War II to force his abdicationfor, they claimed, favoring the Axis Powersthey simply pushed him aside. His removal was barely contested. No loyal army stood up to resist the forced abdication, no loyal retainers went underground to agitate for Rezas return from exile. His son, who took over from him, had to build a base of power anew.

Origins of the War



Thus Rezas son, Mohammad, found himself in an extremely weak position at the close of World War II. And, as we have shown, this situation persisted until the early 1960s, when the Soviets abruptly eased their pressure. After that the way was clear to make reforms in the government. He did undertake certain corrective measures to strengthen his rule. Unfortunately, he did not go far enough. He did not encourage the creation of a strong monarchical party, or an independent judiciary, or academically sound institutions of higher learning. Later on, he could have leaned on such agencies for support when the going got difficult. As it was, the shah focused practically all his energies on developing a mighty army. Presumably he took this path in the belief that military might would establish his competence as a policeman.26 As we shall now try to show, the shahs decision to concentrate on building a strong military is what ultimately brought him down.


The military buildup of the shah made very little sense. For example, he purchased the latest equipmentreally lethal weapons, on the order of supersonic jets and fast battle cruisers.27 This led many to wonder against whom he was intending to use such weapons. In the Gulf, there was really no one who could threaten the shah in a fashion to require a buildup of this order. Certainly not the small states of the lower littoral, none of which had a population above a few hundred thousand, and no military establishment to speak of. Saudi Arabia? Hardly. The Saudis have never sought to maintain a formidable armed force. They mainly are concerned with suppressing internal dissent, for which they have need of little other than a strong constabulary. The shah often defended his immense buildup by claiming it was needed to stop the Soviets, in the event they decided to advance on the Gulf. There was really no likelihood that the shahs army could stand up to the Soviets, no matter how much up-to-date equipment it had (we will discuss the competence of the Iranian army below).28 That left Iraq. To be sure, the Iraqis did eventually develop into something of a threat to Iran. But that development came comparatively late. In the early 1970s, when the shahs military buildup began, the Iraqi army was like the Saudis, really just a robust police force. There was another mystery about the shahs arms purchases: How was his military to deploy the weapons he was purchasing? F-14 jets and Spurance battle cruisers need rigorous maintenance by competent crews. The shahs military was composed mainly of raw recruits from the rural areas who could not read or write, let alone cope with the weapons field


The Iran-Iraq War

manuals, all of which were in English.29 The shahs answer to this problem was to import American technicians. And this, as we shall see in Chapter 3, caused enormous problems, as the U.S. presence became such that it offended Iranian nationals.30 In sum, we may say that the shahs weapons program was not only inappropriate, it wasin important respectsdysfunctional. This situation eventually drew criticism from opposition figures inside Iran. Abol Hasan Bani Sadr, Irans first president under the Islamic Republic, devised an ingenious explanation for the strange course that the shah seemed to be following in buying arms. He theorized that the Iranian armed forces were set up primarily to serve Western interests.31 Iran, with its immense riches from oil, was in effect helping the imperialists to keep open their weapons production lines and buoying the Wests economy. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made essentially the same criticism. The shah, he said, was committing treason against the Iranian people. He was giving their oil to the Americans and in return they were building military bases for themselves in Iran. They gave Iranians arms intended for U.S. use.32 Unfortunately there is some truth to these charges. From at least 1972 numerous officials inside and outside the Pentagon questioned the propriety of selling the shah weapons for which he had little use. It was particularly deplored that under the scheme worked out by Nixon there was not even a check on his arms purchases; the shah was unique in his ability to buy directly from the U.S. arsenal without review.33 As one observer noted, the shah gave Nixon a blank check, against which he could purchase virtually anything he pleased, and no one in the United States could gainsay him.34 The most likely explanation for this extraordinary state of affairs is that the United States needed the money. Its economy was experiencing severe dislocations, and cash purchases by the shah helped to ease some of the discomfort.35 So, as Bani Sadr has suggested, there was a conspiracy of sorts functioning. U.S. military suppliers fed the shahs insatiable need for weapons;36 the shah fed cash into the U.S. economic system; and few thought about the long-term consequences of what was going on.


The Iranian army was dysfunctional from another, much more pernicious, aspect. It was to the army that the shah looked for support in the final days of his ruleand it failed him. The shah, as we now know, was a fatally ill man, badly debilitated from treatments he was receiving. He wanted the army to help him out, in effect to take some of the burden of

Origins of the War


suppressing the Khomeinists from him; it proved quite incapable of doing this. In part, the failure of the shahs army to sustain him was the shahs own fault. He had so structured it that the officer corps was largely defective. From the very first days of his rule the shah had feared a military coup and sought to guard himself against it by, in effect, handicapping his officers. He structured the armys command so that very little horizontal communication obtained between units; all communication was vertical. The shah passed orders down through the ranks; responses were passed upward from below. Unit commanders were rarely permitted to deal with the shah, except on a one-on-one basis. Senior officers never met together outside his presence. As a result, Irans army never had the equivalent of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.37 Some observers have gone so far as to suggest that the army was merely a projection of the shahs personality,38 being unable to function without specific, direct orders from him. The officers had not been trainednor were they expectedto think for themselves.39 At the very end the shahs last resort was to his security force, SAVAK and that, too, failed. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, this feared agency was credited with having suppressed numerous threats against his rule with brutal efficiency. There was, however, good reason why at the last SAVAK, too, would prove inadequate; to understand why this would be, one must appreciate how an organization such as this operates. Essentially SAVAKand all other security forcesare surveillance nets. They live off informers, who supply them with information enabling them to stay ahead of the opposition. Iran in the 1970s was a country in motion, in the sense that the population was continually shifting.40 The rural masses migrated to the urban centers looking for improved livelihoods, and this disturbed the surveillance arrangements of SAVAK. Informants took themselves out of the ambit of local security units and, turning up elsewhere, confused agents in their new location. Moreover, a security force must intimidate the populace if it is to maintain order. In a situation such as developed in Iran, this is most difficult. Many of Khomeinis adherents craved martyrdomagainst minions like these the security apparatus was virtually helpless. In the end everything collapsed, and the shah was swept away with a suddenness that was astonishing.

We will discuss the role of the Islamic forces in the shahs overthrow in Chapter 3. Here we want to concentrate on the effect that the shahs disappearance had on Baghdad. Throughout the hectic days leading up to the shahs overthrow, the Bathists generally avoided interfering in events. Had they wished, they


The Iran-Iraq War

probably could have become involved quite easily. Instead, they remained aloof from events in their neighbors territory.41 Evidently they feared that the regime which replaced the shah would complicate the arrangements for security in the Gulf that they had brokered. When the shah was at last swept away, the Bathists faced the uncomfortable reality that they had been badly compromised. The Algiers Accordon which they had banked so heavilyhad now been absolutely undercut. The accord had been concluded with the shah, not with the shahs government and certainly not with Iranian society at large. It had been a personal arrangement, in which the shah with a nod and a handshake had undertaken certain obligations. With him gone, there was no way the Bathists could hold his successors to account. Starting immediately after the shahs overthrow, there was an increasingly determined effort on the part of the Bathists to bring to the clerics attention the matter of Irans unfulfilled obligations under the Algiers Accord.42 Specifically, they wanted several parcels of land that the shah had promised to hand over. Moreover, there appears to have been some understandingat least on the Bathists sidethat the shah would withdraw from the disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz.43 Not only did the clerics put the Bathists off, but they adopted an arrogant stance culminating in the utter rejection of all the latters claims. On top of this, the Khomeini regime began trafficking with the Bathists nemesis, Masoud Barzani, the son of the late Mulla Mustafa Barzani, who had succeeded his father as the leader of the rebel Iraqi Kurds. The remnants of the Kurdish guerrillas, having fled to Iran after the movements collapse in 1975, were still there, living in refugee camps. Khomeini had offered to subsidize them, in order that they might resume their insurrectionary activities in northern Iraqan absolute violation of the Algiers Accord.44 On the evidence of statements by the Bathists, it is clear that the actions of the Khomeini government irritated them no end (see Chapter 2). Still, there is nothing to suggest that they were prepared to go to war with the Islamic Republic until events occurring in the international arena changed their thinkingthe U.S. hostage crisis of 1979.


The shahs unexpected overthrow for a time greatly dismayed official Washington, but this was soon offset by the U.S. belief it could work with the shahs successor, Ayatollah Khomeini.45 After all, the Khomeini regime comprised for the most part religious figures, who presumably could be counted on to oppose communism. At this time Washingtons greatest fear was that the Soviet Union would capitalize on the shahs

Origins of the War


overthrow to preempt the former privileged position of the United States in Iran.46 U.S. hopes that a modus vivendi could be worked out with the clerics were dashed once the hostage seizure took place. The arrest of some sixty U.S. diplomats by Iranian radicals, and their subsequent imprisonment in the U.S. embassy in Tehran, was an appalling act, violating every standard of international diplomacy. That the Khomeini government not only failed to free the hostages but cynically exploited the situation seemed incredible. The hostage seizure had come about as part of a spontaneous action by a group of radical students. Only later on, seeing the potential in the situation, did Khomeini exploit it. Basically, the ayatollahs aim was to use the incident to offset a dangerous situation that was developing within the revolution: It was factionalizing as various groups began to maneuver for advantage, each bent on taking charge of events. To unify ranks, Khomeini resorted to the tactic of identifying the enemy. He made the case that the United States was on the point of intervening militarily. The revolutionaries were then admonished to cooperate or be devoured by the Great Satan. That the ranks closed forthwith is testimony to Khomeinis correct analysis. But Khomeini did not leave the situation there; he was able to cap this victory by yet another bold stroke. He cited Washingtons nonintervention as proof of the impotence of the West and of the corresponding power of his revolution. He claimed that the United States was incapable of standing up to the might of Islam; it could not free its hostages even by military means, he boasted. The apparent impotence of the worlds strongest power seemed irrefutable evidence of the correctness of the ayatollahs contention. The United States certainly was hamstrung in its attempts to wrest the hostages from the students, but this was due to fear of provoking a clash with the Soviet Union. Iran is one of the few areas of the world that is part of the spheres of influence of both superpowers. Any move by one of them to invade the country was certain to encounter opposition from its rival.47 Moreover, the Soviets had a treaty with Tehran that gave them the right to invade whenever a third party entered Iran and threatened Soviet security.48 Had the United States put troops into Iran in the late 1970s, that certainly would have triggered the intervention provision of this treaty; the Soviet army would not have tolerated the appearance of a U.S. army on its doorstep. Khomeini certainly understood that this was the situation. Therefore, his boasts that he would turn Iran into a graveyard for U.S. military forcesshould they dare to invadewere a sham. Invasion was never a possibility. At the same time, Khomeinis taunts were tonic for his cadres. The ap-


The Iran-Iraq War

parent ability of Iran to stand up to the Great Satan was an achievement without parallel in the lives of Iranians. After all, only forty years before, Britain and the Soviet Union had forced the abdication of Reza and packed him off to South Africa. And twenty-five years before, the United States and Great Britain had engineered a successful coup that toppled the legal government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and restored the shah to his throne.49 There is no doubt that Khomeinis handling of the hostage taking gave a great lift to the Islamic Revolution and carried it past dangerous shoals where it might have foundered. At the same time, however, his running battle with the United States appears to have made up the minds of the Bathists on the course of action they should take against him. Saddam, who had become president after his mentor, General Ahmad Hassan al Bakr, had stepped aside, appears to have seen the hostage crisis as an exceptional opportunity. Irans army was primarily equipped with U.S. weapons; thus, by antagonizing Washington, the ayatollah had foreclosed his ability to obtain replacements or spare parts. Along with this, one of the first acts of Khomeini on assuming power had been to purge the army, which he viewed as a nest of disloyal shah supporters.50 To Saddam, the ayatollahs seemingly irrational behavior could have meant but one thinghe was rendering himself practically defenseless. It was therefore the ideal time to settle accounts. A window of opportunity had opened for the Bathists that would be unlikely to remain open indefinitely.51 If they wanted to slay the Iranian serpent, they should act without delay.

In this chapter we have tried to show that a disconnect developed between the United States and the shah of Iran regarding the mission that the shah was to perform when he became Washingtons surrogate in the Gulf. Whereas the United States wanted him to deal with Sovietand Arab radicalsubversion in the Gulf, and thus protect U.S. client regimes there, the shah had his own agenda. He envisioned making Iran the superpower of the area, and in line with this he invested heavily in Western arms. This placed enormous strains on Irans rather limited political system, and it collapsed. As for Iraq, it undertook a military buildup of its own to keep pace with the shah. At the same time, however, the Bathists principal objective was to build up their economy. When the Arab oil embargo enabled them to do precisely this, they in effect sued for peace with the shah, and for a brief time the Gulf was relatively stable. When the shah unexpectedly fell from power, the Iraqis found themselvesby defaultthe strongest power in the Gulf, which led them to reassess their position vis--vis Iran.

Origins of the War


1. The British made the announcement on June 16, 1968, and formally ended their rule in the Gulf on December 2, 1971. 2. This is the Warm Water Ports theory. For a treatment of events in the recent history of the Middle East according to the theory, see George Lenczowski, The Middle East in World Affairs (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1968). 3. All of the references to oil in this chapter are based on Stephen Hemsley Longrigg, Oil in the Middle East (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). 4. Americans who mediated between the British and Iranians induced the former to give up their monopoly over Irans oil. Under a new arrangement, the British shared their concession with several foreignpredominantly U.S. companies. Details are in Longrigg, Oil in the Middle East, p. 278. 5. The United States moved against Britain, France, and Israelstates with which it was normally closein order to prevent the Soviet Union from taking unilateral action in defense of Egypt. President Eisenhower also was angered that the three states had concocted this plot against Egypt without Washingtons knowledge. 6. This is not to say that Iraq had always been a backwater. It had been the seat of the Abbasid Empire, the largest empire wholly controlled and administered from a central location that has ever existed. It also was the home of the ancient Sumerian civilization. See Phebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985). 7. Although the United States promoted the Baghdad Pact, it never became a full member. That upset the signatories, who felt, probably correctly, that this diminished the agreements effectiveness. For the reasons for Washingtons refusal to join, see Lenczowski, The Middle East in World Affairs, pp. 283ff. 8. Statistics taken from The Gulf: Implications of British Withdrawal, Special Report Series, no. 8 (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic International Studies, 1969), p. 64. 9. We base this assumption on the shahs assertion that the power vacuum formed by Britains pullout from the Gulf must not be filled by any power outside the Gulf. Acting on this conviction, the shah opposed the formation of the Federation of Arab Emirates, which was originally supposed to include all of the states currently making up the United Arab Emirates, plus Bahrain and Qatar. He felt the federation would be Britains instrument for furthering its interests in the Gulf. Ruhollah Ramazani, Irans Foreign Policy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1975). 10. It remains a question whether this in fact was the beginning of the desperate enmity between the shah and the Bathists. The Bathists have alleged that the shah was plotting against them from the time they took power in 1968. In that year they put on trial a number of individuals they claimed were spying for the shah. Phebe Marr (The Modern History of Iraq, p. 214) says the validity of the charges is impossible to evaluate. If the Bathists fabricated this plot, then the shahs decision to abrogate the Shatt treaty could have come about in reaction to what must be viewed as provocation by the Bath. This study tends to support the Bathists charges. The judgment is based on the shahs subsequent aggressive behavior toward them. Majid Khadduri feels the shah was behind the 1970 coup against the Bath; see his


The Iran-Iraq War

Socialist Iraq (Washington, DC: The Middle East Institute, 1978), pp. 54ff. And, as we shall discuss below, the shahs instigation of the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq is well documented by U.S. congressional sources. 11. The largest of the islands, Abu Musa, was administered by Sharjah, and the two others, Greater and Lesser Tumbs, by Ras al Khaima. Sharjah agreed, in effect, to turn Abu Musa over to Iran; Ras al Khaima refused to part with its possessions and the shah seized them. 12. Ramazani, Irans Foreign Policy, says no single act between 1953 and 1968 exerted a more profound effect upon Iran than the Iraqi revolution. This example of antimonarchical revolution, says Ramazani, was too close to be ignored by the antiroyal elements both inside and outside of Iran. It was also feared, Ramazani continues, that the example of Iraq might expose the other Arab states in the Persian Gulf area to military coups dtat. The Bathists at this time were fierce antiroyalists, which in part may explain the apparent contradiction of their seeking to topple the sultan of Oman, an Arab ruler. The Bathists could also justify their support for the guerrillas by pointing to the fact they were Arab radicals, as were the Bathists. 13. For a good description of the Iraqi armys arms buildup with Soviet aid, see John Wagner, Fighting Armies: Antagonists in the Middle East, a Combat Analysis, in Richard Gabriel, ed., Fighting Armies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987). Wagner says Iraq after 1973 underwent the most dramatic expansion of any Arab army. It more than doubled its size and added some 1,600 tanks and an equal number of armored personnel carriers. Logistics and maintenance capabilities were strengthened and training improved. As a result the army was transformed from a small counterinsurgency force to a well-equipped military establishment. 14. Details of the attempt to topple the Bathists using the Kurds can be found in the House Select Committee on Intelligence Report (the Pike Report), an alleged copy of which was leaked to the Village Voice, January 28, 1968. 15. The Kurds in Iraq and elsewhere throughout the Middle East have been rebelling against their overlords for centuries. This particular revolt, led by Barzani, had been sputtering along since 1961. 16. Parallels between this operation and Irangate are striking: the use in both instances of a third party, Israel, as a conduit for clandestine arms supplies; the fact that the affair was conducted over the objections of professionals in both the State Department and the CIA; and the fact that the overall rationale was fighting communism. 17. Given the fact that the Iraqis have only thirty-six miles (almost fifty-seven kilometers) of coast on the Gulf, giving up half the Shatt was no small concession. 18. Evidence of the Iraqis general unhappiness was Defense Minister Adnan Khayrallahs bitter reproach that the Bathists would never have gone along with the accord if they had not been coerced by the United States, Israel, and the shah. 19. Ramazani, Irans Foreign Policy, p. 319. 20. U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, U. S. Military Sales to Iran (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976), p. 4. 21. Ramazani, Irans Foreign Policy, pp. 315ff. 22. See Marvin Zonis, The Political Elite of Iran (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), pp. 26ff.

Origins of the War


23. Reza had originally thought of establishing a republic with himself as president but abandoned this plan when it met with resolute opposition from the clergy, to whom the republican form of government was anathema. 24. An anecdote, widely repeated in pre-Khomeini Iran, was that the old shah invaded the sanctuary of a mosque to remove a clergyman who had taken shelter there from the shahs police. 25. Moreover, Ataturk left Turkey a strong institution in the army, which he enjoined to stay out of politics. 26. The question of why the shah embarked on this spectacular arms-buying program is not easy to answer. This study looks for an explanation in the nature of the regime: an autocracy. When the ruler is totally dependent on the force of his personality to maintain his sway, he looks for all the psychological help he can get. A good way of impressing the worldand his own peoplewith his omnipotence is to acquire enormous amounts of arms. The shah similarly sought to convey strength through lavish display, as when he celebrated Irans 2,500-year-old monarchical tradition with what amounted to the worlds largest party in the desert at Ispahan. 27. For the U.S. arms relationship with the shah, see Ramazani, Irans Foreign Policy, pp. 359ff. 28. For a good assessment of the competence of the shahs army, see Donald Vought, Iran, in Gabriel, Fighting Armies. 29. We must remember that throughout this period Iran was primarily an agricultural society. 30. U.S. Congress, U.S. Military Sales to Iran, says the number of Americans in Iran, working in various military service capacities, increased from 15,00016,000 in 1972 to 24,000 in 1976 and suggests the number would hit 50,00060,000 or higher by 1980. 31. Discussed in Shaul Bakhash, The Politics of Oil and the Revolution in Iran (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1982), pp. 3ff. 32. Ibid. 33. Gary Sick, All Fall Down (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), pp. 29ff. 34. The only state that even approached the shahs situation was Israel. In the latter case, however, there was some check, since the American people were paying for Israels purchases; its requests at least were aired in Congress. 35. This economic explanation needs to be expanded, but that is beyond the scope of this study. 36. We will discuss the numbers and kinds of weapons the shah purchased and the cash amounts in Chapter 2. 37. Robert Huyser, Mission to Tehran (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 58. 38. See Vought, Iran. 39. Sick claims that at one point it was suggested that the shah temporarily turn over his rule to the army. He complained it could not even run the oil industry, a reference to the armys inability to get the fields operating after an oil workers strike. All Fall Down, p. 68. 40. Between 1956 and 1976 the urban population of Iran increased from 31 percent to 47 percent (from 6 to 16 million). Said Amir Arjmand, Irans Islamic Revolution in Comparative Perspective, World Politics, 38, no. 3 (April 1986), p. 398.


The Iran-Iraq War

41. Nikola Schahgaldian, The Iranian Military Under the Islamic Republic (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1987), p. 23, cites a coup attempt against the Islamic Republic of July 1980, for which the clerics blamed the Iraqis. The clerics also accused the United States, Israel, and Egypt. It is probable the Iraqis were somehow involved, although it is also probable the pro-shah Iranians organized the coup on their own and kept the Iraqis informed of its progress. 42. We will go into this in detail in Chapter 2. 43. The possession of these islands by Iran continually rankled the Bathists. 44. The third protocol of the Algiers Accord specifies that neither party will meddle in the affairs of the other. 45. There is some anecdotal evidence of contacts between the United States and the Khomeini regime. 46. One month after the hostage seizure the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, which drove the United States to proclaim the Carter Doctrine, whereby an attempt by anyone to destabilize the Gulf would be opposed by the United States, using whatever means necessary. 47. The best discussion of the modus operandi of the great powers in regard to Iran is in George Lenczowski, Russia and the West in Iran (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1949), pp. 43ff. 48. This provision is still in force, as far as the Russians are concerned, although Khomeini subsequently repudiated it. 49. Mossadeq led the fight against Britain during the oil nationalization crisis described above. Britain and the United States later raised a successful coup against him and ousted him from power. 50. We will discuss these purges and speculate on the numbers of officers affected in Chapter 3. 51. The window stood a good chance of closing once the elections in the United States had been held. A new regime in Washingtonand it seemed fairly certain Carter would losemight make other arrangements with the clerics, and even patch up hostilities.

Iraqs Decision to Go to War

To understand how Baghdad came to initiate the Iran-Iraq War, we need to be aware of Iraqs situation in late 1979, on the eve of the outbreak of hostilities. Just prior to the war the Bath Party had undergone a fundamental change that affected not only the internal politics of Iraq but its orientation toward the Persian Gulf as well. Against the backdrop of this change the Islamic Revolution occurred in neighboring Iran. Certain actions of the clerics deeply disturbed the Bathists and led to a rupture between Baghdad and Tehran. In this chapter we discuss Bathism and the level of political development of the Iraqis, and compare this with the political awakening of popular forces in Iran. The important thing to bear in mind about the Bathists is that the leadershipand most of the membershipwas recruited from the lower classes.1 It was not, as previous Arab nationalist regimes in Iraq had been, composed of individuals from the wealthy landowning and merchant aristocracy. Only with this awareness can one appreciate the dimensions of the Bathist takeover in 1968. Although initially a coupin the sense that the Bathists gained power through a sudden seizureit developed into an authentic revolution. The Bathists presided over a complete transfer of power from one class to another. The former ruling class was destroyed, as completely as occurred in Iran. The fact of the Bathists being lower class explains their style of rule they tended to be harsh and uncompromising. They exhibited extraordinary suspicion, as would be natural in men who had to cope with conditions and circumstances with which they were unfamiliar. Further in


The Iran-Iraq War

keeping with the lower-class character of their movement, the Bathists were disposed to seek violent solutions to problems that beset them. Their disposition to take violent measures earned the Bathists an unenviable reputation. Practically from the first days of their rule their behavior provoked international opprobrium. Shortly after taking power they put on trial persons they claimed were spies. They publicly hanged a number of them, raising a storm of protest throughout the world at the alleged barbarity of their actions.2 The original Bathists also were violent in their ideological stands. They perceived themselves to be in the vanguard of the Arab nationalist movement, which led them to adopt positions that many construed as ultraradical. In their eyes, for example, the Arab monarchs of the Gulf were creatures of Western imperialism. The Bathists decision to support the Dhofari rebels against the sultan of Oman (see Chapter 1) set the whole lineup of conservative Arab states against them.3 It was on the Arab-Israeli issue that the Bathists were most uncompromising. Because of its geographic location Iraq is not one of the so-called confrontation states. Nonetheless, Iraqi military units fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, on the Syrian front.4 They were the only one of the belligerents on the Arab side to fail to make peace; as a result they remained technically at war with Israel long after the fighting had ceased. Nevertheless, at the end of that war a profound change came over the Bathiststhey gradually but determinedly reduced their level of commitment to Pan-Arab causes and concentrated instead on building up their own economy. As noted in Chapter 1, the Arab oil embargo had opened extraordinary possibilities for them in the way of financial gain. They evinced single-minded dedication to exploit these new possibilities. Among the first undertakings of the Bathists in the new era of wealth was to multiply their oil outlets. In 1973 they had but one operating pipeline through Syria.5 They contracted for a second line through Turkey in 1985, and along with this opened a line to the Gulf, which clearly was their most convenient and efficient avenue for transporting oil. They also built two offshore loading facilities for oil tankers. Concurrently the Bathists developed previously unexploited oil fields at Rumaillah, in the far south of Iraq. Concessions for these fields had been held by foreign companies that had refusedfor reasons of their ownto develop them.6 Their refusal provoked the Bathists to revoke the companies concessions and, with the aid of the Soviets, they undertook to work them themselves. The Bathists committed enormous sums for oil-related projects in the south, such as petrochemical plants. In addition they developed nonoil-related industries like salt works and sugar refineries. And they built desalinization facilities to provide fresh water for irrigation works. This accelerated development of the southern provinces created prob-

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


lems for the Bathists that ultimately influenced their decision to go to war with Iran.


The south of Iraq is the most backward area in the country. Even the Kurdish north, which the Arab nationalist regimes that preceded the Bath had consistently ignored, is better off. In the north the climate is salubrious, and the northernersindependent mountain peoplelook out for themselves against the central government. The south is a desert, where peasant cultivators subsist upon extensively irrigated plots. The society of the south is rigidly structured along class lines, and before the coming of the Bathists a relatively small elite oppressed the peasants, keeping them backward and estranged from the central authorities. Unable to negotiate directly with the bureaucracy, the peasants were beholden to their leaders, who performed this function for them. In effect the old millet system of the Ottomans was perpetuated in the south until the Bathists came. When the Bathists moved to bring about the transformation of the south, they alienated the local leaders. Instead of working through them which would have preserved the leaders status as mediators with the governmentthey brought in their own cadres to oversee the numerous development projects they meant to carry out. They also opened up the remote areas with roads, giving them access to every hamlet and town. They electrified the region and provided the peasants with television sets, so that they could receive broadcasts of Bathist propaganda. They built schools and made education compulsory, and of course in the schools they promoted the virtues of progress, which they equated with secularism. It was not that the Bathists opposed religion; it was, rather, that they were passionately for modernization. The models of modernization they drew upon stressed secularity as the means by which to advance. This emphasis on secularity confirmed the hostility of the local religious leaders against the Bathists. In defense, the clerics revived the longstanding animosity of the Shias for the Sunnis. It is an unfortunate fact of life in Iraq that all regimes since the state was founded have been dominated by Sunnis, even though Shias account for up to 65 percent of Iraqs population.7 In 1975 the Bathists encountered their first clerically inspired antiregime activity in the south. With characteristic harshness they executed five minor clerics involved. Because of the extreme secrecy under which the Bathists operated, we have scant details about this affair; however, it is known that the five were accused of belonging to a group called Dawa, an organization we will encounter again just before the outbreak of the war.


The Iran-Iraq War

This study adopts the view that this 1975 incident represented the stirring of political consciousness in the Shia community, an awakening that was extraordinarily belated. Iraqs Arab Sunnis had long been politically active, and even the Kurds began organizing politically in the early 1960s. For the Bathists the politicization of the Shias was a profoundly worrisome development. Shia tribal revolts in the prerepublican days of Iraq were extremely violent affairs.8


In 1977 bloody riots erupted in the Shia city of Karbala. Again, because of government secrecy we do not know precisely what triggered them. Since the trouble occurred during the period of pilgrimagewhen Shias converge on Karbala to venerate the martyred Shia leader Hussein religion certainly was a factor contributing to the disturbances. But there were unmistakable political overtones to the affair as well.9 The regime ordered a communitywide purge of militants, with security forces rounding up scores of minor clerics and religious students, many of whom were subsequently executed. Saddam also decreed it a crime punishable by death to belong to Dawa, which would seem to confirm that in the regimes eyes, this had been a political manifestation. Along with the crackdown, Saddam sought to placate the Shias. Most notably he acted to improve the quality of life of Iraqis generally, and since the Shias were the most distressed members of the population, this redounded largely to their benefit. The Bathists in the days immediately after the Arab oil embargo had practiced extraordinary austerity. They wanted to modernize Iraq, but not at the expense of putting the country in debt to the international money market. They therefore rigorously restricted imports and attempted wherever possible to pay for whatever infrastructure they acquired. As a result, Iraqisdespite the potentially enormous wealth of their countrysubsisted under conditions that were positively frugal. Although their general welfare was assuredno one starved, no one was reduced to beggingthey had few luxuries.10 Moreover, this was a condition that apparently affected everyone across the board; Iraq in the early 1970s resembled Egypt under Nasserto all appearances it was a classless society. In the late 1970s Saddam in effect turned away from the austere lifestyle and opened his country to imports, flooding it with a wide range of consumer goods. The purists among the Bath Party bosses roundly condemned his move. But the success of his action was instantly apparent among the general populace, which indulged in an orgy of consumer spending.

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


Along with liberalizing the economy, Saddam instituted a change in his style of rule. In effect he switched personas. Whereas previously he had been a remote figure, with little or no contact with the general populace, he nowin the words of one Western reportergot out and pressed the flesh. He toured the Al Thawrah district, the Shia quarter of Baghdad, soliciting the residents opinions and concerns. The Bath was never a populist institution. It was not much interested in establishing rapport with the masses. Indeed, it was the partys policy that it would lead the masses into the modern era whether they desired it or not. Thus Saddams striving to accommodate himself to the public seemed to many old-time party leaders the worst sort of pandering. The Bathists were committed doctrinally to the principle of collective leadership. The chairman of the party was viewed as primus inter pares. In Saddams new leadership style many Bathists thought they could detect the emergence of a cult of personality, and they condemned this development as well. Of all Saddams actions at this time, perhaps none proved as upsetting to the leaders as his move to open the party ranks to new members. He had begun appealing for new blood in the Bath, and he specifically called upon the Shias to become members. In his speeches he compared the party to a boat, aboard which, he said, there was room for alla way of indicating that the old days of exclusivity were at an end.11 The result of this appeal was to transform the Bath Party from an elite vanguard into a mass movement. This had the further effect of profoundly altering the arrangements whereby power was distributed throughout Iraq. It weakened the hold of northernersspecifically residents of the so-called Golden Triangleover the partys apparatus. The Golden Triangleroughly formed by the cities of Samarra, Tikrit, and Mosulwas the turf of Iraqs Sunnis, the geographical antithesis of the Shia south. Saddam almost certainly intended to aggrandize himself when he opened the party to new members, because in so doing he broadened his base of popular support. But we may say that it was also a move of necessity. Iraq under the Bath was a totalitarian system. Once its leaders had begun to develop the country economically, they perforce brought about a huge increase in the bureaucracy. How could totalitarians like the Bathists allow the bureaucracy to grow and not staff it with their people? Obviously they could not; it was essential to make more Bathists. In any event, we believe Saddams instincts were correct. If, as we have suggested, the Shias were becoming politicized, then one way of coping with this was to co-opt the politically active spirits among them. At the same time it is easy to see how Saddams activity might alienate certain of the party bosses and cause them to look on him with suspicion and increasing hostility.


The Iran-Iraq War


Saddam was slated to take over the presidency of Iraq in 1979. Throughout the period leading up to this he had functioned as the partys strongman, the personal protg of the partys titular head, General Ahmad Hassan al Bakr, whobeing somewhat old and infirmwas anxious to step down and had prepared the way for the younger man to take over. As the transition approached, the bosses apparently began maneuvering to block Saddams elevation. It is unclear precisely how they intended to accomplish this. Some observers have suggested that an issue was made of party democracy. Bakr and Saddam should not be permitted to orchestrate the succession; instead, the senior party leaders should have a say.12 Apparently there was to be a party congress at which Saddams candidacy would be voted upon. There may well have been such a scheme, but we should not be swayed by the appeal to democracy into thinking that Saddam was bereft of intraparty support. In fact, he had a large following of junior party members who backed him against the older cadres. Saddam was a cautious individual who rarely made a move without preparing the ground. It is likely that he feared the outcome of a party congress vote that he could not sew up beforehand. This probably is what persuaded him to preempt the bosses by inducing Bakr to step down prematurely. Once installed as president, Saddam called for the creation of a national assemblythat is, a parliamentthat would ratify his new office. It was a fairly shrewd operation all around. By sanctioning the creation of a parliament, Saddam advanced Iraq toward modernization. By getting the parliament to legitimize his leadership, he circumvented the bosses attempt to cut him down. Of course his performance did not endear him to the bossesand thus his next move. Saddam announced the discovery of a plot against himself, in which, he claimed, prominent party leaders were involved. We should not be surprised that all of the leaders implicated were suspected of being opponents of the new president. He subsequently ordered the execution of a number of them.13 And in a related move that was in many ways even more shocking, Saddam implicated Syrias president Hafez el Assad in the alleged plot. As a consequence he aborted discussions then ongoing to form a union between Iraq and Syria, a plan promoted by Bakr over a period of years.14

With the foregoing we have tried to show that immediately prior to the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution, Iraqs internal politics were greatly

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


disturbed. We also have indicated that the country was undergoing profound reorientationit was in effect turning its face away from western Arab lands and toward the Gulf; Iraq was essaying to become a Gulf power, something it had never been before. At precisely the time this great change was occurring, the Islamic Revolution erupted in neighboring Iran. The activities of Khomeini and his people in the first days of this revolt greatly antagonized the Bathists, causing them not merely to become hostile to the Iranians but actually to fear them. We are going to argue that the Iranians went too far when they publicly called for the export of their revolution. This basic tenet of the Islamic Revolution, we believe, initially disturbed relations between Iran and Iraq and ultimately was responsible for preventing a reconciliation between them.


A radical fringe of Khomeinis followers considered exporting the revolution to be the primary mission of Iran. They believed it must spread across land and water until a worldwide ummah (community) of Muslims formed that would be loyal to Khomeini, thus ensuring the return of justice to the earth. A cleric like Ayatollah Sadiq Ruhani, who sat on Irans Revolutionary Counciland was thus one of the most powerful men of the regime wanted the worldwide revolt to commence immediately, and had singled out as targets the various Shia communities of the Gulf.15 There are a lot of Shias in the Gulf. Kuwait is 30 percent Shia, Bahrain is 70 percent; Saudi Arabia has probably up to 500,000 Shias concentrated in the strategic oil field region of the eastern provinces; there are small but significant pockets of Shias in the UAE. Most disturbing to the Bathists, Iraqs populationas we have already pointed outis 65 percent Shia. Its army is made up predominantly of adherents of the sect, perhaps as high as 85 percent. The Iranians were playing a most dangerous game agitating this particular situation. But for the Bathists, it was not only that the Iranians were trying to make trouble. Baghdad was concerned for two other reasons. On the one hand it offended the Bathists that Ruhani would threaten Arab regimes. Under Saddam, the Bathists had tempered their extreme Pan-Arabism, but they still paid homage to the concept of an Arab nation. The regime that Ruhani proposed to substitute for Bahrains Khalifas almost certainly would be an Iranian one. On a more pragmatic level, the Bathists were disturbed because annexation of Bahrain by Iran would extend Iranian hegemony into the Gulf proper. The Bathists had been deeply troubled by the shahs annexation of


The Iran-Iraq War

the three small islands in the Strait of Hormuz, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tumbs. They had accepted that development, only to be assaulted on another front when the shah virtually compelled themthrough the Algiers Accordto surrender half of the Shatt al Arab. The Iraqis, with only thirty miles (forty-eight kilometers) of coastline, had succumbed gradually but steadily over the years to virtual closure of their Gulf access. Now Iranians were menacing the fragile shaykhdoms of the area. Were the Iranians to seize Bahrainor any one of the other Arab statesthey could use it as a base for attacking Iraqi shipping. Indeed, the Iranians seemed to underscore this threat by conducting naval maneuvers off Iraqs southern coast. The maneuvers ostensibly were directed against the Americans, but the Bathists saw them as a threat to themselves. The Bathists in general opposed maneuvers of this sort, inasmuch as they raised the level of international tension. In 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, a move that seemed to bear out the Warm Water Ports theory (see Chapter 1). In response President Carter had promulgated the Carter Doctrine, declaring U.S. determination to defend the Gulf against Soviet encroachment. When the United States backed up its threat by moving a carrier task force into the Indian Ocean, the Soviets proclaimed their unwillingness to tolerate a U.S. military presence in the Gulf. Hence the Gulf had become an arena of superpower conflict in addition to being a field for Iranian subversion. Baghdad responded to these maneuvers by promulgating a doctrine of its own, the Arab Charter, under which it called upon Arab states to protect Arab property, asking them not to seek aid from the great powers. Oman, fearful of the growing instability of the area, had already asked the United States, Britain, and the Federal Republic of Germany to patrol the lower Gulf with their navies.16 In response to the Arab Charter, the Omanis withdrew their request. The Arab Charter formalized a warming trend between Iraq and the Gulf states that had been going on for some time. All the parties were genuinely apprehensive about the activity of Iran. But it was not primarily religious rivalry that galvanized them. Although all of the states involved were ruled by Sunnis, some, like the UAE, had close relations with Iran. What appeared to be operating was class. The Arab states feared agitation by the Shia underclasses would set the Gulf aflame, and disturb oil sales. In Iraq, strains were located in two principal areas. On land, the Bathists feared an Iranian-inspired insurrection among Iraqi Shias. In the Gulf, Iranian attempts to subvert the shaykhdoms put pressure on Iraqs oil lifeline. Iraqs situation could be compared with that of the United States in the early twentieth century. Having reoriented its policy away from Europe and toward the Pacific, Washington viewed the rise of imperial Japan with apprehension. As Japan extended its hegemony over areas that the United States regarded as parts of its sphere of interest, relations between Tokyo

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


and Washington deteriorated. Iraq, having turned its back on the Levant to make itself into a Gulf power, similarly regarded Tehrans export of the revolution campaign as threatening to its interests.


The first hint of a looming confrontation between the Bathists and Iranians was Khomeinis appointment of a new ambassador to Iraq in October 1979. The Bathists regarded the man as an agitator and accepted him grudgingly. Within six months they expelled him for allegedly meddling in Iraqs internal affairs.17 Khomeini responded by downgrading the embassy at Baghdad to the level of a mission. In the meantime Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al Sadr, a leader of Iraqs Shia community (see Chapter 1), had written to Khomeini in May 1979, seeking asylum in Iran because of what he described as politically unacceptable conditions in Iraq under the Bathists. For a Shia divine to leave an area under protest is in effect to render it haram (forbidden) for Muslims. Khomeini wrote to Al Sadr, counseling him to stay put and expressing the pious hope that the source of his distress would soon be removed.18 Since it was an Iraqi ruler who was troubling Al Sadr, this was a not very subtle attack on Saddam. Saddam reacted by putting Al Sadr under house arrest. This produced riots by his followers in the southern Iraqi city of Al Najaf.19 In April 1980, someone threw a grenade at Iraqs information minister Tariq Aziz (later deputy prime minister). Aziz survived, but several students were killed. Two days later, as the funeral cortege of one of the slain students wound through Baghdad, another grenade was thrown, allegedly from the window of an Iranian school, causing yet another death.20 Saddam ordered the roundup of hundreds of Shia militants, and extracted a confession from one of them. He allegedly confessed to having made the attempt on Azizs life after having been ordered to do so by Khomeini at a meeting in Qom.21 Whatever hope there might have been of reconciliation between the two sides ended after this, as Saddam ordered the execution of Al Sadr and his sister.22 He also expelled several thousand expatriate Iranians to Iran. Khomeini then called publicly on Iraqs Shia community to revolt and destroy the infidel Bathists.23 Following this move by Khomeini, Saddam and a number of his Bathist colleagues toured the various states of the Arab gulf and Jordan, where they almost certainly confided Iraqs decision to go to war. Was all of this a Bathist plot? That is to say, did the Bathists conspire to produce the incidents that led up to the declaration of hostilities in September 1980? It seems highly unlikely that they did so. Immediately after the shahs departure from Iran, the Bathists had


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adopted an accommodative attitude. They had supported the short-lived government of Sharpur Bakhtiar, the shahs handpicked successor.24 And when he decamped, they supported Khomeini. In April 1979 Bakr, who was still president, cabled Khomeini, congratulating him on his assumption of rule.25 Also in April, Iraqs foreign minister expressed the hope that the two nations could work together.26 It would seem thatinitially at leastthe Bathists aim was to preserve, at all costs, the stable situation obtained by signing the Algiers Accord. As long as they believed the regime in Iranwhatever one that might bewas willing to cooperate in this pursuit, they would support it. At the same time, however, conditions militated against cooperation. Saddam and Khomeini were not kindly disposed to one another. Khomeini harbored a grudge against Saddam for ordering his expulsion from Iraq, where he had taken refuge from the shah.27 Still, it will not do to make the personal antipathy of these two into a casus belli.28 Saddam, and also elements of the Khomeini government, sought to overcome frictions. The Iraqi leader made a number of approaches to the Iranians to work out a modus vivendi between their two countries. One such contact came at the Havana Conference of NonAligned Nations, where Saddam met with Irans foreign minister and outlined Iraqs grievances to him.29 Irans acting prime minister Barzagan used this contact, hoping to move toward reconciliation. He apologized for Ruhanis intemperate remarks about Bahrain, saying individuals prominent in Irans power structure were poisoning relations with neighboring states by their unauthorized remarks.30 Iraq apologized for the bombing by one of its planes of the Iranian city of Sardasht. Calling this an error, it offered compensation.31 These reconciliation moves were ineffectual however, for in Iran there was no restraining the wilder spirits. Even some figures of the regime whom one would have supposed would have supported reconciliation made shockingly provocative statements. For example, Irans information minister publicly disparaged Iraqnot once but on numerous occasionsas a Zionist tool.32 Bani Sadr, the Islamic Republics first president, taunted the Bathists for their alleged bloodthirstiness and opined that the people of Iraq, inspired by the message of Khomeini, would soon turn the Bathists from power.33 He further rejected Iraqs demand that Iran surrender land promised to Iraq by the shah under the Algiers Accord.34 One could argue that the Bathists ought to have been more tolerant. They ought to have appreciated that Khomeini presided over a chaotic situation. His movement embraced individuals of every stripe, some of whom could not be restrained from making intemperate remarks and taking positions that were offensive. The Bathists should perhaps have exercised patienceon the assump-

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


tion that, in time, moderate elements would gain control of the regime, and a modus vivendi could then be worked out between Baghdad and Tehran. This argumentand to some degree it is a persuasive onefails to take into account that Saddam himself was insecure. He had had, in the latter 1970s, to confront his own restive Shia community, which he had succeeded in mollifying only by extraordinary concessions. As for his relations with the Bath Party, Saddam was in difficulty there also, having just survived a palace coup, in connection with which he had found it necessary to execute some of the partys top leaders. This had not endeared him to the clients of those leaders who had been eliminated. We must assume that these clients remained party members, and thus potential enemies of Saddam. Saddam could not, therefore, afford to be seen as less than resolute in confronting Iranian taunts and menaces. Under such circumstances he could not be magnanimous and take a wait-and-see attitude. He could not allow the Islamic Revolution to develop as it would. There is another factor that must have weighed heavily on Saddams decision to go to warthe fact Iran could quite easily interdict Iraqs oilexporting capability on a number of fronts. For example, Iraq had no navy except ten patrol boats, while Iran had a good-sized fleet, including battle cruisers. The Iranian navy had been virtually untouched by Khomeinis purges of the military. It remained the most professional of the armed forces. Thus, should Iran have imposed a naval embargo on Baghdad, this would have left Iraq with nothing but its oil pipelines for moving oil to market. Iraq had only two functioning pipelines at this time, and the fate of one through Syria was problematic. After Saddam implicated Damascus in the plot against him, Syrias President Assad was practically a sworn enemy. Iraqs other line ran through Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey and thence to the Mediterranean. The Iraniansalong with everything else at this juncturewere stirring up the Kurds. It would be a comparatively simple matter for Iranian-sponsored Kurdish guerrillas to cut the line through Turkey. All of which is to say that the Bathists were vulnerable both to subversion from within and to becoming isolated from the world oil market on which their development depended. It would appear, then, that there were extenuating circumstances dictating a decision to go to war. To be sure, there was no smoking gun. That is, there was no one incidentas with Israel and Sharm al Shaykh in 1967to which the Bathists could point and say Iran did this, and thus they forced us to mobilize, and after that we had no choice but to fight. There was instead, from Iraqs standpoint, a steadily worsening situation. There were ill-considered threats on both sides, and there were hos-


The Iran-Iraq War

tile actions that were taken. And ultimately, there was what Iraq certainly perceived as a threat to its vital interests. On top of everything else there was the risk that Iran might mend its relations with the United States, its principal arms supplier, enabling it to resume purchases of spare parts and weapons. Had the Bathists waited, the clerics might have consolidated their rule by suppressing internal dissent. This, too, would have made for a stronger Iran. In the end, we may say that once the quarrel had escalated past a certain point, reconciliation became impossible, the logic of war inescapable. War came on September 22, 1980.


There appears to be no doubt that Iraq originally intended to fight a limited war for specific political objectives.35 In addition to full control of the Shatt al Arab and return of the islands in the Strait of Hormuz to their original Arab owners, Iraq wanted several small sections of land along the border, which it maintained had been promised to it under the Algiers Accord but never delivered. To secure its main objectivecontrol over the ShattIraq was prepared to seize a large area of Iranian territory in Khuzistan province.36 This would give it control over an axis running from Ahvaz and Dezful in the north of Khuzistan to Abadan and Khoramshahr in the south. By dominating Khoramshahr and Abadan, Iraq would effectively detach the Shatt from Iran. By capturing Ahvaz, it would stand astride an important road link for traffic proceeding to the Gulf from the north. Dezful was situated on the main Kermanshah-Sanandaj route. It does not appear that the Iraqis wanted permanently to control the Abadan-Khoramshahr-Ahvaz-Dezful axis. From statements of the Bathists leaders, it appears they meant to retain the area only as long as it took to force one of two outcomeseither the Khomeini government would sue for peace, on Iraqs terms, or there would be a coup and the Islamic Republic would be wiped out.37 Iraq evidently felt confident that, because of conditions in Iran, a coup would materialize. Unrest there was increasing. The various groups that initially had cooperated to overthrow the shah had begun to fall out. After eliminating the liberals of the Barzagan faction, the clerics found themselves confronting militant leftists forces like the Fedayeen e Khalq and the Mujahdin e Khalq. In addition, the army was restive; two months before Iraqs invasion there had been an attempted coup by army units against the clerics.38 Along with this the Bathists had received assurances from Sharpur

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


Bakhtiar, Irans former president, that dissatisfaction with the Khomeini government was widespread in Iran, particularly among the middle class.39 Former Iranian military figures who had fled advised the Iraqis to take advantage of internal discord in Iran.40

Iraq Attacks
On the eve of the outbreak of the war, Irans military position was weak. In mid-September its total military strength was less than 150,000 men, half its former size. Of this number, many units were at half strength, and several were stationed far from the eventual area of conflict. Two Iranian divisions were garrisoned on the northern border with the Soviet Union, one on the Caspian Sea and the other near Urumiyah, opposite Soviet Azerbaijan.41 Moreover, Irans army was in deplorable shape, wracked by turmoil that sapped its effectiveness. Hundreds of officers deemed disloyal to the regime had recently been shot or imprisoned (see Chapter 3). The authority of those who remained was curtailed by a committee of clerics, who had attached political commissars to all the major units. The term of enlistment of troops had been cut from four to two years. The troops training had been neglected, as had the maintenance of equipment. As a result, much of the advanced weaponry purchased from the United States was barely operable.42 The regime in Tehran ignored clear warnings of impending attack by the Iraqis. Khomeini appears to have been lulled by assurances from exiled Shias that the Bathists could not rely on the loyalty of the Shias in their army, and therefore would not dare to initiate hostilities. As indications of Iraqs impending aggression began to multiply, however, the clerics were forced to respond. On September 14, 1980, they ordered units in Iranian Kurdistan to move to the international border. Two days later, more units inside Iran were told to relocate to the western provinces, and on September 19, naval units at Abadan and Khoramshahr were put on alert. On September 20, Iran began to call up reservists. Even so, Iran had available only small units of regular army troops stationed throughout the crucial Khuzistan sector. For the most part the initial defense was left to the Revolutionary Guards and revolutionary komitehs (about which we will have more to say below). Only one division of regular army was dispatched to the south after the attack commenced.43 September 22 is the day generally credited as the start of the war, when Iraqs air force bombed every major air base in western Iran. The intent was to destroy Irans air capability in a single stroke. The maneuver failed, largely due to faulty intelligence. Moreover, apparently on orders from


The Iran-Iraq War

Saddam, Iraqs pilots relied on high-altitude bombing instead of making low-level attacks that would have ensured greater accuracy.44 As a result, the bulk of Irans air force escaped unscathed. On the naval front, knowing that its tiny naval arm could not challenge the superior Iranian fleet, Iraq did not even make the attempt. It conceded control over the Gulf to the Iranian forces. Failure to neutralize either Irans air force or navy was a major blunder on the part of the Iraqis and caused immediate grave difficulties. The whole thrust of Iraqs strategy was to keep the war limited. But the day after the war started, both Irans navy and air force took actions that greatly expanded the conflict. On September 25 and 26, Iranian bombers attacked targets deep inside Iraq. Along with several oil refineries and the hydroelectric complex at Darbandi Khan, they damaged Iraqs nuclear facility and raided the capital, Baghdad. Ships of Irans navy attacked Iraqi oil refineries at Al Faw, causing extensive damage that considerably reduced Iraqs oil-exporting capacity. The Iraqis committed six divisions in their initial assault, a force of roughly 70,000 men, and over 2,000 tanks.45 These were reinforced within a few weeks by three additional divisions with about 35,000 troops. The attack was launched along three major axesone in the far north around Naft e Shahr, a second slightly farther south at Qasr e Shirin, and a third in Khuzistan. The two northernmost attacks were in effect blocking actions in which Iraqi forces took up positions at strategic passes through the Zagros Mountains in order to prevent Iranian counterthrusts toward Baghdad. It was in Khuzistan that the main Iraqi invasion was concentrated, and here elements of five Iraqi divisions participated. Half the force moved north against Dezful and Ahvaz, and half south to Khoramshahr and Abadan. Because of the paucity of Iranian troops available to oppose the invasion, the Iraqis initially encountered relatively light resistance. Even so, the columns moved with great caution, averaging only about ten kilometers (about six miles) a day. This cautious method of attack is a feature of armies trained by the Soviet Union (the same sort of behavior was observed in the 1973 War on the Egyptian front). Nonetheless, in Iraqs case another element dictated cautionthe Iraqi commanders were under orders from Saddam not to incur heavy casualties. This was in line with the presidents strategy of keeping the war contained. The Iraqi forces were fairly successful at first. By September 25 they had cut the road between Tehran and Dezful, thus effectively preventing reinforcements from reaching the province of Khuzistan. They also had begun the process of detaching the Shatt al Arab from Iranian territory by bringing their strength to bear against Khoramshahr and Abadan. However, the attack was not proceeding on schedule. The Bathists orig-

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


inally had calculated their campaign would be over in two weeks. At the end of that time not one of the four cities that they aimed to capture had fallen, and only oneKhoramshahrwas even partially invested. The attack on Khoramshahr had begun at the end of September, with a thrust by a column of fifty tanks into the citys port area, which was taken with relative ease. When the Iraqis attempted to move out of the port into the residential areas, however, they bogged down. The residential part of the city was a maze of narrow streets and alleys, an ideal setting for urban guerrilla operations. There were an estimated 7,000 regular and irregular Iranian troops inside Khoramshahr, and they put up a spirited resistance. The Iraqi commanders, mindful of Saddams injunction against heavy casualties, consequently held back. In any event, the final push against Khoramshahr was further delayed when Saddam accepted a United Nations-ordered cease-fire,46 the first of a series of unilateral cease-fires observed by the Iraqis. The effect of these stoppages was to discompose Iraqs commanders, who had to break the momentum of their attack. Further, each truce gave the Iranians time to mobilize and prepare their resistance. At the same time, the truces are evidence that Iraq did not intend more than a limited war. By repeatedly breaking off fighting, the Iraqis were signaling Tehran that the war could be concluded through negotiation. After Khomeini had rejected Iraqs offer of a cease-fire, Saddam ordered the Iraqi assault to recommence. Two weeks later, in vicious hand-to-hand fighting, the city fell. The capture of Khoramshahr was an impressive feat, and belies the claims of many that Iraqs effort in the early days of the war was totally inept. No major city in the Middle East (the population of Khoramshahr before the war was 210,000) had fallen since the 1967 War, at least not one that was aggressively defended. Israels assaults on Suez City in the 1973 War and its attempt to enter Beirut in 1982 both had been blocked by stubborn resistance; similarly, the Syrians had been unable to penetrate Sidon, defended by Palestinian forces, in 1976.47 For Iraq, however, the cost of taking Khoramshahr was dear1,500 dead. These losses dissuaded the Bathists from making a follow-up attempt to overwhelm Abadan. Instead, they determined to seal off the city and deny it relief from outsidein effect starving it into submission. In this they were unsuccessfulthe Iranians held on to a portion of the citys southern perimeter for over twenty months, until the siege was lifted.48 A similar deadlock developed in the north at Dezful and Ahvaz. With the approach of winter, the Iraqi forces were several kilometers outside of both cities andon orders of Saddamthey dug in. Thus the dynamic phase of Iraqs initial thrust effectively ended.


The Iran-Iraq War

The Iranian Response

There was every reason for Iraq to assume that with the coming of spring, it might complete its capture of the Dezful-Ahvaz-KhoramshahrAbadan line. But after initial successes the tide of battle turned against it. In a number of sharply fought engagements with the Iranian army, the Iraqis continually were worsted. Administered a succession of defeats, their army fell back to the international border, giving up all the gains it had achieved. So substantial was the Iraqi setback that analysts have tended to write off the whole Iraqi invasion attempt as a comedy of errors. Iraqs commanders have been denigrated, the morale of its troops disparaged; Saddam has been criticized for his constant micromanaging of the conflict. In the eyes of many, the Iraqi invasion was the ultimate in misconception and maladroit execution. This study will take the position that Iraqs defeat, while certainly due to mistakes on the part of the Bathists, also was a function of events in Iran that the Bathists might have been able to foresee had their intelligence been better.


While all the to-ing and fro-ing was going on at the Iranian battlefront, in Tehran the various revolutionary groups waged a bitter fight for power. The degree to which the parties in Iran succeeded in insulating themselves from what was taking place on the war front is extraordinary. In the end, however, this is probably what saved the Islamic Revolutionthe fact that the revolutionaries could postpone dealing with the Iraqis until they had settled accounts among themselves.49 Here we will not go deeply into the causes of Irans power struggle, as this will occupy us in Chapter 3. Basically, however, it involved a dispute over turning the country into a theocracy, which Irans clerics sought to accomplish and whichas would be naturala number of secular groups opposed. This self-interested move by the clerics was not immediately appreciated for what it was by the secular forces, who presumed, naively, that the clerics would step aside after the initial power seizure and let the secularists take charge. When it became apparentand this occurred fairly early onthat in fact the clerics were maneuvering to appropriate control over the country for themselves, civil strife erupted. Before many months had passed, the leader of the secular forces who enjoyed the widest popular support, Mehdi BarzaganIrans acting prime minister under the so-called provisional governmentabandoned his

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


post, confessing himself unable to cope with the continual interference of the religious elements. Barzagan gave up his post in November 1980, and by January 1981 after a nationwide referenduma new president had been chosen, Bani Sadr. He almost immediately ran into the same difficulties as Barzagan. He, too, was coerced, harassed, and frustrated by the clerical faction. Bani Sadr erred badly by failing to form a political party by which to contest the majlis elections with the clerics. The clerics and their supporters had formed the Islamic Republican Party (IRP), which came to control a majority in the majlis, turning it into a bastion of opposition to the new president. Bani Sadr did not, however, give up his post, as Barzagan had done. Rather, he decamped from the capital and established a headquarters at the war front. There he personally took charge of the war. Bani Sadrs strategy appears to have been to win the waror at least drive the Iraqis back across the border. He would then return to the capital in triumph, and with the support of the peoplegrateful to him for having saved the nationhe would overwhelm his clerical opponents. The clerics let him take charge at the front. Whether they expected him to fail, or were too preoccupied with sewing up control over the government, is anyones guess. In any event, fail Bani Sadr did. With the end of winter and the coming of spring, he laid on a grand offensive to sweep the Iraqis from the western front. This took the form of a classic tank battle at Susangard. The Iranian army attacked the Iraqis on January 6, 1981, with some 300 tanks. At first it appeared that Bani Sadrs strategy might actually work. Under the initial shock of confrontation, the Iraqis fell back. This, however, was a ruse. The Iraqis gave ground and thenwith the whole weight of the Iranian force pressing on their centerthey closed on the Iranians flanks, grinding them to virtual extinction.50 The Iranians lost well over 200 tanks; the Iraqis, probably a third as many.51 One Iranian armored brigade was destroyed and two others seriously crippled. The survivors among Irans forces retreated to Susangard, where they re-formed their lines and adopted a holding pattern.52 This was Bani Sadrs first and last big battle. After this, to all intents and purposes, he was through. A few weeks later he was forced underground after the clerics had proscribed him. He fled to Iranian Kurdistan and then to Paris, where he remained throughout the war. The fall of Bani Sadr somewhat rationalized the power struggle, because now the clerics more or less were in control. There was still, to be sure, a formidable array of leftist groups to be dealt withbut they had retreated to the sidelines while Bani Sadr and the clerics battled it out. And nowbefore they could reassert themselvesthe clerics took control of the three main branches of the government: They put their own


The Iran-Iraq War

man in the presidency; they kept control of the majlis; and they took over the judiciary. The Susangard debacle had produced one of the major developments of the war. In opposing Bani Sadr, the clerics had hit upon the tactic of promoting a popular militia that would fight alongside the army. This militia, later known as the Revolutionary Guard, grew out of the gangs that appeared in the last days of the shahs rule and seized control in various parts of the country. It was their fervor that ultimately halted and then overcame Iraqi resistance. We will have much more to say about this later.


The clerics had used the winter standdown of the Iraqi troops to carry out a countrywide mobilization. Actually, the main lines of this had been set in the autumn of 1979, when Khomeini ordered a call-up of 20 million Iranians to confront the anticipated reaction of the United States to the hostage crisis. The original call-up had been organized by mosques, each mosque supplying twenty-two men. The twenty-two-man teams were armed and given two weeks of rudimentary military training, after which they formed the nations home guard, guarding villages in the countryside and policing neighborhoods in the larger cities.53 With the start of the war the home guard was reconstituted into the basij (mobilization of the oppressed). The basij was directed by the Revolutionary Guard. With the irregular forces and the regular army, Iran was able somewhat to offset Iraqs original huge advantage in troopswhereas at the beginning of the fighting Iraq outnumbered the Iranians five to one, by early 1981 that advantage had been reduced to around two to one.54 We now want to introduce the topic of peoples war, as pioneered by the Iranians, with the focus on innovative tactics that were developed. We will devote some space to these because they are essential to understanding why the Iraqis ultimately fell apart. Essentially the tactics involved three major departures. Most important, Iran ceased to fight a mainly mechanized war. Its commanders had determined that Iran was no match for the Iraqis in the area of conventional warfare. At the same time, however, it had an immense manpower pool to draw upon (Irans population outnumbers Iraqs three to one). Thus, the commanders innovated the human wave attack. The human wave has been largely misconstrued both by the popular media in the West and by many scholars. The Iranians did not merely assemble masses of individuals, point them at the enemy, and order a charge. The waves were made up of the twenty-two-man squads mentioned above. Each squad was assigned a specific objective. In battle, they would surge

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


forward to accomplish their missions, and thus they gave the impression of a human wave pouring against the enemy lines. Along with this, the Iranians reshaped their strategy to feature night attacks, seeking to offset Iraqs advantage in air power. Iran had been caught badly off guard when the war began, with large numbers of its aircraft virtually inoperable. Attrition from war losses caused further slippage. A year into the war the Iranians were having to cannibalize their planes to assemble a bare minimum of airworthy craft. And, finally, Iran began to concentrate its attacks on Iraqs Popular Army units. The Iranians had determined that here was where the Iraqis were most vulnerable. Baghdad in the early stages of the war placed great confidence in its Popular Army units, comprised of cadres drawn from the Bath Party. The Bath leadership evidently felt that these party loyalists would be dependable, whereas the predominantly Shia units would not be. This did not, however, work out in practice. The Popular Army men, not being professional soldiers but civilians co-opted to perform military functions, were prone to crack under pressure.55 The first test of Irans new tactics came in the late spring of 1981. For the first time in the war, an airborne brigade of the regular army cooperated in an attack with units of the Revolutionary Guard and basij. The battle was fought at night in an area west of Susangard. It was fully successful, with the Iranians capturing seventy prisoners and destroying thirty armored vehicles. On May 22, Iran launched another attack near Susangard with elements of two brigades, again spearheaded by irregular units. Here the Iranians succeed in pushing the Iraqis off strategic heights northwest of the town, and for the first time in the war they held on to territory previously lost to Iraq. Iraqs personnel losses in this attack were heavy. Confident that their tactics were working, the Iranians continued to lay on human wave attacks, and now they ordered a new and horrifying fillipthey sent children into the battlefield to act as human mine detonators. Each child was given a small silver key, which, they were assured, would gain their immediate entry into Paradise.56 The first major defeat of the Iraqis came at the end of September at Abadan. At midnight of September 27, following an intense artillery barrage, the Iranians attacked from four directions southeast of the city. The Iraqi commanders apparently became disoriented, misread the main thrust of the attack, and committed their reserves too quickly. The Iranians penetrated the Iraqi perimeter, and by morning the Iraqi forces were in retreat. The key to Iraqs failure in this operation was the flight of the Popular Army units, leaving some 1,300 regular army men cut off. Iraq lost 60 tanks, 30 armored personnel carriers, 1,000 killed, and around 1,500 taken prisoner. Iran suffered around 5,000 dead.57 Having broken the siege of Abadan, Iran next set its sights on Bostan,


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near Susangard. Here, the mere appearance of waves of attacking Iranians caused the Popular Army troops to panic. Some 1,000 Iraqis were taken prisoner. This was the last significant engagement in 1981 before both sides took up defensive positions to wait out another winter. Nevertheless, the stage was set for a major confrontation the following spring at Dezful, where over 100,000 men participated. In preparation for the coming engagement, Tehran assembled 4 divisions and 3 independent brigades (a total of 65,000 regular army troops), 200 tanks, 180 artillery pieces, and a substantial number of irregulars. Iraqs strength was about 45,000 troops, 550 tanks, and 180 pieces of artillery.58 Aware that a major attack was in the offing, the Iraqis tried preemptive thrusts on March 19 and 20, 1982; these were beaten back. On March 22, 60,000 Iranians struck in the first phase of the battle, which closed with the surrender of 1,500 Iraqis. Iran launched its second phase after midnight on March 24, after the Iraqis had again prematurely committed their reserves. The third and final phase of the battle occurred at midnight on March 26.59 Unable to withstand the human waves, the Iraqis retreated to the Doverych River. They got away with most of their equipment intact, but their personnel losses were high. Iran claimed 25,000 Iraqis killed and 15,000 wounded. The kill figure is almost certainly exaggerated, but the prisoner count is probably accurate. Ten Iraqi brigades, composed of some 25,000 troops, were badly mauled; seven of these were Popular Army components. Iran lost around 15,000 killed and wounded and 1,000 prisoners.60 On March 30, Iran struck at Khoramshahr. In the initial assault on the city, 4,000 Iraqis surrendered. The final attack came on April 22, when two Iraqi regular army and three Popular Army brigades of approximately 15,000 men surrendered en masse. Khoramshahr, which had taken a month to capture, was lost in twenty-four hours.61

In seeking an explanation for the disastrous turnabout of the Iraqi invasion attempt, we must take into consideration the Iraqis lack of battlefield experience. To be sure, Iraq had waged a difficult war against the Kurdish guerrillas for over a decade. But lessons learned in a low-intensity conflict such as this are only minimally applicable in a conventional war of the type Iraq initiated in 1980. Also to be considered is the ineptitude of many of Iraqs commanders. A large percentage of Iraqi officers during this period won their commissions by being loyal to the Bath, if not party members; military ability was almost incidental. Men who had begun their working careers as party orga-

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


nizers were commanding corps in the opening days of the war. This unimaginative, uninspired command setup did not instill confidence among the rank and file.62 Another drawback was the tendency of Saddam to micro manage the war. All instructions as to its conduct originated with him. Further, there was very little horizontal communication in the Iraqi army. This was deliberate, becauseas had been the case with the shahthe Bathists did not trust the army officers, fearing they would plot against them. They assigned security officers to oversee the commanders actions, and these security men, under certain conditions, could override the commanders orders.63 All this made for an extremely bad situation. Nonetheless, this study takes the position that the invasion still might have succeeded except for one thingthe fact that the clerics were able to mobilize the Iranian people. The clerics decision to let popular emotions hold sway by relying to an extraordinary degree on irregular forcesthe Revolutionary Guards and basijwas, in our view, absolutely correct. There was a great wellspring of patriotic emotion in Iran at this time that was waiting to be tapped; the clerics tapped it. Their decision to put guns in the hands of the people changed the course of the war.64 The effect on the Iraqis of this decision was phenomenal. Clearly, it caught them off guard. They had been expecting to fight a conventional war against Irans regular army. Instead, they found themselves pitted against a leve en masse. It seems reasonable to suppose that had Bani Sadr retained direction of the warwith his determination to place sole reliance on the regular militarythe Iraqis would ultimately have prevailed. To paraphrase an oft-quoted remark of Barzagan, the Iranian regular army was a sword without a blade. As things turned out, we should probably compare Iraqs situation with that of the United States in Korea. Washington did not expect China to enter the Korean War. When it did, the initial response of the Americans confronting the Chinese human wave attacks was to panic. That is what the Iraqis did.

We have one last point to make in this chapter, and that involves the superpowersboth were caught off guard by the war. For the United States, however, the war was not unwelcome. Unable to intervene militarily to resolve the hostage crisis, U.S. policymakers could not but welcome Iraqs resort to armed confrontation, espe-


The Iran-Iraq War

cially since this wouldthe U.S. leaders hopeddrive home to Tehran its dependence on Washington for military supplies. Indeed, the Iranians did try to bargain with the Americans, promising freedom for the hostages in return for replenishment of spare parts; but the Carter administration found the Iranians terms unacceptable, and beyond a few rudimentary contactsthe United States generally kept out of the war in this initial phase.65 The situation of the Soviet Union was much different. As Iraqs largest supplier of weapons, Moscow had the capability to seriously jeopardize Iraqs war strategy, if it chose; and, initially, the Soviet Union did so choose. Moscows surprise at the outbreak of hostilities translated into an obdurate refusal to do anything to aid Iraq, with which it had a friendship treaty. The Soviets imposed an arms embargo on the belligerents, an action that mainly harmed Iraq; Iran was not looking to the Soviets for supplies for its forces, whose weapons originally had been supplied by the United States. Moscows cutoff of weapons was swift, resolute, and brutalSoviet ships loaded with arms for Iraq turned back in midjourney. There seems to have been some thought initially to allow arms already in the pipeline to pass through but to make no new deals. In November 1980, however, Brezhnev abruptly ordered all weapons transfers to Iraq ended.66 The loss of Soviet weapons immediately constrained the Iraqi war effort, causing shortfalls in a number of key areasmainly artillery ammunition, bombs, and spare parts. Moreover, there is evidence that the Iraqis had planned badly going into the war and were lacking in other areas, such as lubricants for ammunition and medical supplies. The combination of an end to all military supplies from Moscow and already existing shortages posed a serious threat to the overall success of Iraqs campaign. Had the war lasted only two weeks, as originally planned, the Soviet shutoff would not have made a great difference. But once the war went into winter, the shortage of parts and resupply became a serious concern.67 At the same time the Soviets appear to have made overtures to the Iranians for closer cooperation. Soviet Minister Vladimir Vinogradav met with Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajai and Parliament Speaker Rafsanjani in October 1980, and discussed a possible amelioration of relations.68 Ties between the superpower and its southern neighbor were strained at this time, however, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Iranians rebuffed Vinogradav. Nonetheless, the Soviets persisted in seeking to cajole the regime. The Soviets badly wanted to exploit the windfall presented by the shahs overthrow, which had taken Iran out of the Western camp. At the same time they wanted to preserve ties to the Iraqis. It was perhaps the Soviets inability to overcome Irans hostility to the Afghanistan invasion that led them to relax their arms cutoff against Iraq.

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


By the spring of 1981 Moscow had agreed to let weapons already in the pipeline flow through. Between the spring of 1981 and the spring of 1982, the Soviets delivered $1 billion worth of weapons, including MIG-23 fighters, T-72 tanks, surface-to-air missiles, and, for the first time, MIG-25s.69 At the same time, Moscows reversal did not come quickly enough to offset the disastrous losses the Iraqis had suffered. It could be argued, however, that the Iraqis decision to pull back to the international border was conditioned by awareness that they would ultimately be resupplied, and therefore it was better to dig in to await reprovisioning.

Between 1975 and 1979, when the shah fell, the Persian Gulf was stable. All of the countries surrounding it were united in a single aim of maximizing their revenues through the sale of oil. The two major rivals, Iran and Iraq, had composed their differences by signing the Algiers Accord, and as long as these two states were not in conflict, continued stability was assured. The appearance of the Islamic Republic brought a disruptive element into the Gulf community of nations. The Republics activities so threatened the peace of the area that Iraq determined to administer a firm check, which it did by declaring a limited warwhich let loose popular forces in Iran that the Bathists soon found they could not easily contain.

1. The present leader of the Bath Party, Saddam Husayn, was the son of a landless peasant. The partys vice chairman, Izzat Ibrahim, sold ice on the streets of Samarra. The first deputy prime minister, Taha Yasin Ramadan, peddled melons in Mosul. For more information on class background, see Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movement of Iraq (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978). 2. Much of this anger was generated by the world Zionist community because among those condemned were a number of Jews. See New York Times, luly 28, 1968. 3. The sultan of course was Arab, which ordinarily would have disposed the Bathists toward him. He was also, however, a firm ally of the British, and British mercenaries defended his throne. Britain epitomized imperialism for the Bathists. 4. The Iraqi Bathists entered the war even though the Egyptians and Syrians had not included them in their planning. Moreover, the Iraqis were experiencing a chill in their relations with the Syrians over transit fees for oil shipped through Syria to the Mediterranean when the war erupted. At the time of the outbreak the Bathists also were fighting the Kurds in northern Iraq. They hastily patched up strained relations with the shah, who was funding the Kurdish revolt, so they could fight on the side of Syria and Egypt.


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5. See Stephen H. Longrigg, Oil in the Middle East (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), pp. 349ff. 6. Ibid. 7. The Sunnis dominated political life partly because the Ottoman Turks, who had ruled Mesopotamia, were Sunnis and therefore favored their coreligionists, and partly because the Shia clergy forbade the community to cooperate with the central government, which kept the Shias out of the civil service. 8. See Batatu, The Old Social Classes, p. 551, on the Shias in the antiregime rioting of 1947. 9. The local Shia community expected that the pilgrimages, which had been discontinued during the period of open hostility between Iran and Iraq, would be reintroduced once the Algiers Accord was signed. When the Bathists did not move in this direction, the localsanticipating loss of revenueerupted. 10. The annual per capita income when the war erupted in 1980 was $2,600. 11. See Amizia Baram, National Integration and Local Organization in Iraq Under the Bath, Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, 9, no. 3 (1987). 12. Democracy, in the sense we understand it in the West, was of course not an issue here. The only ones voting on Saddams fitness to rule would have been the partys apparatus. 13. Details of the plot were published in Egypts Al Ahram. 14. The tendencyone might almost say compulsionto unify with other Arab countries was particularly strong in Iraq. In the 1960s efforts were made to unite Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. 15. Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) report, quoted in FBIS/ME&SA Daily Report, October 2, 1979. 16. It is important to note that as far back as this, Iraq believed the Gulf states themselves, and not outside powers, should be responsible for ensuring regional security. 17. See Iraq News Agency (INA) report, quoted in FBIS/ME&SA Daily Report, December 5, 1979, in which Iraqs foreign minister summons Irans ambassador and tells him to stop his meddling. This came after two persons opened fire on a Karbala procession, killing two and wounding sixteen. 18. Portions of Khomeinis letter to Al Sadr are quoted in FBIS/ME&SA Daily Report, May 31, 1979. 19. FBIS/MEA Daily Report of June 7, 1980, carries an account of demonstrations by Al Sadrs followers. 20. INA reports the grenade incident April 1, 1980, quoted in FBIS/MEA Daily Report of April 7. On April 9, 1980, an INA report (quoted in FBIS/MEA Daily Report, April 10, 1980) claims Iraqi security forces seized guns and explosives originating from Iran and intended for Dawa. The individual named in the grenade attack allegedly was a Dawa member. 21. FBIS/MEA, Daily Report, April 10, 1980. 22. See FBIS/MEA Daily Report, April 14, 1980, for an account of the executions from Al Watan al Arabi. 23. FBIS/MEA Daily Report, August 1, 1980, gives an interview with Iraqs information minister in which he discusses Khomeinis appeal. 24. Some supporters of Iran claim that the Bathists in fact conspired with

Iraqs Decision to Go to War


Bahktiar, after the latter was expelled from Iran, to perpetrate a coup against Khomeini. 25. FBIS/MEA Daily Report, April 6, 1979. 26. Ibid., April 12, 1979. 27. Saddam acted at the behest of the shah, who requested he take this step under the terms of the Algiers Accord. 28. As was generally done in the Western media. 29. Al Mustagbal interview with Saddam, quoted in FBIS/MEA Daily Report, October 13, 1979. 30. Commentary broadcast on Tehran International, quoted in FBIS/MEA Daily Report, June 19, 1979. 31. It is interesting that the bombing occurred at Sardasht, the location of one of the refugee camps sheltering the Barzani Kurds. 32. This was Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who was subsequently executed by Khomeini. 33. A class-based variation of Khomeinis religious appeal to the Iraqi Shias to revolt. 34. Bani Sadrs rejection was explicit. Considering the importance the Bathists attached to the Algiers Accord, this was a quite serious step. 35. For a good discussion of this point, see Efraim Karsh, The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis (London: IISS, 1987). 36. Iraq said this in a statement quoted in FBIS/MEA Daily Report, September 23, 1980. 37. Edgar OBallance, The Iran-Iraq War, Marine Corps Gazette, 66 (February 1982), p. 44. 38. Nickola B. Schahgaldian, The Iranian Military Under the Islamic Republic (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1987), p. 23. 39. And, along with this, the Bathists believed that the Arab Iranians of Khuzistan would come over to their side, which did not happen. 40. The Iraqis at this time were also receiving reports from General G. A. Oveissi. 41. William Staudenmaier, A Strategic Analysis of the Gulf War (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 1982), pp. 1011. See also Karsh, The IranIraq War, p. 20. 42. Karsh, The Iran-Iraq War, p. 16. 43. Edgar OBallance, The Gulf War (London: Brasseys, 1988), p. 33. 44. William Hickman, Ravaged and Reborn: The Iranian Army, 1982 (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1982), p. 19. 45. John Wagner, Fighting Armies: Antagonists in the Middle East, a Combat Assessment, in Richard Gabriel, ed., Fighting Armies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983), p. 68. 46. FBIS/MEA Daily Report, September 30, 1980. 47. Wagner, Fighting Armies, p. 69. 48. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 39. We want to alert the reader, now that we are starting to cite casualty figures, that we suspect most of the published estimates. Our practice throughout the study will be that where we think a published estimate is reasonable, we will use it.


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49. This point also bears on the issue of the wars vital center of gravity, la Clausewitz, which we will discuss in greater detail in Chapter 5. 50. OBallance, The Gulf War, pp. 5963. 51. This is an example of difficulties one encounters in reporting statistics from the war. We feel confident of our estimate of Iraqi tank losses, but writers like OBallance claim the losses were almost equal. 52. OBallance, The Gulf War, pp. 6263. 53. Hickman, Ravaged and Reborn, p. 13. 54. Anthony Cordesman, Lessons of the Iran-Iraq War: The First Round, Armed Forces Journal, 119 (April 1982), p. 47. 55. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 80. 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid., pp. 7981. 58. Ibid. 59. Ibid. 60. Ibid., pp. 8385. 61. Ibid. 62. At the same time Iraq had good commanders. Indeed, there was a tradition of professionalism in the military dating back to the Ottoman days, when Arab officerswho later took over command of the Iraqi armystudied in Ottoman military schools at Istanbul. One of the points we will stress throughout the study is the leavening influence of Saddams frequent purges of incompetent commanders, which allowed the professionalsand younger men who were worthyto rise to the top. For a more negative view of the Iraqi military, see Wagner, Fighting Armies, p. 8182. 63. Ibid. 64. Hickman, Ravaged and Reborn, p. 20. 65. Gary Sick, All Fall Down (New York: Penguin Books, 1985). 66. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 51. 67. Wagner, Fighting Armies, pp. 7879. 68. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 103. 69. Ibid.

Why Iran Invaded Iraq

Why did Iran choose to invade Iraq in the summer of 1982? Its leaders maintained that they were merely seeking retribution for Baghdads aggression two years earlier. While not totally rejecting this view, the present study suggests that Irans motives were more complex. In this chapter we will examine the revolutionary experience of Iran and conclude that it expanded the war into Iraqi territory because of internal conditions with which it was incapable of dealing. In a sense, we will maintain, the invasion was forced on Iran.


To speak of pre-1979 Iran as a revolutionary society may seem absurd. After all, the Islamic Revolution, which took power in 1979, supposedly ended the corrupt, nonrevolutionary era of the shah. From the standpoint of statistics, however, it does seem correct to characterize the shahs years in power as a period of revolutionary change. From 1956 to 1979 Irans GNP grew by more than 50 percent; its per capita income approached a Third World record at $2,000 (Iraqs was $2,600); its urban population increased from 5 million to 20 million. The total student population climbed to 10 million, including 100,000 university and 500,000 secondary school students. The shahs land reform, instituted in 1962, allocated 3 million peasant families 75 percent of the countrys arable land. The middle class more than doubled in size, growing to 25 percent of the


The Iran-Iraq War

employed population, and the number of industrial plants of various sizes increased from less than 1,400 to more than 8,000.1 The shah was a modernizing autocrat whose aim was to turn Iran into an industrialized society on the model of the United States, Europe, and Japan. After the Arab oil embargo in 1973, it seemed he would achieve his goal. However, from about 1977 things began to go wrong for the Iranian monarch and his ambitious program of modernizing reforms. In the most basic sense we may say that the economy overheated. Too much money flowed into the country. Too many ambitious projects were undertaken, and widespread waste and inefficiency aggravated many more malign influences. The most pernicious development was the alarming rise in inflation (above 30 percent), which afflicted the lower middle classes quite adversely.2 But not all elements of the society suffered. Some managed to keep pace with rising prices, and among this group were a substantial number of individuals who imprudently flaunted their success. After 1973 there was extreme polarization of wealth in Iran. The growing discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots fueled widespread resentment among the lower classes that ultimately became directed against the shahs economic policies. The shah fell from power because he lost control of the revolution that he had brought about. To be sure, there was a concerted move against him by a broad coalition of anxious Iranians who, disturbed by the malfunctioning economy, willed his downfall. But in our view only that initial popular upheaval could truly be construed as revolutionary. The social revolution that ought to have followed the popular revolt did not develop, largely because of the activity of Irans clergy. The revolution in Iran was aborted by the clergy, who in effect staged a counterrevolt against the modernization wrought by the shah.


When the shah attempted to defeat inflation by forcing deflation in 1976, the ensuing dislocations most affected the petite bourgeoisie, a group already buffeted by events. This element had come to expect that they would inevitably be co-opted into the middle class, and now it appeared that this would not be. This disappointment produced an accelerating wave of discontent manifested in numerous public disturbances, not the least of which were strikes in the oil fields. The disruption was diffuse, however, provoked mainly by radical elements reacting to specific situations.3 The mass of Iranians remained by and large aloof from politics; perhaps they awaited a clear call to revolt, which in the Iran of the late 1970s could come only from the clergy. Of all the extragovernmental groups in Iran, the clergy were the best

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


positioned to stir the masses against the shah. Through the network of mosques they reached into every neighborhood, every hamlet; the lower echelon of the clergythe mullahswere quintessentially of the people, and therefore could most effectively exploit popular discontent. It was the shahs misfortune that the clergy, who had been indisposed to act in earlier times, in the late 1970s began to mobilize forcefully.

The Situation of the Clergy

To understand how the clergy came to direct the attack upon the shah, we need to look at the recent past. They had been under attack by the monarchy since at least the mid-1930s, when the shahs father, Reza, first set out to curb their power. This power had grown considerably under the benign influence of Rezas predecessors, the weak and ineffectual Qajars. Reza wanted to secularize Iranian society, and naturally this put him on a collision course with the religious leaders. Irans Shia clergy traditionally have enjoyed considerable independence, largely because they are virtually self-supporting. They finance themselves through an extensive funding operation in which designated agents of the principal ayatollahs tour the country collecting religious taxes that they turn over to the ayatollahs for distribution to the madrassahs (religious schools) and to their students. Offerings also go to maintain the mosques and to pay the salaries of the mullahs (preachers). In this respect the Shia system is unlike that of the Sunnis, whose clergy by and large depend on the state for support. The difference accounts for the greater control that Sunni-led governments exercise over their religious establishments. Thus, when Reza set out to curb the clergys power, he focused his attack on their financial arrangements. Reza claimed that certain of the ayatollahs had abused the awgaf (religious endowments) they controlled; as a remedy for this alleged malfeasance, he ordered the endowments opened to inspection. By forcing the ayatollahs to submit to audits, Reza was able (allegedly) to document his charges of abuse. Thereupon he sequestered certain of the disputed funds.4 Reza then moved to another indirect assault on the religious leaders, using his newly instituted system of national conscription. To escape the draft, students and preachers were required to show that they were bona fide members of the religious establishment. For the preachers, this meant demonstrating that they had graduated from a recognized religious school. The students were required to be enrolled in a course of study at one of these schools.5 Reza moved from this ploy to take control of the actual school curriculum. The Department of Awgaf, an arm of the bureaucracy newly established by Reza, set standards of religious instruction. It supervised course


The Iran-Iraq War

selection, approved the schools syllabi, and monitored student examinations. In addition Reza increased government support for Irans lay institutions, putting them in competition with the religious institutions. This combination of tactics was largely successful, as can be seen from statistics on the number of students enrolled in religious schools and the number of schools in operation. In 1925, the year that Reza came to power, there were 5,984 students enrolled in 282 madrassahs in Iran and the atabat (the Shia towns of Najaf, Karbala, Kazimayn, and Samarra in Iraq). By 1939, the year he was deposed, the number of madrassahs stood at 2386 and the number of students enrolled had dropped to 1,341.7 World War II checked Rezas campaign against the clergy. After the Allies had sent him into exile and put his son Mohammad Reza in his place, they gave the clergy a respite from harassment. After World War II, Mohammad Reza became beleaguered. Being none too secure in his rule, the new shah attempted to bolster his support by placating various influential groups in the society, including the clergy. In the clergys case, he restored to them privileges that his father had usurped. The period between 1945 and roughly 1960 can probably be viewed as the era of regeneration of clerical influence in Iran. This seems evident when we examine additional pertinent statistics: in 19441945 there were 173 madrassahs and 2,907 students in Iran; by 19591960 these numbers had grown to 225 madrassahs and 14,419 students.8 By the early 1960s, however, Mohammad Reza had begun to emulate his father with a program of sweeping reforms. The keystone of his program, the White Revolution (see Chapter 1), was the distribution of land to the peasantry. Irans senior religious leaders opposed this particular proposal. They did so for a number of reasons, most notably financial. The senior clergy were the owners of large estates. Their families also had acquired large landholdings. Further, the clergy maintained long-standing associations with nonclerical landholders in Iran whose basis of power was their estates.9 Although the shahs attempts to redistribute property most agitated the clergy, other reforms distressed them as well. For example, the shah had ordered the formation of literacy corps (sipah-i danish) of university-trained youths who toured the rural areas teaching the peasantry to read and write. To a large extent the clergys influence over the peasants depended on their remaining ignorant. This reform, too, therefore was perceived as a threat by the clergy. The senior clergy did not, however, choose to oppose the shah over the land reform or the literacy corps. Instead, they attacked him on a separate but related issue, the local councils. The shah had proposed setting up agencies of local government and had stated that women could vote in the council elections. He also had stipulated that individuals elected to the councils would not have to swear the oath of allegiance on the Koran.10

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


The senior clergy mobilized the religious establishment around these twin issues, and in 1963 riotslargely involving minor clerics and seminary studentserupted throughout Iran. The shah met these outbursts forcefully. SAVAK, his internal security force, swept through the riot-torn areas, making hundreds of arrests. Within weeks the religiously inspired protest had been crushed. The shahs firm response certainly was a factor in ending the disturbances. Probably as important, however, was the disinclination of the peasants to support the clerics. They were more disposed to back the shah, after the land redistribution.11 Throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s the shah continued to wear away the clergy, and by the mid-1970s their situation had begun to grow critical. The shah openly derided them as black communists, and liceridden mullahs, hopelessly hide-bound by tradition. Much of the shahs success derived from his having taken the moral high ground. Modernization with its social reforms, in particular land redistribution, appealed to the peasants hopes for betterment. Untiland unlessthe clergy could frame their interests so as to gain the support of the lower classes, their efforts to undermine the shahs modernization program were doomed. This difficult feat was accomplished by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.


Facts about Khomeinis early history are relatively meager. We know that he was born in 1900, the son of a cleric. His early religious studies were completed at Arak, and he next attended the religious college at Qom, Irans holiest city. After he had received his religious diploma he became an instructor at Qom. While there he produced his first written work, Revealing the Secrets, essentially a refutation of an antireligious tract then circulating. It was also, however, in part a criticism of the Pahlavi monarchy. The Shias put a premium on scholarship, and so it is not unusual for young clerics to try their hand at writing. For Khomeini, however, to have begun his writing career with a polemic was quite extraordinary.12 The ethos of Iranian religious practice at this time was quietistic. To be sure, themes the young Khomeini used were hardly incendiary. He attacked the Pahlavis conduct of the monarchynot the shah personallyand he inveighed against foreign influences on the court, a longtime staple of regime-baiting in Iran. Indeed, the young Khomeini seems to have been trying to mentor the shah, to show him the error of his ways. Now that the Islamic Revolution is a fact and Khomeini has attained world prominence, it is fashionable to impute radical sentiments to him, even at this early date; but this does not square with the facts. Khomeini was extremely radical in the religious sphere but not at all in the fields of


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economic and social reform, as can be seen from his position on the land question.13 Khomeini opposed the land reform incorporated into the shahs White Revolutionindeed, he was one of the foremost opponents of the measure. There were religious thinkers at the time, such as Ali Shariati, who, while they opposed land reform, nonetheless tried to accommodate the principle of equitable distribution into a reform program of their own. Khomeini did not do thishe condemned the idea as anti-Islamic, a position that placed him at odds with the mass of Irans landless peasants.14 Because of Khomeinis opposition to the White Revolution, the shah had him exiled in 1964. He settled briefly in Turkey, then relocated to Iraq, where he remained until 1978. In Iraq he became closely associated with Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al Sadr (whom Saddam ordered executed in 1980, the incident that indirectly precipitated the Iran-Iraq War). We have little information on relations between the two men. We do, however, know something of Al Sadrs background. Like Shariati, he appears to have made a conscientious study of Western economics. In his major written work, Our Economy, he discusses social injustice and tries to reconcile Western ideas with traditional teachings of Islam.15 Sadr appears to have had a great effect on ardent young Muslims seeking to reform the faith. He may also have affected Khomeini.16 The latter appears to have sharpened themes of social justice in his writings after his association with Al Sadr. At the same time, however, Khomeini did not develop his own program of social reform. Rather, he talked generally about justice and about the obligation of the just monarch to command the good and condemn the evil. Khomeinis decisive turn toward activism came in 1978 when he called for the shahs overthrow, condemning the ruler as an oppressor of the downtrodden. This was a sharp departure from his previous position that appears to have been dictated by events in Iran. This was a time of escalating disorders, of strikes and random popular protests, and evenin the instance of Irans Kurdish populationthe commencement of what threatened to become a civil war (see Chapter 4). In any event, Khomeinis stand has significance beyond the fact of a prominent clergyman coming out publicly for the shahs overthrow. Khomeini was an exceptional preacher who had retained the idiom of popular tradition. He was therefore able to couch his attack in the most compelling manner. He fired up the discontented multitudes in a way that no liberal or university-trained leftist could do.17 In their efforts to subvert the monarchy, Irans educated elite were handicapped by their terms of reference, which could only appear to the people as foreign and not germane to their condition. Khomeini, however, drew on the tradition (hadith) of Islam, exploiting it and the Koran, which worked upon the masses deepest emotions.

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


Most crucially, Khomeini created a bridging element composed of populist forces on the right who joined the leftists and liberals already in revolt against the shah. The appearance of popular, lower-class elements in the street, actively making war on the monarchy, produced the most potent coalition of antiregime forces to date: liberals, leftists, and populists all became allied, due in a large measure to Khomeini. We must attribute the shahs downfall, then, to these twin occurrences: the crystallization of fear among the lower middle classes that their career chances had become blighted, and the appearance of a new idiom of protest that enabled previously inarticulate populist forces to make common cause with the more educated elements. This is not, however, the entirety of it. There were concrete issues, seized upon by the anti-shah forces, that were influential in tipping the balance against the monarchy. By the late 1970s the shah had to a large extent lost touch with his people, as becomes evident when we examine his activity in the development field. He concentrated on large industrial projects that did not immediately improve the living standards of Iranians but that, the shah believed, would ultimately transform the economy. The people, impatient for gain, were not willing to wait for benefits to trickle down to them. The shah also promoted Western ways that were offensive to the people. Here we can isolate perhaps the single most explosive issue. We stressed earlier that, to effect his reformsparticularly in the military spherethe shah imported foreign technicians (see Chapter 2). The trend of bringing foreigners into Iran accelerated remarkably by the late 1970s, and everywhere the foreigners practiced their unfamiliar life-styles, which to Muslimsparticularly those of the lower classwere repugnant. Khomeini seized on the status-of-forces issue and manipulated it most skillfully. (The issue pertained to a special arrangement whereby U.S. citizens could not be tried in Iranian courts.) And as more and more foreigners flooded into the country, the issue gained in explosiveness. Having now described how Khomeini came to focus the attack upon the shah, we will look at how he and his fellow clerics behaved once they had succeeded to power.


If Khomeini was the catalyst of the revolution whose fiery message galvanized the Iranian people against the shah, the clergy were the nerve threads that carried the message to all quarters of Iran. With their sermons, they agitated the people; they led the demonstrations against the shah, and some more fanatical than the rest, by their willingness to give their lives provided martyrs for the revolutionary cause. At the same time it would be wrong to assume that the clergy organized


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the revolution, for this was very much a popular revolt in which organization developed from below. The clearest evidence of this was the proliferation of revolutionary komitehs (committees) and Revolutionary Guard units that sprang up everywhere immediately before the shahs overthrow. These popular groups came into being spontaneously, much as did the soviets in the Russian Revolution and the sections in the French Revolution.18 They were action groups created by the people initially to seize power, which they did by overwhelming the forces of the shah and by invading the arsenals and police posts to distribute arms to the people. In the days immediately after the shahs ouster, the militias protected the revolution. They patrolled the neighborhoods taken over by the revolutionaries, collected money to fund revolutionary activity, and in areas where public services had ceased to function, assumed various public roles.19 At the same time they committed a number of excesses. They seized property from large landowners. They invaded factories, ousting their owners and installing individuals whom they selected to run them in their stead. They administered revolutionary justice, trying and executing individuals they accused of being SAVAK agents and gendarmes. Thus the militias regularly and willfully took the law into their own hands. In the first days of the revolution the clerics strove to associate themselves with the popular forces, as this was one way to enhance ones position. This point is often misconstrued in the literature about the revolt, in which the clerics are almost invariably portrayed as calling the militias into being. On the contrary, the popular forces needed no call to organize. Many of the clerics who joined the militias were mullahs from the poorer quarters of Tehran and the provincial cities. These plebian priests were in many cases inspired by class hatred, and thus they supported the excessesno matter how harshas they targeted class oppressors.20 When the Islamic Republics new parliament was formed, the peoples priests participated in that body, demanding radical reforms. They were instrumental in getting rent laws passed, along with the land reform proposal. The majlis also drafted work codes, housing laws, and bills to nationalize trade. All such radical pieces of legislation struck at the old class arrangements that had obtained under the shah. The plethora of radical legislation was not, however, supported by all elements of the clerical establishment. Many of the senior clergy, who were extremely conservative, recoiled from such measures as land reform, which they viewed as violating their right of property. To resist the wave of radicalizing reform, they developed a counterstrategy. They promoted the Council of Guardians to certify the religious orthodoxy of laws passed by the majlis. From this bastion of conservatism they moved against the reforms, nullifying them as un-Islamic. At this point the Islamic Revolution effectively deadlocked. The whole

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


Islamic movement in fact found itself conflicted from this point on. On one side were the militant clergy with their popular support in the streets; on the other side were the conservatives, operating from the Council of Guardians. The council became the focus of the conservative forcesnot merely the senior clergy but also the bazaarh (the commercial interests) and certain holdovers from the Pahlavi era who had remained in the country and kept their property through various strategems. Between these antagonistic groups stood Khomeini, who might have forced passage of the radical reforms by validating them over the objections of the Council of Guardians. Not one of the reforms passed, however, because of pressure from the imam. It seems likely that Khomeini feared the senior ayatollahs. Unlike the masses, the senior ayatollahs were not in awe of Khomeini; to them, he was merely first among equals, and had he tried to challenge them on doctrinal questions, they almost certainly would have defied him. The fledgling Islamic movement could not have survived a split among the grand ayatollahs, and so Khomeini ducked confrontation with the conservatives. This left the Islamic movement adrift, with the social revolution that the Islamic forces had been promising from the first hours of the upheaval pretty much on hold.


By failing to enact popularly sponsored reforms, the clergy might have lost the allegiance of the people and with it their control of the revolution. They managed to preclude this development by standing fast against the reforms but answering the demands of the peoplebasically by dispensing charity. That is, they subsidized the necessities that the people demandedstaples like heating and cooking oil, gasoline, tea, sugar.21 When the people demanded jobs, the clergy responded by appropriating monopolies from owners who had emigrated.22 Other enterprises, which had been abandoned as unprofitable once the shah had decamped, were appropriated. Enterprises in all areas became dumping grounds for the unemployed. Along with this the clergy raised the salaries of all civil servants,23 and they placed more of the unemployed on the government payroll. In this way many of the militia members became salaried servants of the state. Once the war began, additional militiamen signed on; this was the origin of the explosive growth of the Revolutionary Guards.24 Obviously there was a contradiction herehow was all this being funded? Since the clergy were not much interested in productivity, their state-run enterprises almost invariably operated at a loss. Further, within the enterprises, radicals who dominated their operation insisted on shop


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floor democracy; this alienated the former managers, touching off a pernicious brain drain as large numbers of the latter emigrated. Taking all this into account, one would have expected the Iranian economy to have collapsed. To be sure, Iran had oil with which to support itself, but oil prices began to slide in 1981. 25 Looking down the road, the clerics could not be sure of paying their way indefinitely with oil sales. Moreover, the wargoing full blast by this timeate up enormous sums of money for weapons. The U.S. embargo forced the Islamic Republic to buy arms on the black market, at exorbitant rates. The Islamic Republic still had options. The shah had left it well endowed with cash reserves, which the clerics had begun to draw upon. But here, too, the long-range prognosis was not good. When the Republican forces took power, reserves stood at roughly $13.5 billion. They had dropped to around $3 billion in 1982.26 Living off capital had its limits. The Islamic Republic might have borrowed the money it needed, but it had no credit rating. International banks would not lend to it unless the clerics put their house in order, which in effect meant dismantling the revolution. Unwilling or unable to make the accommodations that would reassure the banks, the clerics found themselves balked from this angle as well. By late 1981 the revolution had reached a critical impasse. In order to survive, the Islamic Republic had to find a major new source of funds. It could not do so internally, because the economy was stagnating under mismanagement. It could not look for funds outside the country as long as foreign banks refused to lend to it. If revenue from oil sales continued to plunge, ruin was inevitable; and in late 1981 improvement in the oil market was not foreseen.27 Not unnaturally, the prospect of resolving the Islamic Republics difficulties through conquest began to exert a great appeal. If the clerics could conquer Iraq, they could solve their problem on the backs of the Iraqis. The solution of acquiring needed funds through conquest was doubly appealing because the means to effect the conquest were availablein the people. The Revolutionary Guards, who had become the backbone of the resistance, had by now achieved an impressive number of victories. With the momentum of war so overwhelmingly in their favor, they were eager to carry the fight into Iraq, and had even begun to talk of conquering Jerusalem after they had finished off the Iraqis. At home, other militiamen had entrenched themselves in the war-based bureaucracy, running the various foundations for the families of martyrs and administering local welfare through the distribution of food coupons. They also monitored subversive elements, policing communities to spy out un-Islamic behavior. In other words, there was a ready-made constituency to support continuing the war. By turning Iran into a conquest state, popular mobilization was maintained and the destructive impulses of the people were channeled away

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


from the possessing classes and against the Iraqis. The clerics had finessed the problem of how to restructure Iranian societyonce conquered, Iraq would become a fertile field of colonization for Irans underclasses. Thus, starting in early 1982by which time the tide of battle had turned decisively in Irans favorvarious powerful figures of the government were calling for the conquest of Iraq. To be sure, the argument in favor of conquest was subtly posed. Rafsanjani, the speaker of the majlis, insisted that if the Bathists wanted peace, they must expect to pay reparations (the figure cited was $150 billion).28 Next it was decided that a mere promise of payment would not suffice. As there was no way to ensure that Baghdad would actually pay once the fighting had ceased, it would be prudent to seize territory in Iraq, to hold as a guarantee of restitution.29 Once the idea of actually seizing territory was mooted, the regime cast aside all restraintthe most extreme proposals began to be raised. Various clerics began calling for the establishment of an Islamic republic in southern Iraq, the Iraqi Shia enclave. It was proposed to hold a referendum among the Iraqi coreligionists on the question of setting up such a republic on the Iranian model.30 With the further passage of time, Irans conditions for ending the war became even more extreme. By mid-1982 the clerics were demanding reparations, the trial of Saddam as a war criminal, and the dismantling of the Bathist structure of government.31 At that point the Iraqis, who previously had been eager to negotiate,32 cut short further attempts to effect a cease-fire. In July 1982 they bombed Irans vital oil installation at Kharg Island. That apparently decided the Iranians to invade. On July 13 the Iranian forces swept across the border.

Skimming the Cream

It is the position of this study that the clerics kept control of the revolution by skimming off the activist element of the people. By setting up the war as a religious crusade, they successfully deflected the bolder spirits of the revolt. They directed them into Iraq while at home the cause of restructuring the economy languished. At the same time it cannot reasonably be held that the clergy co-opted the popular forces, because they were never entirely successful in this regard. The popular forces continued to grow and to develop their own separate identity apart from the control of the clergy. Ultimately they came to constitute a separate center of power in competition with the religious establishment. That this would happen was perceived by many within the revolutionary ranks. Mehdi Barzagan had complained about the unchecked proliferation of the popular komitehs, claiming that they appeared from nowhere, no one


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knew the pedigree. They were useful, he opined, to direct traffic, but how could they be permitted to appropriate the most crucial functions and institutions of the government?33 Bani Sadr, too, crossed swords with the popular militias. He tried to subdue them by developing his own private forces, which fought many pitched battles with the original komitehs; Bani Sadrs forces were thoroughly vanquished. Over the course of this study we will chronicle the rise of the popular forces as institutionalized in the Revolutionary Guard. Here we wish to underscore that the decision to invade Iraq was what launched the Guardsmen on their careeras they increasingly came to direct the conduct of the war, the clergy became more and more dependent on them. It is practically certain that not all the actors in the Iranian drama approved this strategy of expanding the war. But once the senior ayatollahs gave their assent, the die was cast. In July 1982 the ayatollahs, acting through their mosque networks, called for the absolute destruction of the Bathists, in effect mobilizing the Iranian people for the conquest. All who objected to this strategy were swept aside. Some of the regular army commanders did not believe that Iran possessed the resources to expand the war.34 The army, however, was still reeling from the shock of purges carried out by the clerics after they had taken power. It is estimated some 12,000 officers had been purged in two significant episodes; and many who had been cashiered cowered, in fear of being rearrested. To save their necks, the surviving officers could not press their case for caution. If the rank and file (the basij) had reservations, it is unlikely they could have expressed them, although at this stage it does appear that the lower classes enthusiastically supported carrying the war to Iraq. (At least this was the case with the youth of the lower classes.) Thus the momentum of the revolution was channeled with a great rush into a total war of conquest.


Before we look at how the initial invasion turned out, we need to consider one more matter: the regional involvement. Irans leaders have maintained that they were compelled to continue fighting because of specific hostile acts by the United States and the Arab states of the Gulf. Because this is an issue of some consequence, it needs to be addressed. In mid-June 1982, Rafsanjani declared that Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan were hatching plots against us.35 He cited as evidence the April visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to Amman and Riyadh, where, he maintained, Weinberger met secretly with Iraqs Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yasin Ramadan. The alleged combination of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


and the United States against Iran needs to be put in context. We should look at the situation of Iraq vis--vis the Gulf states, and at the Gulf states vis--vis the United States. As its war situation deteriorated, Iraq increasingly became dependent on the Gulf states for aid. In Chapter 4 we will look into this matter in detail; here, it suffices to state that without the financial support of the Gulf monarchs, Iraq could not have continued fighting. This was especially true after Syria closed its borders to Iraq (in February 1982), thus reducing its oil-exporting capacity to a relative trickle.36 Iran recognized that if the Gulf states were to withdraw aid, the conquest of the Iraqi enemy would be a forgone conclusion. Apparently acting on this awareness, the Iranian leaders began putting pressure on the monarchs to abandon Baghdad. Sometimes their admonitions were couched in the vein of friendly advice, appealing to them to realize that Baghdad was exploiting them.37 Sometimes they were baldly threatening, as when Khomeini himself spoke out. In June, Rafsanjani chided the Gulf states for behaving badly. He warned them that they must be prepared to live under Irans shadow.38 In May, Irans minister of labor issued a sterner warning to the Gulf states not to follow Mubarak, King Hussain, and Sultan Qabus; if they did, they could expect to end like Saddam. The Gulf monarchs should turn to Islam.39 In March, Khomeini said that he deemed it in the interest of the neighboring countries not to subject themselves to death and destruction in order to satisfy the ambitions of Saddam.40 All these statements can be read on two levels: as good advice and as thinly veiled threats. Along with this there had been a number of physical attacks. In October 1981 there occurred a series of armed aggressions against the Gulf states, all apparently the work of the Islamic Republic. On October 2, Iranian aircraft attacked Kuwaiti oil facilities; on October 6, an attempt was made by Islamic fundamentalists to seize the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia; and in December, Bahraini police uncovered a plot to overthrow the government, for which some seventy-three persons were arrested.41 With uncharacteristic boldness, Bahrain directly accused Tehran of being behind this plot and broke off diplomatic relations.42 Iran denied involvement in the Bahrain affair, and also in the Saudi mosque takeover. On the Kuwaiti incident, Iran did not comment. Nonetheless culpability could not be denied; Irans fingerprints are all over the affair. In the case of Bahrain, the leader of the Islamic Liberation Front of Bahrainbased in Tehranhad commented publicly just before the discovery of the plot that Bahrain is 100 percent ripe for an Islamic revolution (a comment that was disseminated to the Gulf over Tehran


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International Service).43 Immediately after the plotters were arrested, members of the Islamic Action Organization in Tehran besieged the Bahraini embassy, demanding that Bahrain release the people who had been detained.44 Andas we saw in Chapter 2on numerous occasions prominent Iranians had called for the annexation of Bahrain. In the case of Saudi Arabia, in January 1982 Tehran International Service commented that Iran was convinced of the need to topple the Saudi regime.45 And in February, Irans prime minister justified aggression against Saudi Arabia on the grounds that the Saudis were deliberately manipulating oil prices so that Iran could not compete: We wont have sufficient funds for development, nor to import spare parts from abroad.46 Kuwait of course was in Irans bad books not only for subsidizing Iraqs war effort but also for opening its port to the transshipment of war matriel for the Iraqis, most of it coming from the Soviet Union.47 Irans claim that the Gulf states and the United States were ganging up on it therefore does not stand up to scrutiny. There was at least as much aggression coming from the Iranian side. Ultimately the Gulf states were driven to react against Iran, their decision to form a military alliance coming as a direct response to the Bahrain incident. Within days after the discovery of this plot, Saudi Arabias interior minister visited the island and pledged to protect Bahrain against any aggressor.48 Subsequently four of the six states that ultimately formed the GCC made similar pledges, on the basis of which the military alliance was concluded. By itself the alliance known today as the GCC was virtually powerless, since the states neither individually nor collectively were capable of compelling Iran to do anything. But in practical terms all of the states had tiessome quite closeto the United States, and consequently, when the rulers appealed to Washington for protection, this considerably strengthened their position. During Secretary of Defense Weinbergers tour of the region, he pledged to protect them.49 This pledge takes on great importance when viewed in the context of the 1987 actions of the U.S. Navy in the Gulf (see Chapter 6). The Arab rulers of the Gulf were recasting the area state system without Iran. The rulers, because they had grown to mistrust Iran, were drawing a cordon sanitaire around it. Iran clearly had grounds to resent this, but was it unjustified that the Arab gulf states should attempt this basic realignment? Given Irans situation during this period, an argument can be made that the states of the lower Gulf were justified. As we have discussed, Iran was in the midst of a revolution, a basic aim of which was to establish its absolute

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


independence. It was bound to free itself from entanglements with either East or West in order to create its unique Islamic identity. Such a state was unlikely to be a team player, or even a good neighbor. To realize its ideal, Iran was bound to turn itself into an autarky, a point of which the Iranian leaders were awareseveral had stated publicly that this was precisely their goal.50 But an autarky, by definition, is not part of a systeman autarkic state is one that has foresworn cooperation, the essence of system activity. If it could not usefully become a member of the Gulf system, was Iran willing to opt out of it? No, since it wanted to dominate the system. Khomeini claimed, We will annex Iraq, and then the other states [of the Gulf] will be merged with us.51 This sort of thing had been said at other times by other Iranian leaders, but coming from Khomeini, it had the weight of official policy. There was another aspect of Irans scheme that put it at odds with the system: its insistence on driving the United States out of the region. With the exception of Iraqand of course Iranall the Gulf states were heavily dependent on the United States. Not only were they politically allied, they had strong economic links as well. The Iranians demand that the Gulf states break off ties to Washington was tantamount to asking them to surrender power to the fundamentalists. Even as Irans internal society was badly conflicted, so in the Gulf it faced a daunting contradictionIran could not stay inside the Gulf system without moderating its revolutionary stancethe other Gulf states would not allow itand it could not stand outside the system and surviveits economy was too weak. Hence the decision to invade must be seen as a bid for hegemony over the entire region. Irans decision had the effect of putting it on a war footing with its Gulf neighbors. This was not widely recognized at the time, but it was nonetheless true.


The first battle of Irans 1982 invasion took place in an area that formed a hinge connecting Iraqs Third and Seventh Corps, the sharp right angle that the border forms closest to Basrah. It is worth describing in some detail because eventually it became the burial ground of Irans revolution, the scene of the decisive Karbala V battle. On the sands of this bloody wedge were fought battles as desperate and costly as Gettysburg or Antietam in the American Civil War, or the Marne and Ypres in World War I. Aware that this was the likeliest area of an Iranian invasion attempt, the Iraqis had created a man-made lake to cover most of the sector. This body of water, known as Fish Lake, spreads over a broad expanse of the border


The Iran-Iraq War

and reaches almost to the Shatt al Arab. In the twelve-kilometer (7.2-mile) corridor between Fish Lake and the Shatt, the Iraqis were heavily dug in. Had Irans troops overrun the defenders in this narrow section, they might then have crossed the Shatt and then been only seven or eight kilometers (about five miles) from Basrah. It was widely accepted that the Bathists could not survive once Basrah was taken. Attacking on July 13, the Iranians initially encountered little resistance. They therefore drove some distance over the border, only to be jolted by a stiff Iraqi counterattack that pushed them back to Fish Lake, where the initial assault fell apart. The Iranians regrouped, and on July 16 they tried again. Again the Iraqis allowed them to advance before hitting them on their flanks. By July 17 the Iranians had been pushed once more to their original line. It was a unique feature of these initial engagements that relatively large numbers of Iranians were taken prisoner. This heartened the Iraqis, for in the past the Iranians had died rather than surrender. Iran tried further attacks on July 21 and 23; these, too, were beaten back with severe losses. On July 28, 40,000 Iranian irregular troops took part in a final futile assault, after which Iraq launched a massive counterattack, driving the Iranians back one final time across the border. After a week of fighting in the scorching heat, both sides were too exhausted to continue. In the end, Iran held a small piece of Iraqi territory, but it had paid a terrible price. Iraq claimed that some 27,000 Iranians had been killed. Iraqs loss in dead was about 5,000. The shocking reversal of its fortunes had a particularly unfortunate result for Iranit intensified disagreements that had been festering within the Iranian general staff between the Revolutionary Guard and regular army commanders. We will defer discussion of this for a bit. Here, we will concentrate our critique on the performance of the Iraqis.

In general, observers of the war have found the outcome of Irans invasion dismaying. The two sides appeared to have undergone role reversals. In the months leading up to this battle, the Iranians had seemed invincible; the Iraqis, incapable of stopping them. Yet they had stopped them. Displaying uncharacteristic coolness and tenacity under fire, Iraqs troops had held their ground against the Iranians furious charges and had thrown them back, decisively. So resoundingly had the Iraqis stopped the assaults that the Iranians did not recover for months. It was widely believed that the Iraqis owed their victory to having to defend their own soil. The Iraqi fighting man is ready to die on his own ground but not in alien lands. This may have been a factor. But the reversal was not merely a matter of subjective will.

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


Senior Arab officers friendly to Iraq had expressed strong criticisms of the Iraqi invasion of Iran; they regarded the army as defective in many important respects.52 Many of the Iraqi officers, they declared, were plainly incompetent. They also faulted the operation of Iraqi intelligence. Indeed, they maintained that there was no discernible method to the Iraqis intelligence gathering. Further, Saddam was faulted by the Arab officers, albeit indirectly. They declared that no good purpose had been served by his repeated intervention in the fighting. It was wrong, they opined, for Saddam to have ordered his troops to dig in during the winter of 1980; this had condemned the army to a long, wasteful interval of virtual inactivity in which its morale was sapped. Also, it was wrong to have repeatedly offered to exchange territory for peace. Iraqi troops were dying for these bits of territory and were confused when their leader offered to hand them back to Tehran. Whether the Arab officers critiques was acted upon, we do not know; but just before the Iranian invasion, sweeping changes were made in the Iraqi forces. Many officers regarded as Bathist hacks were cashiered, and some, it was rumored, were executed. More able officers were promoted in their places. This move reportedly strengthened morale, demonstrating to younger commanders that they could advance by merit instead of political pull. Further, the command laid on an extraordinary military buildup. Five divisions totaling 70,000 men were assembled, plus 30,000 more in reserve. This was the largest force that Iraq had fielded for a single campaign. In addition, impressive fortifications were erected outside Basrah. The southern port city was breasted by a series of earthen berms and concrete bunkers that ultimately were dubbed the iron ring. The buildup of Basrahs defenses, along with the overhaul of the armys command structure, underscored the regimes determination to put up a fight. Contrary to what the Iranians may have believed, it was not caving in; it had not fallen into disarray. By every possible means the regime sought to convey the message that it would resist the coming invasion to the death. Perhaps this, more than anything, determined the outcome. Whereas before, the Iraqi commanders had been enjoined to avoid casualties, now they were told to fight to the last man. It is also worth noting the action of the Iraqi leadership on the home front, as this probably contributed to the eventual outcome of the invasion as much as anything.


In June 1982, Saddam called a congress of the Bath Party. This in itself was extraordinary. The partys bylaws mandate that a congress be held


The Iran-Iraq War

every five years, but there had not been one since 1975. Indeed, one of the controversies surrounding the party revolt of 1979 had been the failure of the Bathists to meet (see Chapter 1). By calling a congress just before Irans invasion, Saddam obviously sought an endorsement of his leadership, it being unlikely the party leaders would repudiate him in a moment of national crisis. This would have sent a most disturbing signal to the Iraqi people, and probably would have destroyed public morale. At the congress the leaders voted to support the presidents war policy. In concrete terms, they assented to a shakeup in the party structure that favored the president.53 They dropped several leaders of questionable loyalty from the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), Iraqs supreme governing body, and they created a new tier of leadership. Seven junior Bathist leaders assumed the newly created posts of presidential counselor. The RCC empowered these newly elected counselors to sit in on its meetings and, although they could not vote, to take part in its debates. Saddam could take encouragement from the fact that all of the counselors were his men, but this alone was not what distinguished them. Practically all were seasoned bureaucrats who had exercised authority in troubled areas during periods of crisis. With one exception, they were all regional bosses during the period of severe internal strife in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mohammad Hamzah, for example, had been the boss of the southern region, the scene of Dawa-inspired unrest in Basrah that he 4 had curbed with exceptional ruthlessness.54 It is also worth noting that six of the seven men elevated as presidential counselors were Shias. This was an effective way of offsetting Iranian propaganda to the effect that the Shias of Iraq were a discriminated-against majority. All of the foregoing could be said to have benefited Saddam by easing his task of providing leadership. To stand up to repeated Iranian invasions, the regime needed to be assured that its home front would hold together. There are two ways of ensuring this: by inspiring the populace with patriotic appeals or by cowing them with draconian discipline. The Bathists used both methods. And the principal agents of discipline were the party apparatchiksmen like Hamzahwho carried out RCC directives to the letter. At the same time senior party leaders were not completely deferential to Saddams wishes. At the congress, they managed to win a say in formulating strategy. This conclusion emerges from a careful reading of the congresss final report. The text emphasizes that the RCC is the primary decision-making organ of the government and that, within it, decisions are made by consensus. The top party bosses appear to have taken advantage of this quasi-

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


public forum to reassert the primacy of the party over all other institutions in Iraq, including the presidencya way of reminding Saddam that he was merely first among equals. He was not to make policy on his own. In insisting on this, the bosses were in effect resurrecting the old democracy in the party issue, discussed in Chapter 2. The point has particular significance, given the widely held belief that Saddam rules Iraq as an autocrat. A point that we want to make hereand will expand on lateris that Saddam, unlike the shah, has a base of power in the Bath Party that he must take care of. One last pointthe bosses activity underscores the difference in approaches to waging war of the opposing camps. In Iran, the clerics had emphasized mobilizing popular support for the conflict. In Iraq, the leaders sought to maintain popular commitment by strengthening the party. By their actions the Bath leaders showed that they expected the party rank and file to impose discipline on the people. The contrast in styles between Iran and Iraq could not have been more telling. The party is Saddams constituency. He can ignore it when things are going well. In times of peril, he dares not do so.

In this chapter we have tried to show that the actual mobilization of the Iranian people began in the early twentieth century with the rise of Reza Khan, and was advanced by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. That mobilization, getting out of control, erupted in the popular insurrection we have come to style the Islamic Revolution. The clerics were able to ride this current of popular assertion. In our view, however, it was their inability to resolve basic contradictions within the revolution that led them to invade Iraq, whereby it was hoped all outstanding problems of the revolution would be resolved through conquest.

1. Cheryl Benard and Zalmay Khalilza, The Government of GodIrans Islamic Republic (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), p. 12. 2. Ibid., p. 203, fn. 16. 3. For a roundup of labor actions, see Setareh Karimi, Economic Policies and Structural Changes Since the Revolution, in Nikki R. Keddie, ed., The Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1980), p. 44. 4. See Shahrough Akhavi, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), pp. 2359.


The Iran-Iraq War

5. Ibid., p. 37. 6. Complications in how these figures were recorded make them less serviceable. The atabat is not counted in this estimate. 7. See Akhavi, Religion and Politics, p. 187, Table 1. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid., p. 41. 10. Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs (New York: Basic Books, 1984), p. 25. 11. For a fuller discussion of this point, see Reinhold Loeffler, Economic Changes in a Rural Area Since 1979, in Nikki R. Keddie, ed., The Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1980), pp. 93107. 12. There is some difference of opinion over just how radical this book was; excerpts from it appear in Hamid Algar, Islam and Revolution (Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1981), p. 169. Benard and Khalilza, The Government of God, p. 37, quotes various authorities to show it was fairly tame, if not a defense of the monarchy. 13. Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs, pp. 2728. 14. Ibid., p. 28. 15. For a discussion of Sadrs economic ideas, see ibid., p. 172. 16. Ibid., p. 38, discusses the change in Khomeinis views on social welfare while in Iraq. 17. We must remember that Iran, at this time primarily a rural society, was heavily influenced by the oral tradition. 18. For a comparison of the komitehs and the French sections organized by the sansculottes, see Albert Saboul, The Sans Culottes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980). See also Albert Saboul, Understanding the French Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1988). For a comparison with the Russian soviets, see Rex Wade, Red Guards and Workers Militias in the Russian Revolution (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984). 19. For an excellent discussion of the importance of the komitehs, see Shahrough Arkhavi, The Power Structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Shireen Hunter, ed., Internal Developments in Iran, Center for Strategic International Studies Significant Issues Series, vol. VII, no. 3 (Washington, DC: CSIS, 1985). 20. For comparison, see Saboul on the role of the red priests in the French revolution, in his Understanding the French Revolution. 21. See Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs, ch. 8. 22. The clergy could do this, even though technically it was a crime against property. It enhanced the power of the state, largely because their coalition partners, the bazaaris, urged such takeovers. The bazaaris, as smallholders, were absolutely opposed to the large industrial monopolies that the shah had promoted. 23. See (QER), Iran, no. 4 (1981). 24. The Guards commenced in 1979 with only around 12,000 members; they rose to over 350,000 by the end of the war. 25. Prices began dropping from their high of $40 a barrel to below $30. Ultimately they bottomed out at below $10. 26. QER, Iran, no. 1 (1982), first quarter.

Why Iran Invaded Iraq


27. Not only was there a worldwide recession in 1981, but non-OPEC oil producers had upped their output, causing a relative oil glut. And because of previous high prices, the West was actively searching for oil substitutes in this period and conservation was widely practiced. 28. IRNA, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, June 4, 1982. 29. Rafsanjani quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, June 27, 1982. 30. At this time the Iranians were still convinced that they enjoyed great support among their Iraqi coreligionists. 31. The clerics held to this set of demands throughout the war. 32. According to FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, June 10, 1982, Iraq offered to submit the dispute to arbitration by either the United Nations or the Islamic Council. 33. Tehran Domestic, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, February 28, 1979. 34. The regulars never abandoned this position. 35. Ettelaat, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, June 27, 1982. 36. Throughput on this line was never large, about 30 million barrels/day, but at this stage Iraq needed to sell every barrel it could. 37. Tehran Domestic Service broadcast an appeal to the Gulf states to act peacefully toward a country [Iran] that extends the hand of brotherhood to them. FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, April 1, 1982. 38. Ettelaat, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, January 27, 1982. 39. Tehran Domestic Service, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, May 12, 1982. 40. Reported by Tehran Domestic Service, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, April 1, 1982. 41. At this time, President Sadat was assassinated in Cairo, an act also attributed to influence of the Islamic Revolution. 42. Manama Wakh, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, January 23, 1982. 43. This group resurfaced prominently during the Al Faw seizure in 1986. 44. Akhbar al Khalij, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, December 15, 1981. 45. Quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, January 27, 1982. 46. Quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, February 18, 1982. 47. War in the Persian Gulf: The U.S. Takes Sides, a staff report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987), p. 41. 48. Manama Wakh, quoted in FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, January 23, 1982. 49. He is also supposed to have met secretly at this time with Iraqi officials.


The Iran-Iraq War

50. Bakhash, Reign of the Ayatollahs, discusses Bani Sadrs views on this point in considerable detail. 51. FBIS Daily Report, Near East and South Asia, June 22, 1982. 52. Anthony Cordesman, Lessons of the Iran-Iraq War: The First Round, Armed Forces Journal, April 1982. 53. The membership of the Revolutionary Command Council was cut from twenty-one to nine members. 54. See Amazia Baram, Ruling Political Elite in Bathi Iraq, 19681986: The Changing Features of a Collective Profile (forthcoming), p. 17, table 4.

The Static Defense Phase

In this chapter we look at the static defense phase of the war. The title conveys the impression that not much went on in this interval. In fact, the period was immensely busy, with each side frantically trying to gain an advantage over the other and, in the case of Iraq, trying to acquire the resources to carry on the fight. Iraq had never planned on fighting a total war, which is what Iran was trying to wage against it. It therefore had to shore up its economy, mobilize additional troops, and find ever more weapons. The Iraqis performed these operations fairly well. A great deal of their success came from their having worked out a modus vivendi with the Americans, which, probably more than anything else, enabled them to remain a contender in the war. The closure of the pipeline through Syria in the spring of 1982 threw Iraqs economy into disarray. Until this happened, its financial position, albeit shaky, was not dire. Before the closure, Baghdad was exporting about 1.3 million barrels a day. Afterward exports dropped to less than 700,000 barrels, barely enough to run the country, let alone finance the war. Syrias motive in closing the line was almost certainly mercenary. The Iranians offered a lucrative deal, supplying Damascus with 180,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for Syrian goods. Of this total, Syria processed about 70,000 barrels in its refineries for reexport to Iran. The remaining 110,000 barrels were for its own domestic requirements.1 There was another inducement for Syria to cut the lineAssad hoped, by discommoding Iraq, to force Saddam from power; he had never forgiven the Iraqi


The Iran-Iraq War

leader for taking Iraq out of the Arab-Israeli conflict by tying his countrys future to the Gulf.2 Because of the cutoff Iraq had to borrow, initially from its Arab allies. The Gulf monarchs, who until 1982 had been relatively forthcoming in their assistance, now were put on notice that aid must continue. Consequently, in 1982 Saudi Arabia dispensed $2.5 billion to the Iraqis; Kuwait, $2 billion; the UAE, $750 million; and Qatar, $250 million.3 The bulk of this was direct aid, along with which the Gulf states sold a portion of their own oil on behalf of the Iraqis. The Gulf states had no alternative but to give aid. Once they had rejected Irans ultimatum to renounce their alliances with Baghdad, they became Irans enemies. The Gulf rulers could expect no mercy from the clerics were Iraq to be defeated. Still, with all the funds the Gulf states had poured into Iraq (estimated through 1982 at over $20 billion),4 the Bathists desperate need for aid was not assuaged. Iraq was fighting a particularly costly kind of warit overcame Irans vastly superior manpower with firepower from sophisticated weaponry purchased from France and the USSR, from Brazil and the Eastern bloc, and from wherever the Iraqis could find serviceable equipment. Hence it was not long before Iraq was having to borrow from the Europeans. To go hat in hand to the European banks was, for the Iraqis, a tremendous comedown. Like Iran, Iraq had aimed at achieving financial independence, which before the war it was certainly possible to do, especially sinceuntil just before the warits financial policies had been restrained to the point of frugality. To become indebted to the West meant putting the country in thrall to the imperialists. For a self-styled revolutionary society this was anathema. Nonetheless, in 1982 Iraq appealed for direct loans from banks primarily in Europe. And it followed this maneuver with another, less direct borrowing scheme. Baghdad informed the various foreign companies that had obtained development contracts inside Iraq that henceforth they must seek credit from their home governments.5 In effect, the governments were being asked to pay their companies to develop Iraq, against the day when the war ended and Iraq could make good the credits. All these deviousand in some cases extortionateborrowing schemes helped Iraq stay afloat financially but did not solve the long-term crucial problem of how to survive the war. Ultimately Iraqs credit would wear thin; the Europeansand even its Arab allieswere unlikely to go on bankrolling it forever. All it would take would be one resounding military defeat for the worlds leadersand lendersto write it off. Stripped of international support, the Bathists could not possibly survive. With this prospect in mind, they sought alternative means to export their oil. As of late 1982 they were reduced to a single pipeline through

The Static Defense Phase


Turkey, plus a relative trickle of oil trucked to market by way of Jordans port of Aqaba. Baghdad commissioned a second pipeline through Turkey, to run roughly parallel to the first. That line, when completed, would raise Iraqs overall oil-exporting capability to 1 million barrels a day (in addition to the oil moving through Aqaba). The second Turkish line, however, would not be operational until sometime after 1984. In the meantime, the Iraqis facilitated the flow of oil through the existing Turkish line by means of chemicals, which produced a slight gain in revenue. Iraqs main aim, however, was to get permission from the Saudis for a wholly new line carrying Iraqi oil to the Red Sea terminal at Yanbu. The International Petroleum Saudi ArabiaI (IPSA-I) project had been mooted in the past but never acted upon.6 The major risk for the Saudis in agreeing to it was the certainty of arousing Irans ire. Iran had threatened repeatedly that it would take action were Saudi aid to Iraq to surpass an acceptable level. Nevertheless, Iraqs position had grown so perilous that the Saudis were hard pressed to keep refusing. They gave their assent in principle for Iraq to tap into Petroline,7 and agreed to consider expanding the line at some later date. A decision on building a new line, which Iraq very much wanted, was not considered. All this may sound terribly vague, but at least the Iraqis had induced the Saudis to state publicly that they were considering the matter. The Bathists also began negotiations with the Jordanians to reopen an already built, but long disused, line that debouched at Aqaba (we will discuss this in Chapter 5 when we look at Israeli involvement in the war). Although willing to prop up the Iraqis, the Gulf states balked at giving them open-ended assistance; they refused to back what they perceived to be their lavish life-style. The Bathists had been set to host the Seventh NonAligned Conference in 1982, and in line with this were working feverishly to make their capital a showcase. A number of five-star hotels were being built; work had commenced on an underground rapid transportation system and a new international airport. Under pressure from the Arab states, the Iraqis scrapped the underground transit. For the rest, austerity came slowly to Iraq. Although a number of costly projects were discontinued, throughout 1982 and into 1983 the Bathists remained committed to a policy of guns and butter. Rather than slam the brakes on their economy, they assigned their toughest minister, Taha Yasin Ramadan, the job of pruning it; he was able by shrewd management to mitigate the pain of severe cutbacks. Ramadan kept imports for key industries and essential consumer items flowing into the country, but made cuts elsewhere that improved matters somewhat.8 From their vantage on the battleline, the Iranians watched Iraqs floundering with unconcealed delight. The Bathists could not disguise their difficulty. Their many borrowing trips overseas, their exhortations to the


The Iran-Iraq War

public to conserve, and the gloomy conjecturing about Iraqs financial future appearing regularly now in the Western pressall testified to Iraqs distress. Iran, on the other hand, had begun to recover from its bad period in the first years of the war. This was due to a combination of factors, some quite fortuitous. For example, the clerics antipathy to modernization, in full force just before the war, had turned the Iranian people away from the consumerist life-style that the shah had promoted, making it easier for the regime to cut back imports that would have fueled inflation. To be sure, Iran did not get by merely by beggaring its population. Through its navy it controlled the Gulf, the easiest and most economical route for transporting its oil. Throughout 1983 it moved oil through the waterway without hindrance; Iraq did not begin its attacks on Gulf shipping in earnest until 1984. And, most surprising of all, Irans foreign reserve position actually improved in 1983, after having fallen to a low of $3 billion the previous year. Iraqs position, on the other hand, saw no improvement. Since it would not renounce its policy of guns and butter, it could not enhance its debt position; it lived off its capital, with cash reserves in 1982 reckoned at around $6 billion, down from $35 billion before the war.9 Iran improved its financial position in the teeth of a worldwide recession, during which the price of oil had sagged in 1981 to $31.71 a barrel from $36.71. Effectively, what it did was defy its OPEC partners, becoming a pirate in the OPEC lake;10 it discounted prices shamelessly. In early 1982 Irans oil sold for $30.20 a barrel, almost $2 below OPECs quoted price. In addition, Iran regularly surpassed its OPEC quota. Under OPEC rules, it was allotted 1.2 million barrels/day. In 1982 it produced sometimes as much as 2.3 million barrels /day, and publicly stated that it would go as high as 2.5 million barrels. When, in OPECs councils, the Gulf statesmainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwaitreproached the Iranians for their flagrant breach of OPEC discipline, Irans oil minister scoffed. Iran had convinced itself that Saudi Arabia would play the swing producer no matter what. As the clerics construed it, Riyadh would have to compensate by cutting its own production. If it did not, OPECs price structureand hence OPECwould collapse.11 In 19821983 Tehrans self-interested assessment of how the politics of oil would play proved out. By the end of 1982, it had begun to relax about its finances. Thus, by late 1983, the situations of the belligerents were tending in opposite directions. Iraq was barely holding its head above water; Iran was making headway against the current. It should not surprise us, therefore, that Iran, despite the sharp setback it had suffered militarily in 1982, was set to step up its aggression; it would not entertain a thought of negotiation. The problem for it, however, was how to proceed.

The Static Defense Phase



Irans clerics were determined to raise another large army with which to accomplish their military objective of seizing Basrah. However, the necessary forces could not be mobilized before a year had passed. This was because the regime had run out of volunteers; it would have to turn to conscription, for which there was no system in place. At this juncture it did not appear that the public would react favorably to a move to initiate the draft. The heavy losses experienced in the last major offensive had turned many off the war.12 There was another complication: Irans regular army officers opposed the idea of mass offensives. They felt that they were wasteful and could not possibly bring about the end of the war.13 Instead, the officers put forth a plan of their own.

The War of Attrition

The officers argued that since another major assault was temporarily impracticable, Tehran should switch to a war of attrition with multiple attacks along the entire 730-mile (1,168-kilometer) international border. Participating in these would be the Revolutionary Guards, basij, and regulars, with the regulars staging and directing the operations. As planned, the attacks would begin with an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan. The area was considered ideal, inasmuch as the Baghdad government (as discussed in Chapter 1) enjoyed scant support among the Kurds. Moreover, the Iranians had assets they could employ in this area. The Barzanis, the shahs allies in the mid-1970s campaign against Iraq, were already carrying out fedayeen raids into Iraqi Kurdistan. (It was Khomeinis decision to resume subsidizing the Barzanis that had so angered Baghdad, and was a factor influencing its determination to go to war.) The regular officers idea was to use the Barzanis as a spearhead of their invasion. The clerics decided to go along with the officers scheme. Indeed, given the fact that there was no possibility of mounting another large offensive for at least a year, they had little choice. There was a complication, however: Before the Iranians could launch such an invasion, they had to suppress an Iranian Kurdish rebellion in their own northwest province of Kurdistan.14 Over 20 million Kurds inhabit the Middle East. A distinct people, they are physically separated by borders drawn through the area that they regard as their homeland. Just as the Kurds of Iraq were at this time fighting the government of Baghdad, so were the Kurds of Iran fighting Tehran (and the Kurds of Turkey were active against Ankara). Even before Khomeini came to power, the Iranian Kurds had revolted against the shah. They greeted Khomeinis assumption of power with mis-


The Iran-Iraq War

trust. They supported him initially but fell afoul of his regime in a dispute over profiteering from wheat sales. The Kurds are wheat growers, and in an attempt to raise their profits, they had for a time withheld their crop from the market. Khomeini sent Revolutionary Guards into their area to requisition it. Out of this disagreement a full-fledged revolt developed, headed by a local Kurdish notable, Abdur Rahman Qasemlu, head of the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party (no relation to Barzanis KDP).15 For a time, Qasemlu and Khomeini parleyed and it looked as though an autonomy agreement might be reached, then Khomeini abruptly aborted the discussions and sent the Revolutionary Guards into the northwest to crush the rebellion.16 The Kurds fought back and, as of the spring of 1983, held most of the territory around Mahabad and Lake Urumiyah.17 Moreover, the Iranian Kurds had begun receiving aid from Saddam. It was these holdout forces in northwestern Iran that the clerics would have to get rid of before they could attack Iraqi Kurdistan. We should not be surprised that the Barzanis would fight their Iranian brothers. The Kurds are essentially a tribal people whose primary loyalty is to their land. The Iranians were offering the Barzanis a chance to regain territory in Iraq in return for wiping out the Iranian Kurdish revolt. The Barzanis found it not at all difficult to go along with such a proposition.18 In the spring of 1983 a combination of Revolutionary Guards and Barzanis drove the Qasemlu forces out of northwestern Iran and into exile in Iraq, where they were welcomed by the Bathists.

Haj Umran
The attack on Iraqi Kurdistan began in July 1983 at Haj Umran, a frontier post in the triangle where the Turkish, Iraqi, and Iranian borders join. A pass here cuts through the Zagros Mountains to Rawenduz. The Iranians aim was to force their way through to Rawenduz, which would enable them to command the strategic foothills overlooking Mosul. The Iraqis, however, after considerable hard fighting, succeeded in bottling them up in the pass. Ultimately the battle of Haj Umran revolved around who possessed one of several high peaks in the area. The peak, over 10,000 feet high, changed hands several times, and at one point the Iraqis conducted an airborne assault to drive the Iranians off it. In the end the Iraqis were successful in holding on to most of their territory;19 they lost a sliver of land around Haj Umran, about which we will have more to say. The Iranians went on, according to their strategy, to mount another attack a few days later at Mehran, still in Iraqi Kurdistan but farther south. Here, too, the Iraqis successfully confronted the invaders.20 Several days later, another penetration occurred at Penjwin, in the southernmost portion of Iraqi Kurdistan.21 This time, Popular Army

The Static Defense Phase



troops garrisoning the town fledafter they had dynamited a large area of it. The Iranians pressed on to seize the heights overlooking Penjwin. This presented the Iraqis with a critical situation. From Penjwin the Iranians could move on to Chwarta, and from there it was only a short distance to the major Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulamaniyah. Beyond Sulamaniyah lay the rich oil fields of Kirkuk.22


The Iran-Iraq War

Operating in the area of Penjwin at this time were Kurdish guerrillas commanded by Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The Iranian invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan confronted Talabani with a difficult dilemma. Like Barzani, he opposed Baghdad. However, Talabani, who had once been chief lieutenant of the deceased Mulla Mustafa Barzani, subsequently had left the KDP to form the PUK group; the PUK and KDP were enemies. (In the process of abandoning Mulla Mustafa, Talabani had for a brief time turned renegade, going over to the side of Baghdad.)23 Further, Talabani and the clerics were estranged, as a consequence of which the clerics had not included him in their Kurdish strategy. Talabani remained on the sidelines until the fighting entered his area, at which point he warned the Iranians not to intrude. When the Iranians ignored his warning, Talabani fought them. At this point Saddam, sensing that he could exploit this for his purposes, made an overture to Talabani. If the Kurdish leader would throw in his lot with Baghdad, Saddam would make it worth his while.24 A deal was struck that included a promise by Saddam to negotiate an autonomy agreement for Iraqs 2.5 million Kurds; Talabani personally received arms and financial support from the Bathists; and Baghdad agreed to discontinue drafting Kurds into the army. With this deal concluded, Talabani went over to the side of Baghdad, and the Bathists and the PUK drove the Iranians out of northern Iraq.

We regard the Iranians Kurdish adventure as a potentially worthwhile opportunity that, unfortunately for them, came to nothing. This was not because of what actually went on during this phase; in this regard the affair was quite successful. The repeated incursions along the border kept up pressure on the Iraqis, who were run ragged by it. The difficulty was that the Iranians were never able to exploit their gains in the north. And this was the case because of a blunder they made in dealing with their principal surrogate, Barzani. The clerics, as mentioned, had succeeded in holding on to Haj Umran. With a great deal of fanfare, they handed it over to a group called the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, made up predominantly of exiled Iraqi Shias. Barzani, who had been primarily responsible for Irans victory at Haj Umran, was furious. He had expected to get whatever territory was gained; after all, this was his tribal land. In disgust, he refused to assist the Iranians further.25 Thus, when the Iranians and PUK forces clashed, the Iranians were severely disadvantaged. With Barzani on their side they probably would have done a good deal better than they did.

The Static Defense Phase


Talabani later fell out with Baghdad, as might have been expected. The clerics, however, did not try to co-opt him, which meant that the whole southern area of Iraqi KurdistanTalabanis territorywas virtually off limits to them. Plus, Barzaniwho continued to nurse a grudge against Tehrantook a step that was to have far-reaching adverse consequences for the Iranians.


Barzani realized after Haj Umran that he would have little freedom of action as long as he depended exclusively on Tehran for support. In late 1983 he therefore betook himself to Syria to court Syrian President Hafez Assad. Barzani wanted Assad to become his protector, in that way hoping to be able to play Damascus off against Tehran and gain some room to maneuver. Assad at the time was embroiled in a dispute with Turkey over Ankaras scheme to build a major hydroelectric project on the Euphrates River, which would drain water from Syria. Assad believed that he could use the Barzanis against the Turks, or at least he could do so indirectly. Sometime prior to Barzanis appearance in Damascus, Assad had taken under his wing a group of Turkish Kurdish resistance fighters, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The PKK based itself in Damascus because it had been unable to establish a presence in Turkey. Assad proposed to Barzani that he allow the PKK militants to set up camp inside his enclave on the Turkish border. This would enable them to move into Turkey, where they would foment rebellion among Turkeys 10 million Kurds. In return for assisting the PKK, Barzani would receive arms and financial support from Damascus. Barzani agreed, and a relatively short time afterward, in October 1984, the PKK carried out its first fedayeen operation inside Turkey with raids at Semdinli and Uhruh.26 The Turksas might be imaginedwere furious, and responded by negotiating a covert agreement with Baghdad whereby they took over policing the border, thus freeing the Iraqis to confront Iranian forces on the southern front. Periodically after this, whenever Barzanis group acted up, the Turks would sweep into northern Iraq to attack them.27 This decision of the Turks to assist Iraq in maintaining order in the north killed whatever hope Iran might have had of opening a second front there. This was a quite significant setback, because a second front in the north would certainly have harmed the Iraqis. At this point, they had not mobilized sufficient forces to fight in two separate regions, although they were in the process of doing so. On top of this reverse, there were other disturbing consequences of the Kurdistan misadventure. With the Kurdish front no longer tenable, the


The Iran-Iraq War

Iranians were left with no option but to resume large-scale offensives against Basrah. As we have seen, the regular army disapproved of these operations. The Revolutionary Guards approved of them 100 percent.28 Thus the rivalry between the two received a new impetus. The Iranians could ill afford to have their two foremost fighting services at each others throats. They needed both, particularly the regulars. The regulars were disciplined, and they had martial skills that the Iranians required to offset the growing professionalism of the Iraqis. Instead of getting the Guards and regulars togetherand in effect knocking sense into them, forcing them to behavethe clerics threw their support behind the Guards, giving them whatever resources they required to go all out with their Basrah campaign. The regulars sulked. They retreated into the background, and although initially they continued to provide support to the Guards, they subsided more and more. Until finally, it was debatable whether they could really be said to be carrying on the war at all. That was one major adverse effect of Irans decision to return to what we have come to think of as its big bang strategy, the idea that they could get the war over at a stroke, simply by smashing through the defenses around Basrah. There was another, in many ways more pernicious, effect for the Iranians of their decision. By going all out for Basrah, they gave the Iraqis a badly needed respite. We have already noted that the campaigning in Kurdistan had run the Iraqis ragged; now, however, they were about to get relief because the Iranians, in order to mount their mammoth offensive, had to undertake a significant mobilization. Moreover, the respite that the Iraqis gained was not a one-time advantage. Once the Iranians decided to make Basrah their focus, it was then the case that each yearevery yearthe Iraqis enjoyed an interval of peace in which they could build up their forces. This came about because the offensives were spectacular events. A lot of preparatory work had to be done before they could be operationalized. Local mullahs had to enjoin the faithful to sign up for them. The volunteers had to be trucked to the front. At the front they had to be organized into mobilization corps and placed in huge holding areas where the Revolutionary Guards would requisition them. They had to be assigned to new units and trained at least rudimentarily. They had to be taken to their frontline areas. And, finally, they had to be hurled at the enemy. Those basij who survived had to be demobilized, trucked back home, and allowed to return to civilian life. At this point in the war the Iranians were not requiring the basij to serve more than one tour of duty.29 The following year the whole undertaking had to be gotten up again, from scratch. As it worked out, the only time that the Iranian side really fought was between January and roughly April, the rainy season,30 when the offensives

The Static Defense Phase


were staged. The rest of the year virtually nothing happened on the war front, unless the Iraqis initiated it. We believe that this changed pattern of the war was primarily responsible for keeping the Iraqis in the conflict.31 Not only did they use the leisureif we can call it thatto enroll large numbers of new fighters, they also embarked on an extraordinary program of extending their road network the length of the border, which enabled them to relieve units under pressure. In effect, thenfrom a military standpointthis period allowed the Iraqis to innovate solutions to their major problems: the facts that the Iranians outnumbered them three to one, and that the Iranian forces were very highly motivated (one is tempted to use the word fanatical). Calling up large numbers of new recruits enabled the Iraqis at least to match the Iranians in sheer numbers. Building a major road network allowed them to move troops around swiftly, which offset the Iranians advantage in pressing the attack. At the same time, however, until the new troops could be integrated into the army,32 and until the road network could be completed, the Iraqis needed to find a way to continue holding off the attackers. This brings us to the controversial issue of gas.

The Iranians announced in late 1983 that they were set to resume attacks on Basrah at the beginning of 1984. As they frequently did throughout the war, they raised a storm of publicity and made many intemperate boasts about the feats that they intended to perform.33 If one could believe them, in the coming year they would set the whole Middle East on fire. The Iraqis responded intemperately. General Abdul Maher al Rashid, a notorious loudmouth, boasted that if the Iranians came, We have the insecticide for them. Rashid quite obviously was referring to gas. The Iraqis had been experimenting with gas ever since the war started, or at least since the 1982 defense of Basrah. There is slight evidence that they used it in 1982, but it is not clear exactly what type of gas this was. If it was used, it was probably some sort of crowd control agent, not a lethal variety. They used it again at Haj Umran, and that turned into a fiasco. Apparently they were not aware that gas would settle. They dropped it on the peak while Iranians were installed there and it floated into the valley, gassing Iraqi troops. They may also have used it at Penjwin. In these latter instances the gas most likely used was mustard gas, the chemical with which the Iraqis became associated. In any event, Rashids boast put the world on notice that in the next campaign the Iraqis would resort to chemicals. Irans next major offensive against Basrah occurred in February 1984.


The Iran-Iraq War

This time, unlike their previous attempts, the Iranians did not make a direct frontal assault against the city. Thousands of Iranians infiltrated the Hawizah Marshes north of Basrah in small boats, then landed on the morning of February 22, at a place called Beida. They caught the local Iraqi commander, General Hisham Fakhri, by surprise. Fakhri, a good commander, recovered quickly. He called in chemical strikes on the enemynot directly but dumping it behind the Iranian lines to interrupt their logistical support. The vanguard of the attacking Iranians thus found themselves cut off. Without reprovisions of food and arms, they were at the mercy of Fakhris men, who dispatched them expeditiously. Iran made two more attempts to invade. The first attack barely had died down when the Revolutionary Guards struck between Fakhris Fourth Corps and Rashids Third Corps. Rashid beat them back. On March 1 they returned. This time, although driven off, they kept control of a piece of Iraqi territory, Majnoon Island, the site of an undeveloped oil field. The Iraqis badly wanted this back but, because of terrain conditions, would have had to commit infantry to repossess it. Infantry operations were costly, and hence Saddam refused to countenance their use. Rashid tried to drive off the Iranians by making tank rushes along causeways through the marshes. But the Iranians stood up to these with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), inflicting such losses that the Iraqis called off their attacks, leaving Majnoon in the hands of the Iranians. After this repulse, things died down along the front for the rest of 1984. Since Iranian casualties had been fairly severe, the Iraqis felt sanguine about the results.34 As for the gas issue, Iraqs commanders had no qualms about having used it. To them, this was a war of survival. In such a contest anything went. If they had a weapon capable of overcoming the zealotry of the Iranians, they were bound to use it. This may all be defensible. However, the well-publicized use of this weaponso universally loathedwas to have most pernicious results later on. We come now to one of the most puzzling episodes of the war: the cooperation between Iraq and the United States. It was at this point that the two nations began to work together. Given the later U.S. involvement in Kuwait, it seems almost incredible that this could actually have occurred. But in fact it did.


With the Iranians temporarily at bay, the Iraqis felt free to implement strategies of their own. Iraq possessed clear air superiority over the Iraniansperhaps by as much as six to one (the most widely accepted estimate in 1985 gave the Iraqis 200 fighters, to Irans 25 to 50).35 Such

The Static Defense Phase


planes as Iran had, leftovers from the shahs days, were ramshackle affairs. With spare parts difficult to procure due to Washingtons embargo, the Iranians were reduced to cannabalizing existing aircraft to keep a bare minimum airworthy. Iraq therefore determined to exploit its air advantage. Its most useful line of attack was to go against ships entering and leaving Kharg Island, Irans main oil terminal. The Iraqis had already declared an exclusionary zone surrounding Kharg, and had subsequently expanded this zone to include most of the northern Gulf.36 For a time they had carried out attacks within this area, but since they did not persist in their effort, the effectiveness of the zone soon lapsed. In 1984 the Iraqis were prepared to reassert themselves, but there was a complication. While the Iraqis had recently acquired deadly accurate Exocet missiles from France, they had no satisfactory means of delivering them. They had tried Super Frelon helicopters, but they had not proved successful. Iraq had ordered Super Etandard fighters from the French, the perfect vehicle for delivering the Exocets. These planes perform well at low altitudes, making them the ideal aircraft for going after shipping. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, their arrangement with the French became public knowledge before the planes were delivered; and once the Iranians realized the transfer was about to occur, they raised the most strenuous objections. Tehran issued a warning to the international community that it would not tolerate interdiction of its shipping. Were its ships to come under attack by the Super Etandards, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.37 This brought the United States into the picture. The United States announced that any move to close the Strait of Hormuz would be regarded as a threat to its vital interests. This was a legitimate pronouncement. With the British no longer protecting the area and the shah deposed, there was no nation but the United States that could take on the responsibility of keeping the oil lines open. It seems likely that Tehran had framed its threat for U.S. consumption; it wanted Washington to pressure the French into canceling the Super Etandard deal. For a while it appeared that this would happen. In October 1983 Washington made representations to the French to cancel.38 From statements made by Iraqs leaders, the U.S. action stung them. Whether they communicated their distress to Washington directly, we do not know. This may have been the case, however, since high-level contacts between the two countries developed about this time.39 Iraq held that the U.S. position was contradictory. Washington wanted the war to end but was not motivated to help bring this about as long as the fighting remained on land. In effect, the Iraqis were telling the United States, You [Americans] are prepared to see us bleed to death as long as your interests are not hurt.


The Iran-Iraq War

Iraq argued that it must go after Gulf shipping, since otherwise Irans economy would remain unaffected. A tanker war in which shipping was targeted might cause the United States some distress, but ultimatelyas the Iraqis viewed the issueit would force Tehran to negotiate a settlement, the goal to which both Baghdad and Washington were ostensibly committed. In effect, the Iraqis were asking Washington to recognize that they shared its goal of restoring the status quo ante bellum, which Iran was determined to disrupt. Since the interests of Baghdad and Washington were nearly identical, the United States should back Baghdad, even to the extent of not opposing its attacks on Gulf shipping. Some argument of this nature must have been made to Washington because, starting in 1984, we see a significant turnabout in the U.S. stand on the war.40 It mounted Operation Staunch, a plan whereby it lobbied its allies to embargo weapons sales to Iran. The United States had observed an embargo since the hostage crisis, but this move to extend the cutoff to the whole of the Western alliance threatened much more dire consequences. In addition, the United States threw its support in the United Nations behind Resolution 548, which called for a negotiated settlement of the fighting. Iraq was on record supporting 548; Iran rejected it. And, perhaps most significant, Washington dropped its objections to the transfer of the Super Etandards, which immediately freed the Iraqis to commence their interdiction effort. In return for all this movement on the U.S. side, Iraq may have agreed to resume diplomatic relations, broken off in 1967. This was done in November 1984.


Iraqs first use of the Super Etandards came in March 1984 with an attack on a Greek tanker. Iran subsequently reacted, but not as it had threatened, by closing the Strait of Hormuz. Rather, it targeted Saudi Arabias major oil installation at Ras Tanura. In early June, Iranian F-4 Phantoms raided the refinery on the eastern shore of the Gulf. To the Iranians dismay, the Saudi air forcetipped to the imminence of the attack by Riyadhs recently acquired AWACsscrambled to intercept, and one, possibly two, Iranian fighters were shot down.41 This unexpected response must have shocked the Iranians. The clerics most likely did not believe the Saudis capable of such action; rather, they expected them to avoid confrontation. This attitude was misconceived throughout the war, the Saudis and Kuwaitis displayed toughness when their interests were directly threatened. (We will expand on this point in our discussion on the Kuwait War.) In any event, the Saudis response played into the hands of the Iraqis. It

The Static Defense Phase


forced the Iranians to turn their attention to the Gulf, away from the land war (where Iraq was disadvantaged). And now, having successfully seized the initiative, the Iraqis did their utmost to preserve it.


There were other uses to which Iraq could put its air force. It could go after economic targets inside Iran. There was a risk of incurring civilian casualties in such attacks, which would not be well received within the international community. Nonetheless, in March 1985, before the Battle of Badr, the Iraqis fired short-range missiles into several Iranian towns that, they claimed, were being used by the Iranians as staging areas for invasion. This touched off one of the most significant escalations of the war. Unknown to Iraq, Iran had acquired Scud missiles from Libya, which it now proceeded to fire at Baghdad.42 The first of these struck an oil field at Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. Iraq initially denied that a Scud had been used, blaming the destruction on Kurdish saboteurs. Almost immediately, however, a second Iranian-launched Scud scored a direct hit on the Rafidain Bank in downtown Baghdad. In response to this attack, Iraqi planes raided Tehran. Iraqs air raid on Tehran was not very effective, being made from much too high an altitude, but the psychological effect was severe. Tehrans population had swollen considerably since the clerics came to power, the excess composed of rural elements living in shantytowns in the citys southern section. The bombing drove the wealthier Tehranis to their villas outside the capital, while the poor were left virtually without protection. For Irans leaders, this raised the specter of an unwelcome backlash among its major constituency, the urban masses. The so-called war of the cities continued sporadically throughout 1985; however, since the attacks on civilian and economic targets were not kept up by either side, there was no immediately perceptible effect from the bombings. Also in 1985, the Iraqis resumed targeting Kharg Island. On September 15, they attacked in several waves, scoring direct hits on the islands loading facilities. On September 19 they returned. Flying just above the waters of the Gulf, they evaded Iranian radar and raked the island with their fire. Then the bombers wheeled to fly a return run, without the loss of a single plane. Jubilant Bathists screened film clips of Khargs smoking ruins that night on television. They had so damaged the T-jetty that it had to be shut down temporarily. The Sea Island terminal also had been hit, and the Iraqis had sunk a tanker loading alongside. The short-term effects of Iraqs assault on Kharg Island were harsh. Almost immediately Lloyds of London posted a sharp rise in insurance rates


The Iran-Iraq War

for tankers calling at the terminal. Even more hurtful to Iran was the loss of Japanese ship traffic after the Japanese seamens union complained that it was no longer safe. The longer-term effect was more problematic. Iranian experts got the facility operating again after a relatively short hiatus.43 Why the Iraqis did not immediately reattack the island is something of a mystery. It may be that the Gulf monarchs, or perhaps Washington, had prevailed on them to exercise restraint. In any event, the discontinuance of attacks on Kharg enabled Iran to accelerate loadings, getting the terminals output over 500,000 barrels per day.44 The Iranians also instituted a shuttle service between Kharg and the Larack and Sirri terminals in the Strait of Hormuz. Foreign supertankers thus could wait at the mouth of the Gulf until Iranian-crewed shuttles delivered their oil to them. Iraqs inability to coerce the Iranians into suing for peace underscored an acute dilemma for the Bathists. Iraqs financial position was once more deterioratingit was fast running out of funds.


It is estimated that Iraqs foreign debt in 1985 had swelled to $80 billion.45 Half of that amount was owed to its Arab allies, with little likelihood that it would ever be repaid. The remainder, to its Western creditors, could not be repudiated. Payment could only be deferred. In late 1984 Iraq began the onerous, complex task of getting Western creditors to reschedule. The job was entrusted mainly to Ramadan, who had earlier been put in charge of implementing national austerity. For many, Ramadan epitomizes the ideal of Bathist toughness. Crude and frequently abrasive, he is nonetheless a shrewd, perceptive bargainer. Assisted by colleagues from the RCC, he toured Western capitals, Japan, India, Yugoslaviaand wherever else Iraq had debtsmaking the case for rescheduling. In all instances, Ramadans argument was the same: Iraq asked its creditors to see it through the present crisis. Iraq was not a risk, he claimed, because it had the second largest reserves of oil in the world.46 Those who rejected cooperation could not expect to participate in Iraqs postwar reconstruction plans. India was the first to go along. In late 1983 New Delhi had agreed to accept payment of a portion of the debt owed to Indian contractors in oil.47 Smaller states like Yugoslavia acquiesced to a similar arrangement. In these cases the Iraqis did not supply the oil directlycompensation came from reserves held by Saudia Arabia and Kuwait.48 France agreed to reschedule a portion of its debt and took the remainder in oil. Indeed, France was a special case. French arms merchants had sold Baghdad so much on credit that they were virtually hostages to the

The Static Defense Phase


Bathists. Had Baghdad defaulted, the effect on Frances economy would have been grim.49 The Soviet Union agreed to finance Iraqs major arms purchases. This left countries like Great Britain, which could not really afford to reschedule but had no choice. The whole rescheduling episode engendered great stressand some bitternessin the world financial community, but in the end Iraq did squeak through; in effect it had bought itself time, until the whole exercise would have to be gone through again.

Having covered themselves on two frontstaken the initiative in the war away from the Iranians temporarily and staved off financial ruin the Iraqis were somewhat better positioned to stay the course. There was, however, one last element of their strategy that had to be accomplished. Iraq still needed alternative outlets for its oil. It had obtained a new line through Turkey. The bids were received in April 1985, and the contract was let that summer. Construction was estimated to take eighteen months.50 But before all else, the Iraqis wanted the Saudi line to go through, and the Saudis, for reasons of their own, were still dragging their feet. It is not known what changed their minds, although the United States may have brought pressure at the same time it initiated Operation Staunch. In any event, in early 1985 Riyadh formalized the deal whereby Iraq was permitted to tap into Petroline, and work soon commenced on a link from Zubayr in Iraq to Petrolines pumping station 3. The first flow through the link came in August 1985.51 This Saudi project was immensely expensive, with the overall cost estimated at around $2 billion. Moreover, it was not certain that the Saudi line was necessary. The world oil market at this juncture was depressed, and there was no guarantee that Baghdad could sell whatever oil moved through Saudi Arabia. It seems, however, that what Iraq really wanted was to end its dependence on Syria. With the Yanbu line in place, Damascus could sit on its Mediterranean terminal, for all the Iraqis cared.52


As of late 1985, the war was effectively stalemated. This was not completely to Iraqs liking. It would at least have liked to see Tehran behave in a forthcoming mannerthat is, to opt for negotiations. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no likelihood of this; the Iranian leaders had only grown more obdurate. Moreover, the Iranian people had demonstrated no significant slackening of will. There was nothing for the Iraqis to do but soldier on.


The Iran-Iraq War

It was not, however, that the war was stalled, and only that. In fact, quite a considerable change had been wrought. It is worth examining in some detail what the net effect of Iraqs machinations in the 19831985 period had been. Earlier on, when Iraq had first been driven to seek loans from the international financial community, Iran had exulted in the belief that this had impugned Baghdads revolutionary credentials. And so, it would seem, it had. Iraq, the radical Arab state, the erstwhile member of the Rejectionist Front, had gone the way of prerepublican Iraq. It had become an allyif not a running dogof the imperialists. It had effectively forfeited its independence by agreeing to undertake certain actions. The Saudi pipeline deal; the agreement to build a second line through Turkeywhich was, after all, a NATO member; the numerous financial commitments it had entered into with the world banks; and its decision to restore diplomatic relations with Washington signified that Baghdad was tied to Western interests. Agreement by the Iraqis to join the Wests system was the payoff, one could say, for the extraordinary outpouring of support that it received at this stage of the war. In the Wests eyes, Iraq had become the principal pillar of stability in the Gulf, while Iran was the primary threat to that stability. Significantly, Irans only allies were the radical states of Syria, Libya, and North Korea. Even the Soviet Union was on Iraqs side. Moscow had resumed arms deliveries to Baghdad in the spring of 1981. Subsequently Ramadan and Iraqs Army chief of staff traveled to Moscow, where they signed a further deal for millions of dollars in new weapons. By contrast, Iranian relations with the Soviets had deteriorated. Tehran had angered Moscow by its unremitting support for the Afghan insurgents. Moreover, in 1983 Tehran conducted a widespread purge of Tudeh (Communist) Party members in Iran and executed several, including the partys leader. In effect, then, the development posited as inevitable by so many in the Westthat the war would become an affair of Soviet and U.S. proxies had not come to pass. In fact, the aims of the superpowers coincided. (We will have more to say on this score in the next two chapters.)


We have now to look at the Battle of Badr, which took place on March 11, 1985. This battle, for reasons we find inexplicable, has been treated by most analysts as a defeat for Iraq. In fact, it was a strong success, as we now hope to show. At Badr, the Iranians essentially repeated their ill-fated campaign of

The Static Defense Phase


1984 by attacking in the vicinity of Majnoon. Again they infiltrated the marshes, coming ashore near Qurnah, where the Euphrates River skirts the Baghdad-to-Basrah highway. Here they made a dash for the highway, which they succeeded in cutting before Iraqs General Fakhri intercepted them. Fakhri committed an armored division to attack from the north and called down a division of Republican Guards, Saddams personal bodyguards, from the capital. The combined forces caught the Iranians in a pincers, cutting off the invasion with considerable losses for Iran. Two points are noteworthy about this operation. First, the Iraqis made effective use of their new road network; it was this that the Guards used to reach the battle area. And, also of importance, this was the first use of the Guards as a mobile reserve. It could be argued that in adopting such tactics the Iraqis were resurrecting Vauban and Maginot. The Frenchmen had developed the art of building elaborate fortifications, generally to good effect. However, in the case of Maginot that effectiveness was undercut by the French governments failure to provide mobile reserves with which to back up the defense line and seal off areas that had been penetrated. The Iraqis overcame this lack by using the Republican Guard to assist units under pressure. Further, they had over 2,000 heavy equipment transporters, which enabled them to move elements as large as a corps considerable distances within a short period. In effect, the Iraqis had provided themselves with lateral mobility; although operating on parallel fronts, they had created interior lines. This sort of activity by the Iraqi military was not generally recognized. It was apparent to everyone what went on in the Gulf, with all the air raids against shipping. But, on the ground forces level, the popular impression was that nothing much was occurring. In fact, if we look only at Iraqs mobilization effort, there was a lot going on. Iraqs armed strength was being brought up to 450,000, from the 180,000 with which it started the war. Iraq was in the process of becoming one of the worlds most militarized societies. It had more troops under arms than Israel, and whereas Israels were largely in the reserves, Iraqs were mobilized. Ultimately, Iraqs force was to reach the incredible figure of over 1 million, an unprecedented mobilization. Moreover, the Iraqis were not merely rounding up men and throwing them into battle without training, as the Iranians were wont to do. They worked to make their troops into soldiers. They strove to build units that were cohesive and would hold together in combat. Along with all this there was considerable innovation in the tactical realm. We mentioned Fakhris use of gas at Majnoon. The Iraqis later were to try other means of delivering chemicals, until finally they incorporated them into their arsenalno mean accomplishment, since chemicals are extremely tricky to wield.


The Iran-Iraq War

They also began to experiment with more offensive-type actions. They conducted spoiling attacks against Iranian units massing in mobilization areas. They brought these attacks up to the level of a brigade, and finally to a division. Summing up, what we wish to stress is that the so-called static defense phase was not a period of absolute inertia. It was, rather, a transition phase. The Iraqi army was preparing to pursue an entirely different style of war. The transition, however, moved slowly. In Chapter 5 we will see how Iraqs military leaders took charge of the war, a move that did not come without some friction with the civilian leadership. SUMMARY The midphase of the war had produced a pardoxical situation in that Iraq, which not too long ago had been regarded as a pariah, had succeeded in forging a close alliance with the West, particularly with the United States. Iraq ended its isolation by setting itself up as the Wests principal defense against the attempt of Iran to destroy the stability of the vital Gulf region. As of late 1985, Iraq seemed well positioned to wear down Iranian resistance to concluding a negotiated truce. This in fact was Iraqs strategyon the military front it would merely hold the line while waiting for external forces to bring Iran to the negotiating table. To achieve this result, the Iraqis were depending on Washington, which, by cutting off Irans supply of weapons and by working to isolate it in the world community, was behaving as an ally of the Iraqis. Unfortunately for Baghdad, however, there were formidable forces in the United States and Israel working against it.

1. Shaul Bakhash, The Politics of Oil and Revolution in Iran (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1982), p. 26. 2. This should be regarded as the main reason Assad actednot, as generally is claimed, that he could not stand Saddam personally. 3. Economist (London) Intelligence Unit, Iraq, Quarterly Economic Report (QER), 1st quarter 1982. 4. Ibid., 4th quarter 1982. 5. Ibid., 3rd quarter 1982. 6. The project initially involved tapping into Saudi Arabias Petroline, and then expanding the capacity of the line so that Iraqi oil could be batched with Saudi oil and transported to Yanbu for delivery to the world market. A second phase covered construction of a wholly new line alongside Petroline that would be devoted to Iraqi oil exclusively. 7. Iraq, QER, 2nd quarter 1982.

The Static Defense Phase


8. Ibid., 4th quarter 1983. 9. Ibid., 2nd quarter 1982. 10. Economist (London) Intelligence Unit, Iran, QER, 1st quarter 1983. 11. Ibid. 12. The Iranians had tried to capture Basrah another time and failed. In February 1983, they attacked near the town of Fakkeh. Again the Iraqis beat them back with heavy losses. 13. The regulars at this time, and throughout the war, were living precariously in their relation to the clerics. The latter never got over viewing them as corrupt agents of the shah. Hence, they could carry their objections to the human wave attacks only so far. 14. For details see Stephen Pelletiere, The Kurds: An Unstable Element in the Gulf (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984), p. 178. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid. 18. See Kurdish intellectual Ibrahim Ahmad on Barzanis tribal ties in Pelletiere, The Kurds, p. 147. 19. Iraq, QER, 4th quarter 1983. 20. Ibid. 21. Edgar OBallance, The Gulf War (London: Brasseys, 1988), p. 140. 22. Iran, QER, 1st quarter 1984. 23. Pelletiere, The Kurds, p. 185. 24. Iran, QER, 1st quarter 1984. 25. Instead, he and his men went off on their own, deeper into Kurdistan. 26. Iraq, QER, 4th quarter 1984. 27. The Iranians objected strenuously, but there was little they could do. They depended on Turkey to keep its border with them open so that supplies could transit to Tehran from Europe. Any time the Turks wished, they could complicate customs formalities, causing huge bottlenecks that would impose severe shortages on the Iranian capital. 28. One reason the Guards approved was that the human wave attacks required no particular skill. By and large they depended for their success on sheer courage. The hit-and-run raiding in the Kurdish areas, as orchestrated by the regulars, was a much more complex business. 29. This was crucial. The basij never got the opportunity to become seasoned fighters. They were really farmers on loan to the military. As a consequence they were good for nothing but headlong charges. Anything more complex was beyond them. 30. The period of the Iranians attacks became so dependable that after a while it became known as the annual rainy season bash. 31. The pattern has been compared to the cattle raids of pre-Mycenaean Greeks. Every year the raiders would come across the border and the locals would attempt to drive them back. The comparison has merit, we think. 32. The reader should appreciate the dilution effect this had on the army. Each time the Iraqis ratcheted up the size of the force, Iraqi commanders had to accustom themselves to working with units of different sizes.


The Iran-Iraq War

33. The Iranians early learned to manipulate the press, and the press was seemingly delighted to be used. The ethos of human wave attacks was appealingly romantic, and images of the bearded Iranians with their Kalashnikovs seemed the model of what a dashing revolutionary should look like. 34. OBallance claims 20,000 Iranians perished in the fighting, with a loss of about 7,000 Iraqis (The Gulf War, p. 140). Television footage of Iranian dead screened in Baghdad would seem to bear out this claim. 35. Iran, QER, Third quarter 1984. 36. Iraq, QER, Second quarter 1984. 37. New York Times, October 18, 1983. 38. Ibid., October 12, 1983. 39. Washington Post, December 21, 1983. 40. New York Times, March 29, 1984. 41. For Tehrans reaction, see FBIS Daily Report, Near East/South Asia, June 6, 1984. 42. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 169. 43. They were aided by the fact that oil enters the terminal through a gravitational flow. 44. OBallance, The Gulf War, pp. 171172. 45. Iraq, QER, 3rd quarter 1985. 46. Iraq refigured its reserves in 1984, setting them at 100 billion barrels. This figure, which is generally credited, places it ahead of Iran, which has about 92 billion barrels. 47. Iraq, QER, 4th quarter 1983. 48. Ibid. 49. Ibid. 50. Ibid., 2nd quarter 1985. 51. Ibid., 3rd quarter 1985. 52. Ibid.

Al Faw

In 1986 the Iraqis lost Al Faw, a city at the extreme southern tip of the country. Their inability to hold on to, and subsequently to regain, this territory convinced many that the Bathists were through. Speculation about the Bathists imminent demise obscured the in many ways more puzzling matter of precisely what the Iranians had been intending to accomplish by seizing Al Faw. That operation, from a strategic standpoint, made very little sense. In this chapter we examine Al Faw and what the Iranians may have been striving to accomplish there. We look at the somewhat related affair of Irangate, and how events of 1986 influenced the Iraqis to switch military strategies, which produced their victory in the war. Look at a map of Al Fawnot an ordinary map but a highly detailed projection. It is perhaps surprising to note that the peninsula on which Al Faw sits is practically submerged. On ordinary maps the area generally is shown as being solid, a thin finger of land protruding into the northern Gulf. In fact, except for a ribbon along the Shattno more than six kilometers (about three and a half miles) at its broadestthe entire peninsula is salt flats. Prior to 1985 there was only one road to Al Faw, hugging the Shatt; then the Iraqis built a macadam highway over landfill down the peninsulas central portion.1 They built another road along the western edge of the Khor Abdullah channel opposite Kuwait. Thus three true roads run from the mainland proper to the tip of the peninsula where Al Faw is located. These roads are lapped by water a good bit of the year. In February, when the battle of Al Faw took place, this was the casean important fact to bear in mind as we discuss the battle.


The Iran-Iraq War



After the failure of the Iranians Badr offensive (see Chapter 4), public protests against the war erupted in Tehran, the first major demonstrations since the war had started.2 From the Iraqis standpoint, things were definitely looking good; it seemed that their hold fast strategy was working. Nonetheless, in late 1985 it became apparent that the Iranians were bent on making yet another attempt against Basrah and that the attack would probably take place early in 1986. The signs were unmistakable. So routine had Irans invasions become that the Iraqis were able to antic-

Al Faw


ipate them by specific indicators. Each year, about August, the Tehran regime would make an appeal for volunteers. At this, the next complement of Iranian youths who had yet to perform their military service would present themselves at the mobilization centers.3 A force ranging anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000 would be collected, and in the rainy season when conditions in the Basrah region favored Irana major invasion would be launched.4 For the Iraqis, this regularly repeated pattern was useful, inasmuch as it provided them with an early warning of the Iranians plans. Indeed, so ritualistic had the call-ups become that one could tell the imminence of the attack almost down to the hour. The Iraqis would always know that an invasion was near when camps began appearing behind Iranian lines. Within these holding areas Revolutionary Guards organized the volunteers into mobilization corps, assigning them to units already at the front. At the camps the volunteers underwent basic trainingnever of more than a few weeks durationin which they learned the various operations they would be called upon to perform in the coming battle. As soon as this basic training phase was completed, the invasion usually was set and the Iraqis would brace themselves accordingly. We know from reports of observers in Baghdad that in 1986, before the offensive, the spirit of the defending Iraqi units was high; individual commanders welcomed the coming fight as a chance to kill more of the enemy.


Prior to the Al Faw attack, Iraqi intelligence had noted unusual preparations that seemed to foreshadow the specific nature of the coming offensive. The Iranians were conducting marine exercises in the Caspian Sea.5 They were drilling with small craft scrounged on worldwide buying expeditions.6 Along with this, there had been ongoing activity in the Hawizah Marshes northeast of Basrah, the site of the last ill-fated attempt to invade. Revolutionary Guards were probing the marshes, working their way close to the Iraqi forces positioned on dry ground.7 Iraq sought to deny the marshes to the Iranians by organizing grasscutting parties. Gangs of conscripts went into the area burning and cuttingstripping away the natural cover that the Iranians relied on for protection.8 Iraq also built high observation towers commanding broad vistas of the marshes to detect Iranian movements through the grasses. All of which is to say that the Iraqis had convinced themselves that the Iranians would make another attemptas in 1985to penetrate the Hawizah Marshes, seize the dry ground, and cut the highway connecting Baghdad and points south. It was therefore natural that they focused their preparations for the


The Iran-Iraq War

attack on the Third and Fourth Corps, the commands responsible for this sector. Moreover, satellite informationwhich the United States supplied to Baghdadconfirmed a buildup of Iranian troops opposite the marshes.9 The estimates of Iranian forces gathering there ran as high as 200,000. No Iraqi commander privy to such evidence could have failed to conclude that Irans major attack would occur somewhere in the marsh area. But it did not.


The night of February 10, 1986, it rained, a lashing storm that cut visibility to a few meters.10 The storm churned the Shatt al Arab into a swiftflowing current along its entire length between Basrah and Al Faw. It was as if the weather conspired to favor Iraq, since it appeared inconceivable that the Iranians would attempt to cross the roiling Shatt in small boats and over hastily assembled pontoon causeways under such conditions. But that is what they did. The Iranian forces began their crossing at 2200 hours at six points roughly forty kilometers (twenty-four miles) apart along the Shatt, facing Iraqs Seventh Corps.11 At roughly the same time, in the Hawizah Marshes sector of the Third Corps, probing operations had begun. It was unusual for the Iranians to coordinate attacks; in the past the logistics would have been beyond them. The Iranians succeeded in crossing the Shatt at all six points of the Seventh Corps defense line. How they were able to do soor, rather, how the Iraqi Seventh Corps commander allowed this to happenwe do not know. The commander seems to have been extraordinarily incompetent. He not only allowed the Iranians to come ashore, but even after their bridgeheads were secured, he held off attacking until the moment to repel the invaders had passed.12 Even then, the commander allegedly failed to call for reinforcements.13 Instead, he is supposed to have sent misleading reports to central headquarters, claiming to have beaten the attackers off. By the time Baghdad learned that the Shatt had been breached, Iranian troops had begun pushing down the peninsula through stands of palms along the waterway and were laying siege to Al Faw. Still the Iraqi high command hesitated. By now Irans northern attack, in the Hawizah Marshes, was fairly under way. The Iraqi leaders apparently remained convinced that the Al Faw operation was a diversion, and therefore refused to dispatch reserves to the peninsula. The Iraqi high command delayed forty-eight hours before it reinforced the Seventh Corps. In that time, 30,000 Iranians invaded the peninsula above Al Faw. By February 14 the port city had fallen. The first stage of Irans Al Faw campaign had ended in an unexpected defeat for the Iraqis.

Al Faw



Saddam Husayns response to Al Faw was to call upon the Republican Guards. The elite troops were pulled out of their barracks in the capital sometime on February 14, hastily mobilized in truck convoys, and dispatched at full throttle to the south.14 The Guards went into action in another lashing storm. They took the northern road skirting the Shatt, which brought them directly into range of Iranian artillery set up on the Shatts eastern bank. Since the Iranians were apprised of the Guards movements, their artillery went into action and was able to target the advancing column. As the Guards moved down the peninsula, lead units became bogged down in the mud and the shell-pocked highway. This caused units behind to pile up, presenting easy targets for the Iranian gunners. The milling masses of struggling Guards units were subjected to intensive barrages and were badly cut up in the process. We do not know the exact losses that the Guards sustained on this first night of combat, or on the days immediately succeeding. It is only from remarks of Saddam in speeches lauding the Guards heroism and martyrdom that we are enabled to conclude that they were hurt.15 Moreover, just after the Al Faw campaign, Saddam announced that the Guards would be reconstituted, which would appear to indicate they had suffered significant losses. At the same time the Guards were successful in stiffening the Iraqi line, preventing it from crumbling away. Had they not done so, the invaders might have spread up the peninsula, putting pressure on the Seventh and Third Corps. Orand this to us seems more likelythey might have spread west and seized Umm Qasr. This would have been a much more disastrous development that we will discuss in detail below. So we may say, then, that the Guards saved the day. They kept the 30,000 Iranians penned up at the tip of the peninsula, preventing them from breaking out either west or north. Still, the Iranians had occupied the city of Al Faw and environs some ten miles (sixteen kilometers) up the peninsula. Their pontoons remained in place, enabling them to reinforce and reequip their beachheads. All this made for a potentially dangerous situation for the Iraqis.


On February 14 Saddam relieved the Seventh Corps commander and appointed Lieutenant General Abdul Maher al Rashid, the commander of the Third Corps, as chief of operations for all forces committed to recapturing Al Faw.16 That Saddam would take this step is evidence of the civilian leaderships


The Iran-Iraq War

embarrassment. The principle that had guided the civilians throughout the war was that they alone directed operations. Not trusting the military, they were unwilling to feed the officers self-esteem by showing too much dependence on them.17 Now, in effect, they were appealing to the military to save them, an extraordinary confession of failure. Rashid was Iraqs best wartime commander. A martinet and a braggart, exceedingly headstrong, he was nonetheless a good disciplinarian whose units behaved well under fire. Rashid was a man who would bend every effort to succeed. When Rashid took command, he publicly castigated the mistakes of his predecessor, thereby exposing the defeat that had occurred.18 He also pledged to salvage the situation forthwithhe said that he would retake Al Faw within three days. Rashid was fortunate that he came on the scene flush from a victory of sorts in the north. Not only had he thrown back the Iranian incursion through the Hawizah Marshes, he had gone on the offensive there, recapturing a portion of Iraqs Majnoon Island oil field. Rashids limited success at Hawizah, however, by no means relieved the threat from that quarterIran continued to hold 50,000 regular army troops poised behind the marshes.19 The Iraqi high command continued to anticipate movement in that sector, and thus could not relax.


By the second week in February, the main lines of the action at Al Faw were setRashid was going to have to force his way down the peninsula and roll over the Iranians at the end of the spit in Al Faw City. It was a daunting procedure. As Rashid laid it out, the operation would be conducted by three columns: a southern column, commanded by General Hisham al Fakhri, the hero of Badr, which would work its way along the Khor Adullah channel opposite Kuwait; a central column, under Rashid; and a northern column, commanded by General Sadi Tuma al Abbas Jabburi, which would take essentially the route by which the Guards had come, through the palm groves skirting the Shatt.20 The columns would be restricted to moving along the three main roads. They could not stray off these, lest they become bogged down in the mud. Because of the heavy rains, Iraqs air force was virtually grounded, meaning that the columns had irregular air support. Irans artillery on the east bank of the Shatt could zero in on the moving columns. Rashid ordered a practically continuous artillery barrage against the Iranians in Al Faw and the Iranian artillery emplacements on the east bank of the Shatt. Behind this wall of fire Iraqi forces moved south, gaining ground not in miles but in yards. By the end of the third week of February, Rashidat a press conference

Al Faw


held in his headquartersconfessed that the reoccupation of Al Faw was going to take time.21 This was a comedown for the boastful commander, but he could not say otherwise. After a week of slugging it out with the Revolutionary Guards, who contested the Iraqis at every critical point, Rashids column had made scant progress. Fakhri in the south had about kept pace with Rashids column. But the northern column, absorbing the worst of the Iranians artillery fire, was practically stalled. The Iraqis might have omitted the barrage, and in effect stepped out to engage the Iranians hand to hand. To do so, however, they would have had to accept heavy casualties, and this Saddam adamantly refused to do, believing that manpower was an asset he dared not waste. There was no alternative, then, but to grind on with the artillery barrages. So many shells were expended that the gun barrels continually had to be replaced.22 Still, the effect of the intense fire was limited by several factors. Al Faw was honeycombed with an elaborate network of concrete bunkers built by the Iraqis earlier in the war. They provided excellent shelter for the Iranians against the shelling. In addition, the omnipresent mud absorbed Iraqi shells, virtually smothering them. All told, the attack down the peninsula was a mess, with new complications developing daily. Further, the Iraqis counterattack was proving unexpectedly costly. Baghdadas was its wont throughout the wareither minimized or suppressed casualty figures. Nonetheless, there were signs that the toll was becoming excessive.


Western diplomats in Baghdad reported anecdotal evidence of the escalating losses. They noted that security forces commandeered taxis on the outskirts of Baghdad, directing their drivers to Basrah, where they received flag-draped coffins of slain servicemen for transport home.23 Special trains were dispatched to Basrah to pick up wounded, to be taken to hospitals throughout the country.24 And the hospitals everywhere were filling up. Government workers were being dragooned into donating blood.25 Most ominous was a profusion of black flags, the traditional sign of mourning of the Shias. These flags were absent in Baghdad, the government having forbidden them. But in towns outside the capital they appeared in great numbers.26 By the end of February some survivors of the action at Al Faw were out of hospital and moving about the capital. Other frontline fighters began to be rotated home. These veterans recounted their versions of what had transpired. Although the civilian leaders continued for days to broadcast bombastic reports of victories for the worlds consumption, at home a pall settled


The Iran-Iraq War

over the Iraqis. Psychologically, the loss of Al Faw was keenly felt, spreading a deep depression.

At the same time, however, from a strategic aspect Irans assault on Al Faw does not make much sense. The peninsula occupies dead space at the northern end of the Gulf. The Iraqis had long ago written it off as a strategic location. At the time of the attack they had only units of the Popular Army garrisoned there. We know that the Popular Army men were poor fighters, which would seem to indicate that the regime did not put a premium on the peninsula.27 Thus one reasonably might ask what the Iranians intended to do with the place once they had taken it. It hardly benefited them to have 30,000 of their best troops sitting on this deserted sandspit.28 Unless the troops could be exploited somehow, they were to all intents hors de combat.29 It is our belief that the Iranians never looked on the capture of Al Faw as their final objective. The seizure was merely the first stage of a more ambitious operationAl Faw was originally conceived as a jumping-off place for Umm Qasr, Iraqs second port, adjacent to the Kuwaiti border.

If we view the capture of Al Faw as merely a first-stage operation, much that is baffling about it becomes clear. For the Iranians to have taken Umm Qasr would have been a major coup, and quite probably would have won them the war. Had they kept going westward, they could have cut Iraq off from the Gulf; for the Iraqis this would have been the horrific development. Artillery in Umm Qasr could have interdicted supplies from Kuwait City to Baghdad, since the main highway linking the two passes close to it.30 Evidence to support our theory is available. Western press reports of the battle indicate that Iran, from the very first hours of the attack, was aiming toward Umm Qasr.31 Some observers have suggested that Iran actually wanted to seize the Neutral Zone, lying due west of there.32 And repeatedly in the opening days of the action, Iran insisted that in fact Umm Qasr had fallen, a claim later disproved by the release of satellite imagery.33 If the Iranians did ultimately aim to seize Umm Qasr, what happened? Why were they unable to do so, seeing that they had achieved surprise and had fiercely dedicated Revolutionary Guards to commit to this operation? There is, of course, the heroic blocking action of Iraqs Republican Guards, who certainly stalled the westward push initially. Along with this, however, it seems that outside forces were at work. The Saudis and the

Al Faw


Kuwaitis, and later the British and the Americans, acted to check the Iranians move toward Umm Qasr (or, rather, toward Kuwait). After Irans successful seizure of Al Faw, the Saudis and Kuwaitis sent their foreign ministers to Damascus, where they met with a representative of Tehran.34 We do not know what was discussed but suspect that the ministers warned the Iranians not to expand the war into Kuwaiti territory. This was a necessity if Umm Qasr were to be captured.35 Outflanking Umm Qasr by way of Kuwaits Bubiyan Island was the only militarily sound way of taking the city. To have restricted operations to the northern bank of the Khor Abdullah channel (i.e., to Iraqi territory) made no sense; the northern bank was too waterlogged to maneuver upon. That Bubiyan was temporarily at risk seems also to be shown by the fact that Kuwaits emir personally visited the islandwhile the foreign ministers were in Damascusand publicly declared it off limits to the belligerents.36 Additionally, we find it significant that the Iranians drive toward Umm Qasr subsided after the foreign ministers arrived in Damascus. Broadcasts referring to the action ceased. From this we conclude that the ministers warnings were heeded by the Tehran leadership. The Iranians, however, appear not to have been permanently dissuaded, because after a weeks lull they resumed threatening the Kuwaitis. They claimed that Kuwait ought to be treated as an enemy because it had taken Iraqs side in the war.37 They further accused Kuwait and Saudi Arabia of conspiring to cripple Irans war effort by manipulating oil prices against the interests of Tehran.38 Additional evidence to support our theory is an event that occurred in Tehran on March 10. On that day a major demonstration was planned outside the Kuwaiti and Saudi embassies in the Iranian capital.39 In charge was the Organization of the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula.40 This protest never came off, abruptly canceled by the Iranian authorities. The protesters attempted to ignore the cancellation and go ahead as planned. Police turned the marchers back with truncheons and tear gas. It is our belief thatafter warnings from Saudia Arabia and Kuwait proved ineffectualthe United States and Great Britain weighed in with warnings of their own that ultimately induced the Iranian leaders to cancel the protest, and ultimately the operation. The U.S. warning took the form of a speech by President Reagan in which he declared that the United States would not tolerate military action against Kuwait.41 Great Britain offered to support Kuwait militarily in the event that such action did occur.42 Moreover, on the day the march was scheduled, Major General Theodore Jenes of the U.S. Central Commandthe military component responsible for U.S. forces in the Middle Eastvisited Qatar, Kuwaits


The Iran-Iraq War

southern neighbor.43 Washington described this visit as routine, but under the circumstances this seems hardly likely. From all the evidence, we are led to conclude that the combined actions of Riyadh, Kuwait, London, and Washington forced the Iranians to curtail their Umm Qasr operation. And in fact, after this the Al Faw operation did die down. By the end of March the fighting there had ended. If our interpretation is correct, it tells us something about the belligerents. It explains why the Iraqis allowed themselves to be caught off guard at Al Fawthey did not believe that an attack there was probable. Since the start of the war Iran was on record against intervention by the imperialists in the Gulf. Given its stand, it was unreasonable for it to have undertaken an operation that by its nature would invite intervention.44 Believing themselves to be secure in this sector, the Iraqis garrisoned Al Faw with their least effective troops, the Popular Army units. Correspondingly, the Iranians would not have run this risk unless their situation had grown desperatewhich, it appears by early 1986, it had. The Battle of Badr in 1985 had been an extremely costly failure. Subsequent to Al Badr, protests against the war had erupted throughout Iran. At the same time, the Iranian forces were unable to open a second front in Iraqi Kurdistan because of Turkeys obdurate opposition. Thus, if Tehran meant to keep up pressure on Iraq, it had to attack on the only front remaining (i.e., the southernmost), despite the risks that this entailed. Such a dangerous course could not have appealed to the senior clerics in Tehran. It must have been forced through by the radicals, those who were ideologically committed to exporting the revolution to the Gulf, and by the Revolutionary Guards. These elements looked on expansion of the war, particularly to Kuwait, as a holy crusade (see Chapter 1). It is interesting in this connection to note that it was a leader of the radical faction, Mehdi Hashemi, who later in the year exposed the arms negotiations between Rafsanjani and Washington, the affair that has come to be known as Irangate (which we will discuss at the end of this chapter).


As we have already noted, for the Iraqis, the major adverse consequence of Al Faw was its effect on morale. The loss was extremely dispiriting from a number of angles. Until this point the Iraqi public had been encouraged to believe that since Irans momentum had been checked, the war was winding down. Iran had not had a major military success since 1982. Now, with the loss of Al Faw, all of Iraqs carefully accumulated gains had been swept away. Believing that Iraqi morale was becoming dangerously brittle, many commentators predicted the imminent collapse of the regime as its public

Al Faw


support evaporated. However, those who reasoned thus underestimated the ability of a regime like the Bath to sustain itself. The Bathist regime is basically a totalitarian system, a fact it does not disguise. Indeed, the Bathists have asserted that a country like Iraq, which is underindustrialized, cannot hope to become modern without a harsh, authoritarian regime that will compel sacrifices from a fundamentally fractious public. The Bathists, of all political actors in the Middle East, would be least likely to trouble themselves over a low state of public morale. As long as the party remained set on its determined course, things would go forward. The danger of a situation like Al Faw was that it might cause the party leaders to go into a funk, and that would spell the end of everything. What the Bathists had to fear, then, was panic, a situation where at a stroke, the whole civil structure could collapse without warningfinally, and irremediably. Panic comes when people become aware that their leaders are losing control, that is, when they are perceived to be disoriented. As long as the regime can mask its difficulty, it may yet demand sacrifices. Once it shows by an inept move, an egregious blunder, that it is at a loss to know how to continue, then it risks collapse. This brings us to the case of Mehran.

After the embarrassing loss of Al Faw, Saddam apparently thought to recoup by gaining a cheap victory. He ordered his troops to retake the city of Mehran, which had last changed hands in the Kurdish campaign of 1983. Saddam advertised the Mehran action as a change of strategy in which the army would take the offensive.45 No longer would it adhere to its static defense posture; it would instead essay to wrest gains from the Iraniansit would even, it was implied, strike deep into Iranian territory. Subsequently it has been brought out that Iraqs military commanders opposed Saddams Mehran operation, which, they felt, would be of no military significance.46 Moreover, the campaign was badly conceived, inasmuch as Saddam apparently was content merely to seize the cityor what was left of itwith no thought to effectively garrisoning and holding it. In a manner of speaking, the whole operation was half baked. The Iranians appreciated this and, after initially giving it up, they recaptured Mehran easily. Thus they delivered another humiliating setback to Saddam, one on which it was impossible to put an acceptable gloss. Loss of face for Saddam was all the more devastating because of the cult of personality surrounding him. He was everywhere glorified as an individual of superhuman dimensions, who did not make embarrassing policy errors. Indeed, his image of omniscience was so well inculcated in the minds of Iraqis that they barely could accept a string of defeats like this.


The Iran-Iraq War

After Mehran the regime probably was more threatened than at any point in the war. Subsequent to their Mehran success, Irans leaders announced their intention of capturing Basrah the following year. To do this, they said, they would raise the largest army ever. The Iranians even went so far as to name the exact date by which victory would be achieved January 21, 1987 (Iranian New Year). Immediately after this announcement the regime in Baghdad announced the summoning of an extraordinary congress of the Bath, to debate war policy.47 At the extraordinary congress decisions were taken that determined the outcome of the war. These related to the militarymore specifically, to questions of strategy. Before we describe what went on at the congress, therefore, we want to recap Iraqs strategy to date, from a purely military angle.


Throughout the war Iraq was plagued by a lack of strategic depth. Practically all its major cities are situated within a few kilometers of the border, exposing them to repeated Iranian probing attacks. As a consequence, it was unable to employ a mobile defense, which, under other conditions, probably would have been ideal for it. With such an approach, Iraqi units might have drawn the Iranians into a trap, as was done at Susangard. As long, however, as withdrawal of forces anywhere along the border exposed population centers to capture, this option was precluded. The Iraqis had no recourse, then, but to maintain a static defense along the entire 730-mile (1, 176-kilometer) frontier. In effect they offset Irans manpower by mobilizations of their own. With hundreds of thousands of troops in place, they consistently blunted Iranian breakthrough attempts. They could not cover the whole front but, using their excellent roads, they assured its defensewherever the Iranians attacked, the Iraqis rushed relief units made up of Republican Guards. This modus operandi, worked out by Iraqs general staff, proved so successful that by early 1986 it appeared the Iraqis would wear down the Iranians. As we have seen, however, appearances were deceptive. The Iranians, for all their primitiveness, were improving as soldiers. In the process of capturing Al Faw, they had pulled several surprises. Most disturbing to the Iraqis was their ability to mount two offensives simultaneously, in a wellcoordinated manner. Elsewhere we have pointed out that the Iraqis were vulnerable to an Iranian feint. A one-two punch delivered under the proper conditions could easily throw them into disarray. At Al Faw, the Iranians almost succeeded in doing this. If one accepts the theory we posed at the beginning of the chapter of outside intervention by Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Washington, and

Al Faw


Londonone must then conclude that at Al Faw, Iraq came perilously close to losing the war. Had these countries not intervened, it would most likely have been cut off from the Gulf, which would have spelled disaster. Outside intervention had won Iraq a reprieve; it was up to the Bathists, gathering for the congress, to ensure that this opportunity was not squandered. They needed to get hold of things. But, as we shall see, taking hold involved facing up to matters that had been neglected for a long time. It was not merely a question of finding a winning strategy; there was the basic question to be resolved of who was competent to run the war.


In practically every Arab regime of consequence, the military rules. In Iraq, the opposite is the case, a situation that has come about after a long struggle between the civilians and the military that began in 1963. In that year, the Bathists took power in Iraq through a coup in which they coopted several prominent military men, who later ousted them from control after only nine months of rule. When the civilians next took power in 1968, they were prepared to handle the military. They executed several officers they particularly mistrusted and pensioned off some others. One or two officerstoo highly regarded to be eliminatedwere posted to embassies far from Baghdad. And the civilians assigned political commissars to all major units to spy on the officers. Once the war with Iran erupted, however, the military began slowly to regain control. After all, it was they who were doing the fighting, who were responsible for keeping the Iranians at bay. Even so, the civilians never surrendered full operational control to the officers, who viewed this as an unsatisfactory situation. We saw how, at Al Faw, the civilians had for all practical purposes funked. Matters had become critical and the civilians confessed themselves at a loss how to proceed. They had appealed to the officers to take charge, which the latter did. And now, at the congress, the officers were set to exploit this opening to expand their authority. The officers argued that, given the nature of the challenge facing Iraq, static defense would no longer suffice.48 The Iranians were proposing a showdown battle, the battle of destiny, as they called it. In the fateful contest that was shaping up, the enemy would certainly seek to capitalize on its recent successes. They would strike Iraqs front line hard, and in more than one place, attacks would be coordinated. Along with that the enemy would try to break out its forces at Al Faw. Things would get very tense and were likely to stay that way for a prolonged period. The Iraqi side must be prepared to fight


The Iran-Iraq War

for its lifenot, as in the past, for a matter of days but for weeks, if not months. The Iranians had boasted that they would end the war by January 21 of the coming year (1987); they would not give up until they had achieved their goalor destroyed themselves in the attempt. Along with strategic complications there were psychological ones. The Iraqi people were aware that their side had already suffered two major defeats (Al Faw and Mehran); Iraq was, in a manner of speaking, two down. The people would not react well were the army to take another beating. The situation thus was dire. Not only could the army not lose, it could not afford the perception of loss. Only by appearing to sweep the field could morale be maintained. Most critically, there must, under no circumstances, be another Iranian crossing of the Shatt al Arab. Ideally, the Iraqi side should not give up a kilometer of ground in this coming offensive. To guard against this, the Iraqis would have to conduct a most aggressive defense. They would have to kill as many of the invaders as possible. They could not, as in the past, be content merely to hold the Iranians back. Nothing less than significant annihilation of the attacking forces would be acceptable. To inflict this kind of devastation, the Iraqis would have to conduct combined arms operations. They had the capabilities for this, though up to this point in the war they had never done so. Throughout the war the Iraqis had relied mainly on their armored units, the effectiveness of which was limitedthanks to Saddams unwillingness to permit the effective deployment of mechanized infantry (a function of his conviction that infantry operations were too costly in lives). Tank forces operating alone are vulnerable to fanatical light armed infantry, such as Iran deployed. Until the Iraqis were willing to commit infantry to back up their tanks, Iraqs armored potential would not be exploited to the full. Thus, what the officers at the congress were proposing was the call-up of additional recruits, to be organized into mechanized infantry units that would go into battle beside the tanks. Then tanks, infantry, artillery, and helicopters would all concentrate their firepower in a withering assault that would blow the enemy away. It was this maximization of firepower that the officers counted on to win the upcoming contest. They would subject the Iranians to a storm of fire they could not withstand. And the key to all this would be coordination, the manipulation of all the separate military arms as one, as a symphony conductor molds the various sections of the orchestra into one. However, this raised a serious concern that the officers were not keen to broach. In any exercise of combined arms, command and control is the key. The whole process breaks down if tight control cannot be wielded by

Al Faw


the commanders on the scene. Iraqs operational commanders did not have this kind of authority. Operational control resided with Saddam. The president is an authoritarian ruler for whom nothing must be left to chance. Even though he is not a military man, and thus is ill equipped to direct battlefield operations, he nonetheless demands that prerogative. As long as the war was a static one, involving positional defense along the border, Saddam could pretty much have his way. With a shift to a war of movement, however, this could not be. There simply was no way that Saddam, from his palace in Baghdad, could direct a campaign in which he would be required to orchestrate a range of activities, all of which would develop terrific speed, and which he would have to handle with utmost decisiveness. Ultimately Saddam gave in to the officers importuning in both essential areas: He agreed to the formation of a substantially enlarged and upgraded mechanized infantry, and to give up a large measure of operational control to his officers. The manner in which he made these concessions tells us a lot about the man. The matter of extending the call-up of troops was handled most deftly. The officers had suggested calling up college youth, who to date had been spared induction. These young men with superior intellectual skills would be easy to train in the complex maneuvers of combined arms. Also, never having served as front-line fighters, they would not be prey to the passivity that infected the soldiers who to date had spent the war in a static defense mode. Had Saddam been really sure of himself, he more than likely would simply have summoned the youth straightaway to report for induction. In fact, however, he moved to accomplish this by a most roundabout process. He began by ordering a call-up of noncollege men, Iraqis in the age groups forty-two and seventeen. He followed this with an announcement that the Popular Army would be allowed to resume recruiting, which for a time had been curtailed. The Popular Armys recruiting methods resembled the activities of press gangs. Seeing them round up recruits on the streets of Baghdad spread unease throughout the populace. (Thus their appearance served to underscore that a serious pass had been reached.) Next, the president announced that he felt it not right that front-line fighters alone should bear the burden of the war. The college youth should sacrifice. Saddam announced his decision to postpone the opening of the universities in the fall so that the students could get some military traininga few weeks of basic would be good for them, toughen their moral fiber. Saddam did not say that the students scholarly careers were being terminated; at the same time, however, he did not answer the key question of whenindeed, whetherthe universities were going to reopen. Having planted in the students minds the idea that the draft was closing


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in on them, he announced that he intended to open the ranks of the Republican Guards to anyone who qualified. Previously membership in the Guards was limited to men from Saddams hometown. By offering young Iraqis the opportunity to enroll in the Guards, the attractiveness of military service was greatly enhanced. To be a Guardsman meant having a personal connection at the palacein a society like Iraqs, this was a major asset. A great many young men evidently felt that since they were going to be drafted anyway, they might as well get the best deal they could. The Guard swelled from only seven brigades in 1986 to over twenty-five within nine months. (See Table 1.) Considering that this was the darkest hour of the war, the fact that Saddam could get that kind of responsefor units that essentially were commandoswas phenomenal. To us, it indicates that the regimes base of popularity was much larger than most persons perhaps even Saddam himselfhad expected. In the same way Saddam deftly managed to transfer operational control to his officers. He did not simply hand it over. Rather, he set up an interTable 1 Growth of Iraqi Military Force Structure

Notes: This table displays a best estimate of the growth of the Iraqi ground forces. They have a three-brigade-per-division structure on paper, but operationally one division headquarters may control more brigades. The Republican Guard structure is even more flexible. *The seven armored divisions figure represents a combination of armored and mechanized division equivalents. The decline in armored divisions from six to five in 1986 probably reflects a rearrangement of armored and mechanized brigades rather than the destruction of divisions, although the Iraqis suffered enough casualties in the attempt to recapture Al Faw to raise that possibility. **The special forces (SF) and marine (Mar) brigades are believed actually to be under Republican Guard control, which effectively raises the total Republican Guard structure to about 25 brigades. Source: The Military Balance for the appropriate year.

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mediary who functioned as a sort of alter ego: his cousin, Defense Minister Adnan Khayrallah. Khayrallah was tapped to take over Iraqi preparations for the upcoming campaign, a job for which he was well suited. As the only military man on Iraqs nine-member ruling Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), he alone understood combined arms. At the same time, as Saddams cousin, he spoke the same language as the president and could communicate to him the intricacies of the operations that were being planned. In effect, Khayrallah became a go-between for the civilians and the military. He reported on the officers progress to the RCC and conveyed the apprehensions of the RCC members to the officers. In terms of efficiency, it was an excellent way to proceed. At the same time, it is important to note that Saddam had covered himself by proceeding in this manner. He had provided himself with a scapegoat should one be needed. Were the upcoming campaign to fail, it would be Khayrallah who took the fall, because he was the one perceived to be in charge. This essentially is what went on at the extraordinary congress of the Bath in July 1986. When it ended, the Bathist leaders were more or less agreed on what they would do. Their-new offensive strategy was in place. In the Iraqi capital, diplomats reported the leadership had perked up a bit.


The extraordinary congress of the Bath had barely ended when Iraqs air force unleashed major air strikes against Iranian economic and civilian targets. Whereas in the past observers had speculated on the apparent inability of the Iraqis to employ their superior air force effectively against Irans infrastructure, this no longer was an issue of debate. Starting in the fall of 1986 with a series of raids against economic targets deep inside Iran, the Iraqis initiated a relentless escalation of the air war. Targets included ground satellite stations (which temporarily interrupted communications into and out of Iran), strategic bridges and rail lines, and oil refineries.49 Along with attacks on industrial installations inside Iran went a fullscale resumption of raids in the Persian Gulf. So effective were these actions that voices began to be raised in various world councils against them. Fears were expressed that if this continued, Iran would in effect be bombed back to the Stone Age; it would revert to its condition before the shahs modernizing reforms. Iran attempted to counter Iraqs air raids by stepping up its Scud attacks on Baghdad. Whereas in the past, however, such attacks had acted to restrain the Bathists, now they brought no respite. The intensity of the air war was maintained. Iraqs military leaders publicly stated that this was a new era of total war.


The Iran-Iraq War

What seems to have happened was that, with Al Faw, the Bathists ceased believing Iran could be brought to negotiate; they no longer believed that a peace party existed in Tehran. The Bathists had determined that the only way to end the war was to inflict the maximum possible pain on Irans people, to make them turn against their leaders. The approach to the war had shifted from emphasis on political ends to military means. In this respect it is interesting to see what was sacrificed here. Iraqs static defense strategy was based on the premise that conditions in the Gulf could be returned to the status quo ante bellum. It sought to avoid a situation where, after the war, it would have to face a vengeful enemy. Thus, better to wear down Irans resistance until a peace party emerged that would negotiate a settlement. Then both countries could revert to what ought to have been their primary activity all along: selling oil. The equation subscribed to by the Iraqis was that stability improves oil sales; improved oil sales mean money for development, which ultimately will facilitate industrialization. By opting for total war this strategy was abandoned; it must have been a difficult choice for the Bathists. But after Al Faw the leadership had no alternative. Iranian troops positioned on Al Faw were menacing Kuwait. They also threatened Saudi Arabia (see Chapter 6). The Gulf monarchs were subsidizing the Bathists to defend them from the Iranian hordes. If the Iraqis could not force Tehran to surrender, then the monarchs most certainly would seek other means of protecting themselves. So military means were absolutely dictated, and the generals were the only ones competent to employ these. The baton of leadership at this stage effectively passed to them. In this upcoming test, the Iraqi people were going to be made to go the limit. Iraq would either win the battle of destiny or there would be no Iraq.

We have no intention in this study of attempting to delve deeply into Irangate, not when the affair is still in the process of unfolding. Court trials under way have revealed aspects of Irangate that the congressional committees either overlooked or deliberately sought to conceal. Further revelations continue to appear from participants that contradict earlier findings. The whole affair therefore is unsettled at the time of writing, and the facts of what actually went on will probably not be revealed for a considerable period. Nonetheless, it is essential that we deal with at least one aspect of the matter. We need to clear up what the Reagan administration thought it was accomplishing by transferring arms to Tehran. Otherwise, the basis on which we are proceeding makes little sense. Our basic assumption here is

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that nations act to defend their interests. Washington could by no stretch of the imagination be said to have acted rationally (i.e., in its own interests) by arming Tehran. U.S. interests could be furthered only by promoting stability in the Gulf region. Iran was seeking to destabilize the area by spreading Islamic fundamentalism. Ipso facto, the United States ought never to have done anything that would have aided Iran militarily. The Reagan administration appears to have been badly confused about true U.S. interests in the war. A faction of the leadership held the belief that there should be no victor. Others, however, were disposed toward Iran. The latter argued that Iran, with its 1,200-mile (1,920-kilometer) border with the Soviet Union, was of immense strategic significance. Were Tehran to lose, or to perceive itself to be losing, the war, it would likely turn to the Soviets for succor. This pro-Iranian faction had convinced itself that the clerics were about to lose (as of 1985), and therefore they determined to commit the United States to providing aid. Ultimately this group sought to develop a proWestern faction in Tehran, using aid as a lever to bring this about.50 The Iran is the prize faction was not alone, however, in seeking to push President Reagan in the direction of supporting Iran. It was buttressed by the Israelis and their supporters in the United States, who for reasons of their own wished to see Iran prevail over Iraq. Irangate was of benefit to the Israelis from several angles. The U.S. decision to undertake clandestine arms sales to the clerics opened the way for them to resume selling weapons to Tehran, a highly lucrative business that had been interrupted by Operation Staunch.51 Along with this the Israelis hoped to become the agents whereby a reconciliation between Washington and Tehran would be effected. This would have enabled Jerusalem to play the role of power broker in the Gulf, from which it had been excluded by the shahs overthrow.52 And finally, by means of Irangate the Israelis were hurting Iraq. They really had no cause to support either of the belligerents in the war.53 However, they had not once during the course of the war done anything of harm to Iran, whereas they had done much to hurt Iraq. In 1981 they had destroyed Iraqs nuclear reactor, the Osirik, while Baghdad was in the process of invading Iran. In 1984, after Iraqs defeat of Iran in the Battle of Majnoon, the Israelis publicized Iraqs use of gas during the battle, calling on Washington to join them in a raid on Baghdads chemical facilities. (The United States rejected this, but the ensuing furor almost derailed restoration of diplomatic ties between Baghdad and Washington.) Also in 1984, Jordan initiated a scheme whereby Iraq, then desperately in need of alternative oil outlets, would reactivate an existing pipeline through Jordan to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Iraqis demurred because of the lines proximity to Israel. Amman appealed to the United States to seek Israeli guarantees for the lines security. Jerusalem publicized


The Iran-Iraq War

the approach, intimating that Baghdad had been the initiator; with that, Baghdad backed out of the deal permanently.54 Thus Israel viewed Irangate as a way of aggrandizing itself at the Iraqis expense. And this was the motivation for joining forces with the Iran is the prize faction of the Reagan administration. The danger of Irangate, however, was that it almost certainly would have destroyed Iraq, had it been allowed to run its course. The Israelis were set on turning over thousands of TOW antitank missiles and hundreds of antiaircraft Hawk missiles to Tehran.55 Iraq could not possibly have survived a transfer of this scope. It would have neutralized the one advantage it had, its superiority in sophisticated weapons. Once Irangate was exposed, the Iran is the prize coalition fell apart. Its activity simply could not be defended to the American public, it being incomprehensible to Americans that their president would sell arms to Khomeini after the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the taking of hostages in Lebanon.56 As for geopolitical justification for the sales, this was beyond the comprehension of most Americans. These two factors, plus the fact that Irangate violated U.S. law, ensured that the deal would be aborted. It did not, however, destroy the coalition. As we shall see, it resurfaced the following year with the Kuwaiti reflagging operation. We want now to leave Irangate and examine what we believe is the decisive campaign of the war: the Karbala battles of 19861987.

In this chapter we have tried to describe the situation that confronted Iraq, leading it to take the controversial step of switching from a limited to a total war in the Gulf. Iraqs decision clashed with the interests of its closest allies. The Gulf states, although they fervently wished for an end to the war, were consciouspainfully soof the lengths to which a militarily defeated and embittered Iran might go to recoup its honor. Likewise, the superpowers did not want to see Iraq try for a military solution. But the United States could do little. After Irangate its influence over Iraq shrank to nothing. In any event, the stage was now set for the slam-bang finishto put it crudelya conclusion that was one of the more astonishing military upsets in recent history.

1. Edgar OBallance, The Gulf War (London: Brasseys, 1988), p. 177, says Iraqs General Rashid ordered construction of the central road in 1985, siting it eight to ten miles from the Shatt road, just outside a belt of date palms that lined the Shatt. This was a fortuitous decision because it enabled him, when the Iranians

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seized the place in 1986, to move troops down the peninsula; otherwise they would have been blocked. 2. This was the Battle of Badr, fought in March 1985, in which the Iranians may have lost up to 12,000 killed. See OBallance, The Gulf War, pp. 160166. 3. The basij were called up on a lotterylike system that we will discuss in Chapter 6. 4. The inclement weather cut visibility, grounding Iraqs aircraft, and made the ground soggy and difficult for Iraqi tanks. 5. This sort of information was well within the competence of Iraqi intelligence to gather on its own. It is presumed that through the Mujahadeen e Khalq and other Iranian exile groups, Baghdad was well up on internal developments in Iran. 6. Anthony Cordesman, The Iran-Iraq War and Western Security (London: Janes, 1987), pp. 8889. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. New York Times, January 19, 1987. 10. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 174. 11. Cordesman, The Iran-Iraq War, p. 92. 12. Ibid., p. 93. 13. Ibid., p. 94. 14. Washington Post, March 4, 1986. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid., February 25, 1986. 17. This suspicion of the military dates back to the early history of the Bath in Iraq, when the party had distinct civilian and military wings, both in contention for leadership. See Phebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985), for details. 18. Washington Post, March 4, 1986. 19. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 174. 20. Ibid., p. 178, identifies the third commander as General Saad Tuma Abbas. OBallance says Abbas commanded the southern column; Fakhri, the northern. 21. Washington Post, February 25, 1986. 22. Cordesman, The Iran-Iraq War, p. 95. 23. Washington Post, March 4, 1986. 24. Ibid. 25. Ibid. 26. Ibid. 27. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 175. 28. Al Faw was deserted when the Iranians occupied it, having been thoroughly blasted by their artillery early in the war. 29. Observers of the war theorized at the time of the capture that the Iranians would attempt to break out later, in an operation coordinated with a direct assault on Basrah, thus catching the Iraqis in a pincers. However, when the next great assault on Basrah came in 1987, the Iranian forces on Al Faw did nothing. 30. Washington Post, February 15, 1986. The Soviet Union used Kuwait City as


The Iran-Iraq War

an entrept for supplies shipped to the Iraqis. Those supplies were then transshipped to Baghdad along the road that passed just west of Umm Qasr. 31. See Washington Post, February 11, 1986 (Khomeini says Kuwait must not allow Iraq to use Bubiyan Island); February 12,1986 (Tehran claims to have cut off Iraq from the Gulf); February 13, 1986 (satellites show Iran on the east bank of Khor Abdullah); February 15, 1986 (Rafsanjani says the object of the attack is to convince the Gulf states not to support Iraq, and Iran claims artillery in Umm Qasr is shelling the Kuwait road); February 16, 1986 (Tehran claims 2,700 Iraqis killed in lightning Iranian attack toward Umm Qasr. See also New York Times, February 13, 1986 (Iran says troops near Kuwait). 32. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were selling 300,000 barrels of oil daily from the Neutral Zone for the Iraqis. 33. Washington Post, February 14, 1986. 34. Ibid., February 16, 1986. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid., February 15, 1986. 37. Ibid., March 13, 1986. 38. Ibid., March 12, 1986. 39. Ibid. 40. Ibid. This group was part of an umbrella organization led by Mehdi Hashemi, about whom we will have more to say when we discuss Irangate. 41. New York Times, March 14, 1986. 42. Ibid., March 16, 1986. 43. Washington Post, March 13, 1986. 44. The United States similarly was recorded as ready to intervene if the war expanded to the states of the southern Gulf. 45. Economist (London) Intelligence Unit, Iraq, Quarterly Economic Report (QER), 3rd quarter 1986. 46. See OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 179180. 47. The Baghdad Observer, July 14, 1986. The senior cadre would comprise probably about fifty of the partys highest-ranking members, both civilian and military. 48. Our account of the congress derives from our two studies on the Iran-Iraq war: Stephen Pelletiere, D. V. Johnson II, and L. R. Rosenberger, Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1990); and Stephen Pelletiere and D.V. Johnson II, Lessons Learned: The Iran-Iraq War (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1991). 49. OBallance, The Gulf War, p. 182. 50. The best exposition of the Iran is the prize strategy is set forth in a memo by Graham Fuller, CIA national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia, given in part in U.S. Presidents Special Review Board, Report of the Presidents Special Review Board (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1987), pp. B-6 and B-7. 51. See ibid, and U.S. Congress, Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1987).

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52. Under the shah, the Israelis had quite close relations with Iran. They helped organize and trained SAVAK, the shahs security force. Moreover, the shah supplied oil to the Israelis before the 1973 embargo. Through the large Jewish community in Iran, Israel maintained extensive intelligence operations inside the country. 53. Given the vitriolic propaganda directed against them by Khomeini. The Israelis and Iranians seem, however, to have been able to overlook rhetoric when concrete payoffs were possible. 54. This is the source of the Robert Wallach scandal that involved Reagans attorney general, Edwin Meese. 55. See the U.S. Congress, Report of Committees Investigating Iran-Contra. 56. It is always problematic to speculate on what the American people want. But it does seem justified to maintain that Iran, after the embassy seizure, was perceived throughout the United States as a pariah state, and Khomeini as a particularly detested foreign leader.

For months the Iranians had been promising that, with the Karbala1 campaign, they would finally defeat Iraq. A great many analysts believed them, convinced that they were irresistible after their last great victory at Al Faw. Even after the Karbala campaign endedwithout their making good on their pledgeanalysts continued to believe that victory for Iran was only a matter of time. In fact, after Karbala, victory for the Iranians was no longer a possibilityso badly were they hurt that they ceased for all practical purposes to be contenders in the war. In this chapter we view in some detail, the bloody series of engagements that finally turned the war around for Iraq, and their aftermath.

The Karbala campaign lasted from December 26, 1986, until late April 1987 and comprised six battles. Three of them, Karbala IV, V, and VIII, were as fiercely fought as any in the conflict; VI, VII, and IX were minor skirmishes, attempts by Tehran to keep up the momentum in the campaign until it could have another go at Basrah.2 The fighting raged over a broad front from the southernmost region of the Shatt to Iraqi Kurdistan. The main focus was the heavily fortified region fronting Basrah that we know as the Iron Ring. Irans aim was to break through the ring" and, by sowing confusion among the Iraqi troops, bring about a sudden collapse. Iraqs aim was to ensure that Iran did not make good on its self-imposed deadline for ending


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the war (by late January), and to kill as many Iranians as possible while holding the invaders off. We also should point out that there is not a lot of information about this campaign. Reliable reports from the belligerents are practically nil. This usually was the case, but we feel the lack more keenly in regard to this event than any other because the campaign was crucial. After it, neither belligerent could hope to go on as if nothing had altered. The campaign effected a profound change, not only in the fate of the warring states but also in that of the whole Persian Gulf region. The initial enagement of the campaign, Karbala IV, commenced on the night of December 26, 1986. The Iranians attempted to cross the Shatt al Arab in the vicinity of Umm Rassas Island, using the island as a jumpingoff place for the crossing. The Iraqis, however, caught them midway on the island. They evidently had anticipated the enemys move. The Iraqi commanders called in additional troops, who crossed to the island from the Seventh Corps sector of the west bank. The combined forces overwhelmed the invaders. Casualty figures from the Iraqis are not credible. Iraqs Seventh Corps commander, Rashid, boasted that we have harvested them. He claimed that some 50,380 Iranians had been killed.3 It is unlikely that such carnage occurred. At the same time, Irans losses must truly have been severe. Saddam, who usually is prudent about making casualty claims, announced that Irans grand offensive had been crushed and that the back of the Islamic revolution had been broken. This, as it turned out, was an unfortunate pronouncement. A relatively short time afterward (on January 9, 1987) Iran attacked again, a little farther north, and thus commenced Karbala V. The area of Irans second attack was Fish Lake, from which it had assaulted Basrah in 1982. The lake had been created by the Iraqis as a water barrier. Since 1982 it had grown considerably and now covered an area greater than Basrah itself. Iran crossed the lake in numerous small boats and along a causeway that it had built for tanks. The Iraqis zeroed in on this armored column, stopping it soon after the battle had started.4 A significant force of Iranians nonetheless crossed the lake, either because they had caught the Iraqis by surprise or because the Iraqis allowed them to do so.5 We feel that it was the latter. As we shall see, the Iraqis took the Iranians apart systematically. It seems they had set them up by letting them into the Ring, so they could work them over inside. Once across the lake, the Iranians made a dash for the Shatt, a distance of about twelve kilometers (about seven miles). From there, had they made it across the Shatt, they would have had a clear shot at Basrah, roughly another seven kilometers (about four miles) distant. They didnt make it to the Shatt. (See the maps of Karbala V battles in the appendix.)


The Iran-Iraq War

The Iraqi high command committed brigades of Republican Guards that it had waiting in the area. These troops hit the Iranians, bringing them up short of the Shatt and pushing them back to the lake.6 The Iranians next milled around on the lakeshore, trying to break out of a bulge some 5,000 meters (5,500 yards) by 500 (550). Ultimately an element did break out, at the lakes southernmost tip. They were then between two defensive berms manned by units of Iraqs Eleventh Border Guard Division. The berms faced the international frontier, due east and at right angles to the penetration. There were three of these berms in the area, all facing the border. The Border Guards on the second of them, seeing that they were exposed on their flank, turned at a 90 angle to defend themselves. The defenders on the first berm, located practically on the border, seeing that they, too, were at risk, left their berm to link up with the defenders from the second berm. However, as they fell back, they were forced to fight off Iranians attacking from across the frontier. The two sets of defenders melded together and then began a stubborn defense between the second and third berms, holding back the Iranians, who were pressing furiously to break through to the Shatt.7 On top of the third berm, observing the action going on below, were units of Iraqs Fifth Mechanized Division. They were there to prevent a breakout of the Iranians to the west, across the Jasim River behind the third berm. The battle between the berms went on for over a week (until roughly January 19), although its unlikely that the Border Guards were engaged all this time. The Iraqi high command probably passed relief units through their ranks. We note, in this regard, that there were small berms interspersed between berms two and three, behind which the Border Guards could have retired as they were relieved.8 By January 19 the Iraqi defenders had slipped behind the third berm to assist the Fifth Mech in its defense of the Jasim River line. This left the way open for the Iranians to pour across the Shatt. First, however, they had to cross two islands in the waterway. They occupied both of these, and then began an advance up the more northly of the two. By occupying it, they hoped to outflank the Fifth Mech and Border Guards. This maneuver failed. The Seventh Corps committed a division to the island that drove the Iranians back to the eastern bank of the Shatt after forty-eight hours of hard fighting. The Iranians made one last attempt to preserve the momentum of their attack. On January 21, they surged across the Jasim River into the lines of the Fifth Mech. The combined Fifth Mech and Border Guards, assisted by tank units positioned in the area, threw them back across the river, essentially ending the battle. Shortly after this, fresh infusions of Republican Guards brigades attacked the Iranians who remained in the bulge along Fish Lake and wiped them out. The whole thing was over by February 2.



Karbala V was not an epic battle. It was fought on too restricted a scaleonly a few kilometers of ground actually were contested. Although many units took part, it was a largely static affair.9 It was more of a butting match than anything else. The Iranians were determined to break through on a narrow front; the Iraqis were as determined to stop them. In the end, after meeting stubborn resistance from the Iraqis, the Iranians called off their attack.10 The battle is significant chiefly for what it shows about the Iraqis fighting style. It gives us a glimpse of the direction in which Iraqi doctrine would develop from this point forward. We should first pay attention to how the Iraqis planned. An observer of the battle said afterward that the whole place (meaning the narrow corridor between Fish Lake and the Shatt) was practically wall-to-wall Iraqis. And so it wasthey had placed numerous brigades of Republican Guards in the area, where they were on call as needed. Units were moved into action fairly smoothly, without evident confusion. There were no obvious foul-ups, no points at which the action appeared on the point of going wrong. In fact, once the Iranians and Iraqis engaged, the whole operationfrom the Iraqi sidegave the appearance of a well-oiled machine. We can compare its effect on the Iranians with encountering a buzz sawday after day they were confronted by relays of fresh troops that ultimately wore them out. That it all worked as well as it did shows excellent command and controlindeed, it appears that as many as three Iraqi commands cooperated on the operation.11 The newly created Republican Guard Command handled its first phase around Fish Lake. It handed off to the Third Corps, which took on the fight between the berms, and the Seventh Corps mopped up on the island. This seems to have been a professional performance. The Iraqi command did not overreach itself, accomplishing the task at hand with a minimum of effort. Some observers may say that the Iraqi response was inefficient, inasmuch as too many men were used. We will discuss Iraqs use of supererogatory forces in Chapter 7. For the present, suffice it to say that we believe it was very well handled. Apparently Iran was sobered by the outcome. Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a speech given some time after the battle had ended,12 declared that Iran would discontinue mounting such human wave attacks, which, he said, were too costlyconsidering what they had gained. (Iran ended the Karbala campaign with a mere six kilometers [less than four miles] of new ground, and that on the east bank of the Shatt.) We do not have exact casualty figures, but it seems that Iran sustained losses somewhere around 70,000 and Iraq about 10,000. If this is correct,


The Iran-Iraq War

then the defeat for Iran was a monstrous onelosses of anything more than three to one at this point in the war were insupportable. (An observer of the battle commented that the Islamic Revolution bled to death on the sands of Karbala V, and we believe that.) To sum up, the Iraqis, at Karbala V, found the antidote to Irans human wave attacks, the essential nature of which was their torrential quality. The attackers flowed inexorably forward. Although it was difficult to stem their advance, it could be directed.13 And this is what the Iraqi high command did. They created a situation where it was possible to deflect the waves, causing them to carom like pinballs off of this barrier and that until, finally containing them in a box, they were able to wipe them out. Operating against Iran was the primitive nature of the Revolutionary Guards communications. It is unlikely that the rear echelon commanders appreciated the extent of the slaughter at the front, inasmuch as they kept sending troops forward. At the same time, however, the Iranians were operating under a heavy time constraint. Having sworn to end the war by January 21, they felt obliged to persist, even beyond the point where it was sensible. In this battle, the Iraqi army gelled; it married, like a good soup. It was the final ingredient of infantry that made it come together.14 And this in turn tells us something about the Iraqi stateit had become a nation. A rather large claim, but one that we think can be defended. Where in the past, to be infantry in Iraq was to be fodder, now a selfrespecting infantry force had emerged that fought hard and well. To us, this ability of a state to produce good infantry is an essential indicator of nationhood. If nothing else, it shows a high level of social organization. The claim that the Iraqi Bath ruled by fear cannot, in our view, be squared with the performance of the Iraqi army at Karbala or at the later battles. What motivated the Iraqis to fight as they did, we do not know. But it must certainly have been a lofty conception. The fate of the Iraqi nation clearly was on the line at Karbala, and the people of Iraq came through. It is also, we think, worthwhile to keep in mind that this was a 450,000man force, which was later to become a million-man force. In effect, Iraqs army was the state in microcosm. Its interesting to note that, at this point in the war, Iraq had duplicated the experience of Iran in the first days of the struggle. That is, the character of the war changedit had become a peoples war. It wasnt Saddam Husayn who was bringing about the great victory over Iraqs ancient enemy. It wasnt even the Bath Party. It was the Iraqi army, and the army was the Iraqi people.




Along with everything else, the Karbala battles show us the limits of fanaticism. Irans Revolutionary Guards had at their disposal the largest pool of basij ever assembled. With this immense force they pushed their attack day after day. They clearly went the limit, and yet in the end they failed. Iraqs troops were well disciplined and led by officers who were capable and commanded respect. Such troops do not flinch in the face of suicidal attacks, no matter how strenuously pressed. For the Iranians this was the major lesson of Karbala. It is a wonder they had not absorbed it earlier. It might have been assumed that the Guards would now retire, chastened. After all, the human wave attack was practically their stock in trade, the maneuver with which they were associated the world overand now it was shown to be virtually useless. Far from retiring in disorder, the Guards had new schemes they wished to try. They conceived the plan of taking the war to the waters of the Gulf, where they would hit at Kuwaiti shipping.15 This would have a dual purpose. By interdicting shipping to the Kuwaitis, they would hurt Iraq, since Iraq received all of its war matriel from the Soviets through Kuwait; and attacks on shipping would hurt Kuwaits economy, and perhaps make it break off its alliance with the Iraqis. The plan was practicable, inasmuch as the Revolutionary Guards had a fairly recently acquired navy. Initially, the Guards weapons supply had been severely restrictedthey were equipped with little more than light weapons. But over the years they branched out and acquired field artillery, aircraft, and finally a navy.16 It was a smallbore navy, to be suremade up, in the main, of speedboats purchased from Swedenbut by fitting these with cannon and rocket launchers, they had rendered them somewhat formidable. The Guards scheme of hitting at the Kuwaitis brought up the question of how the United States would react. In Chapter 5 we suggested the United States felt strongly about Kuwaiti sovereigntyto the point of going to war to protect it. In 1986 the clerics had seemed to respect that determination. Now the Guards had evidently thought better of the matter. They must have assumed that the United States would not react. Otherwise they would not have dared lay down as blatant a challenge as they did. The Guards decision to proceed ended whatever hope Iran might have had of extricating itself from the war with honor. After the Karbala offensives, Saddam had offered the Iranians peace on terms that were fairly reasonable.17 The clericsdivided, as alwayshad wrangled bitterly over this offer, and in the end had rejected it. The final decision, it appeared, was made by


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the militants, who would not hear of peace with the lesser Satan. The Guards commanders almost certainly formed a major component of the war party. Their zeal for taking the war into the Gulf is probably what tipped the scale toward continued fighting. The Guards were given the go-ahead, and sometime in February there was an upsurge in attacks on Gulf shipping carried out by Guardsmen in their swift power launches. From the start of the year to the end of May there were sixteen such attacks against ships entering and leaving Kuwaiti harbors.18 At the same time, the Guards carried out several sabotage operations inside Kuwait. In mid-1986 and again in 1987 there were a number of attacks on Kuwaiti oil facilities. There were also several car bombings and an attempt on the life of the emir.19


At the regular meeting of the GCC in November 1986, the Kuwaitis informed their fellow GCC members that they intended to ask the superpowers to escort ships calling at their ports.20 This was a step of historic significance. It was not, however, unprecedented. The Omanis had made a similar request before the war started. That appeal was withdrawn after Iraq proposed the Arab Charter. The real novelty of Kuwaits move was that the Soviet Union had been asked. Only Kuwait was capable of this. It had been the first GCC state to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviets, and it had the reputation of being the most independent-minded of these states. The Soviet Union agreed with some alacrity to the proposal, and within a short time a destroyer and three minesweepers were sent.21 This of course served notice on the United States that its preserve was being poached upon. The Americans regarded themselves as the principal protector of the Gulf after the British had decamped. To date they had been somewhat ambivalent about fulfilling their protectors role. Nonetheless, they were clearly unwilling to have the Gulf monarchs look to Moscow for protection. At the beginning of the year, President Reagan announced that the United States would lease eleven tankers to the Kuwaitis; these ships, flying the American flag, would qualify for an American escort.22


As the radicals in Tehran may have anticipated, the decision by Reagan to take a stand in the Gulf set off a firestorm of controversy in the U.S. Congress.23 The debate was waged on more than one level. At the most su-



perficial, objectors raised the issue of Vietnam, arguing that the United States did not want to get involved in another overseas adventure. This argument, however, was weak, inasmuch as the Gulf was an area of vital interest to the United States. President Carter had proclaimed it such after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. There were those who claimed that Carter had overreacted, since at the time of the Soviet invasion the United States derived at most 3 percent of its oil imports from the region. Since it was U.S. allies who were most heavily dependent on the area, let them provide the Kuwaitis with protection, the argument ran. This case, too, could not be supported. U.S. allies did not have the military might to police the Gulf; only the United States had that power. It was, after all, a superpower. There were other arguments against the reflagging. For example, it was claimed that this was merely a way of making up to the Arabs for the betrayal of Irangate. The most telling argument, howeverat this early stage of the debatewas that the reflagging represented a tilt toward Iraq. Many in Congress opposed the reflagging operation on the grounds that it benefited only the Iraqisthe United States had not offered to provide protection to all ships that plied the Gulf waters. Had it done so, even Iranian tankers shuttling between Kharg and Larak would have been included. Under the reflagging, the tanker war went on around the escorted convoys. The only real losers thus were the Iranianstheir strategy of cowing the Gulf monarchs into withdrawing aid from Iraq was frustrated. The difficulty with the argument that the reflagging benefited Iraq was that it did not address the issue of what would happen if the United States turned down Kuwaits request. Since the Kuwaitis had already tendered a similar invitation to the Soviets, this meant opening the Gulf to Soviet penetration, which clearly went against the stated U.S. policy of excluding the Soviets from this vital area. Sam Nunn, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came up with what to many must have seemed an ingenious solution to the problem: the United Nations should take over the policing.24 The United States and the Soviet Union could cooperate. Immediately those opponents of reflagging who also opposed bringing Moscow into the Gulf objected. Henry Kissinger, for example, said he could think of no area it was more important to keep the Russians out of than the Gulf. This effectively fractured the anti-reflagging coalition.25 Since major interests opposed to the plan could not agree on a common stand, this left the way clear to the defenders of reflagging to bowl their way through. Led by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, the supporters brushed aside further objections, and in effect rammed the policy home. The ease and forcefulness with which this was effected startled many, and led to whatas it turned outwas a last-ditch attempt to scuttle the operation by invoking the War Powers Act.26 This, too, failed.


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It was not generally recognized at the time, but the principal casualty of the reflagging decision was the Iran is the prize strategy. Iran is the prize was the slogan around which a number of powerful groups had rallied during the Irangate affair. The groups had argued that of the two belligerents, Iran was more crucial to U.S. interests. Iran shared a 1,200kilometer (720-mile) border with the Soviet Union, and if it were to disintegrate, it would be likely that the Soviets would seize on this as a pretext to install a Marxist puppet in Tehran. With the Soviets controlling Iran, they could gain their long-coveted access to the Indian Ocean, which would be a disaster. What evidently was never thought through by the proponents of Iran is the prize was that if Iran were abetted in its scheme of wreaking vengeance against the Bathists, Iraq would disintegratein short, the Gulf would be effectively destabilized. It was also overlooked by the pro-Iranian forces that Tehran might in fact be seeking to impose its hegemony over the Gulf, a move extremely inimical to the United States. The aggression of the Revolutionary Guards against Kuwait made the threat plain. If Tehran succeeded in cowing the Kuwaitis, it could next be expected that the lesser states of the Gulfand ultimately even the Saudiswould have to submit to it. It would not be possible to count on the uninterrupted flow of oil from the Gulf with Iran controlling the area. It certainly would not be possible for the West to have assured access to the oil fields if the Gulf monarchs were replaced by Iranian puppets. In sum, once the threat from Tehran became clear, the U.S. policy on the warthat there should be no victorwas validated. That is, there should be no winner in the sense of one side decisively defeating the other. As for the argument that the United States was indirectly supporting Iraq through the reflagging, the answer to that was simpleIraq was on record as advocating a negotiated settlement, which is what the United States wanted. To the extent that reflagging would bring about this outcome, the policy deserved U.S. support.

Shortly after this it became apparent the Revolutionary Guards had grander things in mind than merely making speedboat attacks on shipping. They had purchased twenty Silkworm missiles from China. These missiles, with warheads of 1,100 pounds, could, as one observer noted, reduce a U.S. frigate to a shower of razor blades. U.S. intelligence raised an urgent alarm. On the diplomatic front, Washington approached the Chinese, appeal-



ing to themin the name of international stabilityto discontinue arms supplies to the Iranians.27 The Chinese, however, proved difficult. They protested that they had not made any such sales; the transfer must have come through a third party. In effect, the Chinese were thumbing their noses at the Americans, who had themselves transferred arms to Iran through Israel. This was not an issue on which Washington could back down. The Revolutionary Guards had laid down a deadly challenge to the Americans. They were building a Silkworm launching site on the Iranian side of the Strait of Hormuz, which at its widest point was only fifty miles (eighty kilometers) acrossthe missiles have exactly that range. U.S. Marine Corps General George Crist, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, warned that he would take the missiles out as soon as they became operational.28 THE SAUDI FACTOR In July 1987 Iran sent several thousand pilgrims to Mecca to participate in the yearly religious rite of the world Muslim community. Radical elements accompanying this contingent defied the Saudis injunction against politicking during the haj and mounted several demonstrations against imperialism and Zionism. Saudi police responded brutally and over 400 protestors were slain.29 Khomeini immediately took to the airwaves to register his outrage.30 Moreover, he publicly attacked the Saudi rulers, claiming that they were unfit to guard the holy places. He called for their absolute overthrow. This was an extraordinarily harsh response, and what motivated him to make it has never been determined. The attack of Khomeini on the Saudis probably was most responsible for ending the opposition in Europe and the United States to reflagging.

Saudi Vengeance
Throughout the war the Saudis had played an ambivalent role. On the one hand, they certainly had supported the Iraqis efforts to contain militant Shia Islam. But they were also sensitive to the threat from Iran to themselves. Tehran had warned the Saudis repeatedly that it would retaliate with sabotage and subversion if Riyadh became too supportive of Baghdad. At critical points the Iranians had translated their threats into action. For example, in 1985 they had attacked the Saudis major oil refinery at Ras Tanura. On that occasion, the Saudis had responded by shooting down two Iranian jets. But afterward the Saudis had, in effect, made it up to the Iranians. After the Bathists held their extraordinary congress in


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June 1986, at which they had determined on wholesale destruction of Irans infrastructure, the Saudis mitigated the consequences of the new strategy by providing Iran with kerosene to see it through the winter.31 The Saudis also had assuaged Irans antagonism by playing the role of swing producer in OPEC, which had the effect of keeping oil prices high, of benefit to Irans war effort. Just before Al Faw the Saudis had abandoned this policy, with disastrous consequences for Iran.32 But after the Iranians had seized Al Faw, Riyadh cut its production and oil prices rallied. The Saudis further controlled the flow of Iraqi oil through the newly opened IPSA-I pipeline, keeping it to less than 500,000 barrels per day. This prevented Baghdad from far outstripping the Iranians in their oil sales. From all of this it can be seen that the Saudis were trying to stay on the good side of both parties. Like Washington, they saw it as in their interest to ensure that the war did not end conclusively in favor of one side or the other. Now, however, Khomeini had gone too far. The Mecca riots were bad enough, but the Ayatollahs suggestion that the Saudis were unfit to guard the shrines at Mecca undermined their legitimacy. On August 25, 1987, the Saudis in effect declared war on the Iranians. The Saudi Interior Minister charged that Iran fomented the Mecca riots to destabilize the kingdom.33 By coming out unequivocally against Iran, the Saudis allied themselves forcefully with the champions of reflagging. For behind the Saudis were powerful oil interests in the United States who could now put pressure on Washington policymakers to support the operation. Nor were the oil companies active only on the Washington scene. The same interests operated in Great Britain and the Netherlands. Although originally unwilling to go along with the reflagging,34 London shifted course only a few days after the Saudis declaration. On September 23, 1987, Margaret Thatcher promised to supply combat ships as escorts for commercial tankers in the Gulf.35 The Hague made a similar commitment shortly thereafter. In the meantime, the French, the Italians, and the Belgians sent ships from their fleets. Without U.N. involvement, the reflagging had become an international effort.

The first significant test of the reflagging decision had come in May 1987 on the first escort run. An Iraqi plane, mistaking the U.S. destroyer Stark for an Iranian shuttle tanker, fired an Exocet missile at the ship, causing thirty-seven casualties.36 The U.S. Congress, as might be expected, was extremely upset, and for a



while it appeared that the Iranian radicals would be proved correct: that at the first stab of pain, the Americans would back off. The move to invoke the War Powers Act was revived. In addition there occurred a mutiny of sorts in the Pentagon, with Secretary of the Navy James Webb taking the unusual step of dissenting in writing from Secretary Weinbergers stand on reflagging.37 Surprisingly, however, the designs of Congress were thwarted. Reagan stuck to his guns, with significant support from both Weinberger and Admiral William Crowe, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.38 Further tests followed. In July, the reflagged tanker Bridgeton hit an Iranian mine, a totally unforeseen development. It was soon brought out that not only did the United States not have any minesweepers in the Gulf, it did not have minesweepers, periodat least none that were easily accessible. An awkward interval ensued during which the U.S. Navy retrieved several World War II sweepers from mothballs. Until these could be made available, the escort operation was placed on hold. Although there was no loss of American lives in the Bridgeton affair, the whole situation clearly was becoming risky. Moreover, the United States had retaliated for the Bridgeton attack by destroying an Iranian oil platform. The response was a measured one; nonetheless, with this action a clear pattern of escalation was set. If the Revolutionary Guards attacked again, the United States would respond. It was a question of how far the escalation would go.

Iraq Stands By
Through all this the Iraqis were in the comfortable position of standing on the sidelines, applauding the action. To be sure, Iraq remained very much committed to the war. Its army stood guard over Basrah, and its air force continued to attack Iranian economic installations. But there was very little cost to any of this, except in one area. Iran, by way of retaliating against Iraqi air attacks, periodically fired Scud missiles at Baghdad. Some of these resulted in considerable losses of life. In August 1987, the Iraqis announced that they had modified a Sovietsupplied Scud so that it could reach Tehran. Since the Iraqis did not follow up their announcement with a demonstration, the Iranians wrote the threat off as a bluff. This was a serious error.39

As of late 1987, the United States had built its flotilla in the Gulf to a formidable forty-eight vessels.40 In addition, Washington had ordered its main battleship, the Missouri, into the waterway with a six-vessel escort,


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the first time since World War II that a U.S. battle fleet had deployed in the area.41 Along with this there were thirty-four combat ships from Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and Belgium patrolling the Gulf waters.42 Search operations for mines were being carried out by helicopters and the reactivated minesweepers. The media, which had swarmed into the Gulf to cover the reflagging, reported that sea-lanes in the area were becoming so crowded it was problematic whether the relatively restricted Gulf could contain such extraordinary activity.

The United Nations

Along with its Gulf presence, the United States promoted a plan in the United Nations to end the war. Starting in May 1987, it began lining up support among the Security Council members for a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire on land and sea.43 The plan was set up in two parts. The first part was uncontroversial: All the Security Council members could support a cease-fire appeal. However, the United States accompanied this with a call for sanctions against whichever party refused to subscribe to the truce. The sanctions proved highly controversial. As might be expected, the Iraqis were quick to agree to the proposal. Moreover, they accepted without conditions. Iran as much as rejected it. The Iranians were, however, compelled to qualify their rejection. They claimed to be willing to comply, if first the United Nations branded Iraq the aggressor and specified some suitable punishment against it.44 The Iranians suggested that Saddam could be tried as a war criminal and made to pay reparationsthe figure of $360 billion was floated. In the fall of 1987, U.N. Secretary General Javier Prez de Cuellar began a shuttle between the warring capitals, the outcome of which was dismal.45 The secretary general merely confirmed positions that the antagonists had already taken publicly. This opened the way for the United States to begin lobbying for sanctions. Washington immediately ran into a stone wall. The Soviet Union, it appeared, was not of a mind to cooperate.46

The Soviet Position

In July the Soviet Union had proposed that it and the United States cooperate in conducting surveillance operations in the Gulf, in effect advocating a team effort against the Revolutionary Guard pirates.47 The United States rejected this. For Washington, this stance was only sensible. The Gulf was its sphere of interest, and it would not willingly share the area with its major adver-



sary. The rejection alienated the Soviets, who by now had become concerned over the buildup of U.S. arms in such proximity to their sphere of interest. The Soviets noted that the southern Gulf was only a few thousand kilometers from their border. By the summer of 1987 propaganda broadcasts emanating from Moscow claimed that the United States was using the crisis to establish a military presence in the region.48 At the same time, the Soviets moved to support Tehran against Baghdad. Ultimately Moscow conceded that it would go along with a trucelimited to the Gulf waters. Baghdad reacted to this suggestion with outrage; it was on sea that the Iraqis held the advantage. To deny them the Gulf as a war theater meant to turn this into a war of attrition, which at this point would favor Iranian strategy.49 Iraq sent its chief diplomat, Tariq Aziz, to remonstrate with the Kremlin. And the Arab states followed up Azizs visit with a delegation that also supported Washingtons call for sanctions. The Soviets remained obdurate. The United States was also encountering difficulty trying to persuade the Chinese. Beijing was carrying on a lucrative arms trade with both belligerents. It indicated its willingness to support sanctionsprovided all the other Security Council members agreed. The Chinese knew that the Soviet Union was ill disposed to acquiesce.50


In September 1987 the high officials of Iran and Iraq were summoned to the United Nations in New York to address that assembly on their war stands.51 President Ali Husayni Khameneii of Iran sought to make this an opportunity to improve Tehrans image. He was set to announce a proposal whereby Iran would agree to observe the truce at sea but not on land.52 He hoped that this would gain the backing of the Arab states of the Gulf, since they were under fire as long as Gulf hostilities persisted. If successful in this, Tehran would have divided the Arab states, since Iraq would never go along with a cease-fire restricted to the waters. The Iranian presidents hopes of finding a receptive forum were dashed, however, whenon the eve of his speechU.S. warplanes using infrared equipment spotted Revolutionary Guards laying mines.53 The Americans captured the Guardsmen. The following day in New York, before Khameneiis speech, the media were filled with accounts of the operation. It appears that the Guardsmen had acted entirely on their own. Whether they deliberately sought to embarrass their president cannot be known. They may simply have ignored or not been aware of the public relations effort Khameneii was mounting at U.N. headquarters. Nonetheless, the affair is symptomatic of the state of internal politics in Iran. There was no central control. Consequently the Iranian Foreign Min-


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istry could spend considerable effort on a particular proposal, only to have the Guardsor some other competing power centersabotage it.


Irans failure to make its case at the United Nations was unfortunate, for the Iranians needed a respite as the ring of adversity was closing around them. They were never in a more perilous position than during the winter of 1987. In a word, their economic situation was catastrophic.54 The Iranians had always taken the Saudis lightly. They tended to view Saudi opposition as of no consequence, and yet the Saudis held weapons that Iran ought to have feared. After the Saudis in effect declared war on Iran, they once moreas they had done prior to 1986abandoned their countrys role as swing producer. Although the king maintained that this had nothing to do with the war, the effect of the Saudis action on Iran was devastating. With Saudi Arabia pumping at capacity, the price of oil plummeted to single digits. Iran, which needed every penny of oil revenue to finance its war effort, could ill afford this development. Moreover, the Iraqis had resumed their intensive bombing campaign, which they had abandoned to give the United States time to orchestrate its sanctions proposal. During that respite in bombing, Tehran had gotten its oil exports back to over 2 million barrels/day. Now, with the Iraqis convinced the sanctions effort was going to founder, the intense bombing recommenced. The Iraqis regularly targeted Iranian oil platforms, electrical grids, industrial plants, railways, and key cities. For example, they struck at Irans holy city of Qom. To hit at Qom, revered by the Shias, indicated the lengths to which the Iraqis were willing to gosuch a move risked alienating their own Shia population. Observers in the West, who earlier had discounted the effect of Iraqs bombing on the Iranians, began to grow restive.55 The opinion was voiced that Iran might effectively be bombed back to the Stone Age. Everything that the shah had accomplished in his drive to modernize Iran was being destroyed. For the first time, some analysts began to speculate that Irans oil-producing capability had been irremediably damaged. Whereas before the war it was producing almost 5 million barrels / day, that figure was now down to a little over 500,000. The United States appealed to Iraq to restrain the campaign, but Baghdad was unwilling to do so as long as the United Nations refused to act on sanctions. Moreover, whereas in the past the Soviet Union had been able to restrain the Iraqissince it was Baghdads principal arms supplierit no longer had that ability. By refusing to support sanctions, Moscow had lost whatever influence it had with the Bathists. Iraq made the case to both superpowers that in the absence of strong international support for sanctions, it would bring an end to the war on its



own. Iraqs deputy prime minister, Taha Yasin Ramadan, pointedly reminded Washington of what its arms trafficking with Tehran had cost Iraq. Although the Iraqis had initially reacted to Irangate with relative composure, Ramadans speech revealed that in fact a considerable residue of bitterness existed.56 Ramadan complained that Iraq had lost 10 percent of its air force in the Karbala offensives, thanks to the Skyhawks delivered to Tehran by Americas partner Israel. With the price of oil hovering at an abysmally low $14 a barrel, and Irans oil industry under attack from Iraqs air force, Tehrans oil sales in 1987 dropped to an unacceptable low of $8.2 billion, the worst since the record low of 1986, when the price of oil dipped to $7 a barrel and Iran realized only $6.6 billion.57 This meant that for the first time in the war, Iran was not earning enough cash to sustain the civilian sector, let alone its war effort. The group most harmed by the economic situation was the poor, since Iran was having to cut back on subsidies. Moreover, prices of most items had risen due to the determination of the bazaaris to profit from the scarcity. All told, the Iranian public was being badly buffeted, and this produced limited anti-regime activity. At the start of 1988, demonstrations in which the demonstrators called for the end of the war and pardon for Saddam Husayn erupted throughout Iran.58 Irans leaders were promoting the war as a holy crusade. For an element of the society to publicly demonstrate against it, and moreover to call for the pardon of the archvillain Saddam, was unprecedented. For the regime this was a most pernicious development. Moreover, it was felt that such opposition must have the backing of some influential power center, otherwise it could not have materialized.


In 1988 the great divide between Irans conservatives and radicals reopened with a vengeance. As we have tried to show throughout this book, the leaders of Irans government frequently were at odds with one another. Mostly they strove to mask their disagreements. Once they erupted, however, they could be devastating. Such a major eruption was on the verge of occurring. The first indication of trouble came just days into the new year. Without warning Khomeini delivered a religious decree on Islamic government. The imam observed that, under certain circumstances, the enactments of the temporal authority carried more weight than basic tenets of the faith. This was tantamount to saying that the state was virtually all powerful.59 In the same declaration Khomeini chided the Council of Guardians for not certifying key pieces of legislation that the majlis had asked it to pass. He went on to call for the creation of a higher council that would act as a


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kind of ombudsman of the people. It would oversee the work of the Council of Guardians, and be empowered to overrule that body should it be deemed in the interest of the state. Clearly Khomeini was stirring up the coals of an old and extremely divisive controversy, one that had almost rent the Republic in 1981: How was the Islamic Revolution to be structured? In the first heady days of the popular upheaval a social revolution had been promised. The groundwork for this had been laid by the majlis passing all sorts of popular reforms. However, practically every one had died in the Council of Guardians conservatives there had squelched them, on the basis that they were un-Islamic. Now, as Khomeini delivered this momentous declaration, leaders of the left leaped to confirm his view. They fulsomely praised his noble action, and enjoined the people to prepare for a new era of justice that the religious decree would initiate. According to the leftists, the mostafazin (the oppressed) should be greatly heartened, for Khomeinis action was tailored specifically to their needs. Ominously, only the leftists spoke out publicly about Khomeinis new pronouncement. The Council of Guardians partisans, the conservative faction within the leadership, largely kept silent. Why did Khomeini take this action now?


It seems fairly certain that Khomeini was galvanized to revive the matter of overdue social reforms. What apparently goaded him was the mobilization, which clearly was not going well. There were numerous reports of young men refusing to answer the call for volunteers. One good cause was the debacle of Karbala V.60 Rafsanjanis speech can be taken as evidence of thisit was extraordinary that he would confess publicly that the Karbala offensives had failed. His promise that offensives in subsequent years would be better managed can be seen as a plea for tolerance, presumably from the Iranian youth who were losing their stomach for these vicious bloodlettings. There is other substantiating evidence in the form of reports of roundups of draft dodgers. Less direct, but probably telling, are reports of special benefit programs initiated for the families of servicemen. Since the families were relatively well taken care of already, it is likely that additional perks were needed to overcome the enlistment decline. But most telling are the numerous pronouncements by public officials on the poor state of the economy. Almost invariably these were accompanied by statements about declining enthusiasm for the war. The connection is basic, inasmuch as the cost of provisioning frontline regiments was borne by the recruits home communities. This was a fea-



ture of Irans mobilization system that was not well known in the West. Local communities were responsible for sending units to the front and for maintaining them there. In times of extreme economic hardship it became problematical whether they would fulfill their responsibilities. Moreover, the whole mobilization system had been overhauled in 1987, in a not very satisfactory manner. Under the spur of finishing off the Iraqis, the regime had set aside the prohibition against recalling men to active duty. Previously a member of the basij could expect to serve one tour at the front and one only. But in 1987and this was continued into 1988 men who had already served were called back. The old system of mobilization had worked like a lottery. One was called; one went; and if one were killed, one went to heaven. If one survived, one could return home to enjoy the good lifeas good as it got for Irans underclass. One was assured food stamps, adequate housing, employmentone could, in other words, count on a modicum of security thereafter. Under the new system, the odds against one were significantly increasedlike a game of Russian roulette in which more than one chamber is loaded. And so, because of the deteriorating state of the economy, and the fact that ones chances of survival had significantly decreased, many potential recruits refused to serve. How to offset this? The leadership evidently decided that their propaganda pitch must be reoriented. They previously had relied on negative propagandayoung Iranians had been exhorted to destroy the infidel Bathists. The new propaganda pitch stressed positive elementsthe fight for the good society that would shortly come into being. Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a prominent radical, put it well. He claimed that the society Khomeini envisioned was one in which justice was assured. Khomeini contrasted this with what he called American-style Islam.61 Implicit here is the threat that under the U.S. plan, Iran could expect to revert to its former miserable dependency upon the capitalists, whereas in the society of Khomeinis vision, Iran would be self-sufficient. Here was the old dream of autarky discussed in Chapter 3. The difficulty was that this new society could come about only through a fundamental overhaul of existing power arrangements. Only a strong state could compel the kinds of changes needed for this realignment. And of course the conservativesthe bazaaris and a significant proportion of the clericslooked on strong central government as anathema. They wanted laissez-faire. Following their subdued reception of the imams fetwa, the conservatives adopted a more forceful, oppositionist stance. Riots began to erupt around the country, and demonstrations broke out against the war. Quite clearly the message coming from the right was this: If continua-


The Iran-Iraq War

tion of the war required a radical reorienting of the economy, it would be better to end the war. It was in this sour atmosphere that Iraq went on the offensive.


Two significant events preceded the last campaign of the Iran-Iraq War. At the beginning of 1988 the Iraqis shelled Iranian cities along the border, causing considerable loss of life.62 This induced the Iranians to retaliate by firing two Scud missiles into Baghdad, one of which hit an elementary school in session. It appears in retrospect that the Iraqis had set up the Iranians to resume Scud attacks on Iraqs capital, because immediately thereafter the Iraqis fired two Al Husayn missiles into Tehran.63 The effect of long-range missile attacks by the Iraqis on Irans capital was electric. Throughout the war military observers in the West had speculated about Iraqs possession of missiles capable of reaching the Iranian capital, hundreds of kilometers from Iraq. It was generally agreed that even though the Iraqis might possess such missiles, they were prevented from employing them by the Soviets. Now the observers recalled that the previous fall the Iraqis had claimed to have acquired a new weapon capable of striking Tehran, and their claim had been generally discounted. This weapon, it developed, was the Al Husayn, a standard Soviet-supplied Scud B rocket that the Iraqis had successfully modified to give it a range of over 600 kilometers (360 miles). In all previous escalations throughout the war, the two sides had effectively neutralized each other, inasmuch as a significant escalation by one of the belligerents was successfully countered by a major escalation by the other. Now the Iranians had nothing to retaliate with. They possessed, it was estimated, only fifty Scuds. Iraq had hundreds of Scud Bs in their arsenal. By modifying these they were able to begin a sustained and devastating attack on the Iranians. Between February and late April they fired over 120 modified Scuds into Iran, striking not only Tehran but other major cities such as Qom. Being unable to respond effectively to this new and terrifying assault upon their civilian population, the Iranians resorted to urging home defense measures. They ordered construction of bomb shelters. The perception by the Iranian people that they were defenseless against the Iraqis new terror weapon sent morale plummeting. The second event of significance prior to the last campaign by Iraq was Irans attack on a Kurdish town in northern Iraq. Evidently the Iranians were driven to attack Halabjah in a bid to preserve the momentum in the war.64 The fall of Halabjah, captured by Irans Revolutionary Guard in combination with elements of Talabanis Kurdish guerrillas, produced one of the more tragic episodes of the war. On May 23, in fighting over the



town, gas was used by both sides. As a result scores of Iraqi Kurdish civilians were killed. It is now fairly certain that Iranian gas killed the Kurds.65 However, the Iranians were quick to launch a publicity campaign, complete with photos of victims they claimed the Iraqis had killed. This was the first salvo of a campaign against Iraq, claiming it was using chemicalsa charge Iraq was never able to refute convincingly. The immediate effect of the atrocity allegations was damped by the next big event in the warwhich, as it turned out, was actually the end of the whole conflict.

Iran had proclaimed 1987 to be the year of decision, and so it was. But the outcome was not what Iran had anticipated. The Iraqis ability to stand up to the human wave attacks shattered the morale of Irans forces. Not only were Irans soldiers sickened by the carnage that was inflicted on them, its military leaders were daunted as well. They realized that, to counter Iraqs new tactics, they would have to institute major military reforms. This they were incapable of doing, and so they sought to shift the focus of combat away from the land warwhere they perceived themselves to be weakonto the waters of the Gulf. However, this only brought the United States into the conflict. In the meanwhile the Iraqis quietly carried on with their plan to end the war in 1988 by finally taking the offensive.

1. Karbala refers to the Shia holy city of Karbala in Iraq. The Iranians gave the campaign this name. Implied is their determination to seize Karbala after they had captured Basrah. Although the campaign began with Karbala IV, other Karbala battles (I, II and III) had been fought earlier in the war, and battles designated Karbala were fought after this particular campaign had ended. But only Karbalas IV through IX are part of this decisive campaign. 2. Karbala VI was fought at Sumar on the central front; Karbala VII, across from the Kurdish Iraqi city of Halabjah; and Karbala IX, just south of there at Qasr e Shirin. 3. FBIS ME&SA Daily Report, December 29, 1986. 4. All of the information in our account of the Karbala campaign is drawn from Stephen C. Pelletiere and D.V. Johnson II, Lessons Learned: The Iran-Iraq War (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1991). 5. Surprise can probably be ruled out. The Iranians forfeited this when they launched their Karbala IV and V attacks seriatim instead of together. There is evidence the Revolutionary Guard jumped the gun in this instance. Iran had warned Kuwait against hosting an Islamic conference, and when the Kuwaitis defied the


The Iran-Iraq War

clerics, the Revolutionary Guard attacked Iraq on the eve of the conference opening, apparently to intimidate the conferees. 6. We determined the type of units by studying FBIS reports. Republican Guard units are the only ones in the Iraqi army with proper namesfor example, the Hammurabi Divisionand so are easy to spot. 7. This maneuver of turning at a right angle and defending, plus the action of falling back and linking up, was extremely well done, especially when we consider that this was not an elite unit. Border guards are several cuts below Republican Guards. 8. This was evident from satellite photography. 9. Given the extraordinary degree to which the area was fortified with berms, bunkers, and tank traps, grand maneuvers by either side would not have been possible. Also, the ground on which the battle was fought was marshy in places, and overgrown with savanna and palm trees. 10. In fact, the battle was not over because the Iranians launched Karbala VIII in April, in which they tried essentially to break through over the same ground (i.e., the Iron Ring area). They failed with heavy loss of life. 11. This is derived from an interpretation of FBIS Reports. 12. New York Times, July 5, 1987. 13. Effectively, what the Iraqi commanders did was to take advantage of the environment they had created. They had over the course of the war built up the Iron Ring to resemble a giant maze. The challenge for the Iraqis was to channel the invading Iranians through the maze, steering them toward a prepared killing zone, and time the arrival so that the Iraqis would be set to receive them. The solution of Iraqs commanders was to have multiple units on hand to bump the Iranians through the maze in the direction they wanted them to go. The rolling offensive tactic was crucialno Iraqi unit ever really engaged the enemy, but rather blocked and deflected it, in effect handing off to a waiting unit. 14. Mechanized infantry, to be sure. 15. Politics played a role here also. After failing to defeat Iraq, the clerics needed an excuse to offer to their people. They resurrected the Great Satan. By taking on U.S. forces in the Gulf, they could justify their failure to end the war by saying that Washington had come into the war against Iran. 16. Much of this equipment was seized from the regular army, which intensified the hostility between the Guards and the regulars. 17. The New York Times reported on June 22, 1987, that Iraq was willing to end the war if Iran would agree to four conditions: total withdrawal to internationally recognized frontiers, prisoner exchange, signing of a nonaggression pact based on noninterference in each others affairs, and respect for each others way of life. 18. Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 1987. 19. New York Times, August 4, 1987. 20. Ibid., July 12, 1987. 21. Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 1987. 22. New York Times, July 23, 1987. 23. Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1987. 24. Washington Post, May 29, 1987.



25. Ibid., June 21, 1987. 26. New York Times, September 23, 1987. 27. Washington Post, October 23, 1987. 28. Ibid., July 1, 1987. 29. New York Times, August 3, 1987. 30. Ibid., August 4, 1987. 31. Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 1987. 32. Ibid. 33. Washington Post, August 26, 1987. 34. Ibid., August 1, 1987. 35. Ibid., September 23, 1987. 36. Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 1987. 37. Washington Times, November 3, 1987. 38. Washington Post, February 14, 1988. 39. Christian Science Monitor, August 5, 1987. 40. Washington Post, February 14, 1988. 41. Ibid., January 11, 1988. 42. Ibid. 43. Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 1987. 44. Washington Post, August 26, 1987. 45. Christian Science Monitor, September 4, 1987. 46. Ibid., September 15, 1987. 47. Ibid., July 22, 1987. 48. New York Times, July 23, 1987. 49. Christian Science Monitor, September 15, 1987. 50. Ibid. 51. Washington Post, September 23, 1987. 52. Ibid. 53. Ibid. 54. Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 1988. 55. New York Times, May 8, 1988. 56. Stephen Pelletiere, Douglas V. Johnson II, and Lief R. Rosenberger, Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East (Carlisle, PA: Stategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1990), pp. 82, 57. 57. New York Times, November 27, 1987. 58. Pelletiere, Johnson, and Rosenberger, Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East, p. 21. 59. Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1988. 60. Pelletiere, Johnson, and Rosenberger, Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East, p. 21. 61. FBIS NEX 89-017, January 27, 1989. 62. New York Times, May 3, 1988. 63. Washington Post, March 28, 1988. 64. Ibid., March 24, 1988. 65. The U.S. State Department said chemicals were used by both sides in the battle. The victims extremities were blue, an effect of cyanide gas. The Iraqis have never used cyanide; the Iranians have used it frequently.

Tawakalna ala Allah

Early in the morning of April 17, 1988, the Iraqi armys Seventh Corps and major elements of the Republican Guards left their positions at the neck of the Al Faw peninsula and attacked Iranian lines with a force that shattered the enemys defenses. This battle, which was expected to take five days, was over in thirty-six hours, a complete victory for Iraq.1 This was the start of a campaign that the Iraqis have dubbed Tawakalna ala Allah (in God we trust).2 It consisted of five major battles plus lesser engagements that ranged over the whole 730 miles (1,176 kilometers) of the Iraq-Iran frontier. Tawakalna ala Allah lasted four months and resulted in the absolute destruction of Irans military machine. A summary of the five main battles and an evaluation of the campaigns significance follow, plus comments on some aspects of the performance of the Iraqis and Iranians in the war.

Of the five main battles (Al Faw, Fish Lake, Majnoon, Dehloran, Qasre Shirin), the first was the most stunning and complex. The Al Faw attack was a two-pronged operation that began with a thrust by elements of Iraqs regular army (Seventh Corps) through palm groves skirting the Shatt al Arab. Coincidentally the Republican Guards attacked along the Khor Abdullah channel. With these two main thrusts came amphibious landings behind Iranian lines.3 Surprise and deception played a significant role in the initial battle. Be-


The Iran-Iraq War

tween September 22, 1980, and April 17, 1988, the Iraqis undertook few large-scale offensives. Following their Soviet training, they preceded these with heavy, prolonged artillery preparations. On the morning of April 17, however, their artillery preparation lasted only one hour. By cutting it short, the Iraqis appear to have caught the Iranians off guard. It was a stunning barrage, timed to hit as the Iranians began their observance of Ramadan. The Iraqis also staged visits to the northern theater by Saddam and Defense Minister Khayrallah just prior to the offensive, apparently to convince the Iranians that Iraq was preparing an operation in that area. Since the Iranians had just carried out their Halabjah attack (see Chapter 6), an Iraqi response somewhere in the north might have been expected.4 A striking feature of the battle was the huge numbers of Iraqi troops employed. An estimated 15,000 Iranians were attacked by a force that may have comprised upwards of 200,000 men.5 In support of this enormous host, Iraqs air arm was uncharacteristically active. So many helicopters participated that the Iranians charged U.S. helicopters had intervened.6 Despite this overkill, the Iranians did not immediately succumb. Although surprised, they offered stiff resistance, particularly in defense of their command bunker. Nonetheless, they were overwhelmed. After the initial stand, Iranian opposition crumpled and a general retreat commenced. Iraq apparently wanted the Iranians to flee, as it left one pontoon bridge over the Shatt untouched, across which the Iranians rushed in large numbers.7 Evidence of their flight was dramatically demonstrated on Baghdad television, which showed gun-camera footage of Iraqi military action to the viewing public. Casualties in the battle were comparatively light for an attack of this scope. Iraq lost probably a few hundred killed. Iran lost more, but not a great deal more because of the Iranians precipitous flight.8 No attempt was made by the Iraqis to pursue the Iranians onto the east bank of the Shatt. Instead they mopped up pockets of resistance and invited in the press. It is significant what the Iraqis did not do next. There were no celebrations, no excessive propagandizing over the great victory. Instead, in a businesslike manner, Iraqi troops moved to conduct mock battles over terrain similar to that of their next objective, the Fish Lake area.9 The fact that the Iraqis moved methodically, at one-month intervals, as the ground dried and became suitable for armored operations, and only after intensive, if quick, training, seems to confirm that they were following a wellthought-out plan.

The battle began at 0930 on May 25, 1988, and was over by 1800. There was no subtlety about this attack. It was a straight-ahead, crushing affair

Tawakalna ala Allah



designed to impress the Iranians with the invincibility of Iraqs new army. The Iraqis rolled over the enemy with a mechanized force, including several thousand tanks, against which the Iranians had only a hundred tanks, at most. The attack was preceded by a massive artillery preparation, at the


The Iran-Iraq War

end of which the Iraqi units moved forward, grinding down Iranian resistance.10 Again the huge disparity in numbers seems to have tipped the balance in Iraqs favor. Within five hours the Iranians were in full flight.11 In a futile effort to avert disaster, on June 2, Khomeini appointed Rafsanjani commander of the Iranian armed forces. Rafsanjanis first act was to order a counterattack in the Fish Lake area.12 Irans counterthrust had some initial success, but the Iraqi juggernaut was not long delayed; it was only a matter of hours before the Iranians were once more in retreat.13 In the end, the Iraqis captured a few hundred Iranians and seized large stocks of weapons. Casualties were light on both sides. Again, because of the nature of the attack, the Iranians were able to flee and relatively few were killed or captured.

In the third battle, for the Majnoon Islands, the tactical approach showed more subtlety. While the Republican Guards attacked to clear the two islands, Iraqs Third Corps swept behind them, protecting the Guards east flank and severing the Iranian defenders links to the mainland.14 Initial reports stated capture of 2,115 prisoners of war15 and other indicators of a total Iranian collapse. In addition, large quantities of equipment were captured, much of it abandoned. Again overkill was a major factor. Sun Tzu cautioned that huge numbers can become an embarrassment; Carl von Clausewitz, on the other hand, recommendedin a theoretical contextthe maximum possible.16 Here, with adequate maneuvering space and good command and control, Clausewitz would appear vindicated. As in the two previous battles, Iraqi troops outnumbered the Iranians by an enormous margin, probably as high as twenty to one.

The Iraqi armys Fourth Corps and Republican Guards attacked at 0715 on July 12, 1988, and completed the destruction of Iranian forces facing them by 1100.17 This battle resulted in a forty-five-kilometer (twenty-eight-mile) penetration along a 130-kilometer (eighty-mile) front, shattering all remaining Iranian opposition. Such massive quantities of equipment were captured that it required four days to evacuate them. The Iraqis then withdrew from Iran, declaring that they had no territorial ambitions.18

The fifth and last major engagement took place after the cease-fire was declared. It was a deep penetration raid designed to send a strong message

Tawakalna ala Allah


to the Iranian leadership that their situation was hopeless. The Iraqi army smashed across the border at Qasre Shirin, the area of its initial invasion in 1980. After advancing quickly toward Kerend, some forty miles (sixty-four kilometers) inside Iran, the Iraqis unleashed paramilitary forces made up of Iranian exiles. The exiles penetrated further into Iran, and managed to hold the town of Islamabad for seventy-two hours, systematically looting all Iranian equipment in the area. Ultimately, however, the Iraqi units pulled back, leaving the resistance fighters to confront Iranian troops, who quickly overwhelmed them.19

Tawakalna ala Allah was the campaign that ended the Iran-Iraq War. There are a number of points about it we would like to discuss. First of all, it originally was assumed that this was a discrete affair, that is, that the battles of Tawakalna ala Allah were self-contained, related only to each other. Taken together, they were supposed to constitute the decisive action of the war. We now see that this was not the case. Tawakalna ala Allah was merely a mopping-up exercise after Karbala. In the Karbala campaign, the Iraqi military had raised a new army, the reconstituted Republican Guards. It had organized it into brigades, and these brigades were drilled in the tactics of combined arms, which subsequently were tested in the actual campaign. Once Iraqs generals saw how well those tactics worked, they launched Tawakalna ala Allah, by which they hoped to recapture all of the territory taken by Iran. Afterward they would declare peace in the manner of Vermonts Senator Aiken, who, when asked how he would end the Vietnam War, said, Id declare victory and go home. In other words, having taken back their land, they would be in a position to unilaterally stand down. If the Iranians wanted to keep the war going, they could. But then the Iranians, having been driven out of Iraq, would be in the position of virtually having to start the war from scratch. What the Iraqis did not anticipateand we think this is evident from the manner in which the battles unfoldedwas that the Iranians were on the point of collapse. We do not think they anticipated such a stunning success, and we certainly do not believe that they ever intended to invade Iran. We reach this conclusion on the basis of a number of factorsthe bridge left standing, for example. Had the Iraqis wanted to invade Iran, they would not have allowed so many Iranians to escape. They would not have wanted an Iranian army in place inside Iran, where it would be able to regroup and defend itself. Again, at Fish Lake we observe the Iraqi army performing a straightahead bulldozing charge, with no attempt to round up prisoners. This is


The Iran-Iraq War

not the action of an army preparing to invade enemy territory; it is the sort of thing that an army does when it wants to purge its country. The capture of a great many prisoners did not occur until Majnoon. This says to us that it was after Fish Lakeafter the Iranian army had collapsed yet againthat the Iraqis realized they were going to win. They then began to think about peace negotiations to come, specifically about the matter of prisoner repatriation. Since the Iranians had many more prisoners than they did, the Iraqis set about acquiring more of their own and, while they were at it, taking as much equipment as possible. This is what the two deep penetration raids were about. Why did the Iranians fall apart so completely? Karbala certainly was a factor. Tactics employed by the Iraqis in this campaign seem to have convinced the Iranians that they could not go on fighting without considerable retraining and reorganization of their military. Clearly this was beyond them. If one looks at Irans performance at Halabjah, for example, one sees that this is so. Realistically, what were the Iranians trying to accomplish at Halabjah? In our view, they were performing a deception, trying to give the appearance that they were still in the war when in fact they were no longer serious contenders. When the Iraqis forced the Iranians to fight by striking at their most prized possession, Al Faw, the ruse was revealed. In order to mount their operation at Halabjah, they had siphoned off troops from Al Faw, and when Iraq struck, there were not 30,000 to 50,000 Iranians there, but closer to 15,000. Iraqs General Rashid expressed astonishment, saying he had expected the battle to last five days. It ended in thirty-six hours. Of course, once this occurred, the Iraqis knew they were facing a hollow army, and they went to work rolling it up. The matter of the 15,000 brings up another point: After the recapture of Al Faw, many observers incorrectly concluded that the victory was chemically dependent. Otherwise, how could the 30,000 to 50,000 Iranians on the peninsula have been so easily overcome? We now know that no gas was used at Al Faw. The Iraqis didnt need it. Planning for a fierce battle against 30,000 to 50,000 Iranians, they had provided themselves with a force so great that when it collided with the depleted Iranian contingent, the latter fell apart. Had the Iraqis used gas especially persistent mustard gas, which is what they generally did useit would merely have gotten in the way, slowing them up. The failure of observers to correctly anticipate the end of the war was attributable to other factors as well. The United States at this juncture was heavily engaged against Revolutionary Guards in the Gulf. Al Faw commenced as the Americans were destroying an Iranian oil platform (in response to a Revolutionary Guard attack on a U.S. ship). That U.S. attack drew the worlds attention, and in the process Al Faw was practically ignored. And the last battle of the Tawakalna ala Allah coincided with the

Tawakalna ala Allah


shooting down of an Iranian Airbus by the U.S. Navy. The eyes of the world media once more were focused elsewhere. It was almost as an afterthought that the media realized the war was over.

It seems safe to say, on the basis of all of this, that the Iraqi army had matured, it had become modern. Until this point in the waror, rather, until Karbala in 1987the Iraqi army had not performed as a modern army. It was too focused on protecting territory, whereas a modern army has to concentrate on destroying the enemys army. At Karbala, and certainly in this last campaign, the focus shifted. To be sure, the Iraqis were still focused on land, inasmuch as they were trying to retrieve what they had lost to the Iranians. But they got their land back by smashing the enemys hold on it. Their tactics were designed to make the enemy surrender or face annihilation. At Al Faw, helicopters, tanks, mechanized infantry, and planes were used to perform combined arms operations of the sort Iraq had not previously attempted. Whereas in the past, two or more Iraqi services might have cooperated, nothing on the scale of these last two campaigns (of 1987 and 1988) had ever been triedthe whole battle plan was worked out in advance, in phases, with the various elements cued to take part at specific points.20 It is our theory that there is a threshold that an army crosses and becomes modern. That threshold is the conceptual awareness of its general staff of what modern arms are supposed to do. It does no good for an army to possess all of the latest equipmentas was the case with Iraqif it hasnt the faintest notion how these weapons are supposed to be employed. Army commanders have to see that modern weapons systems are meant to be used in specific ways, and under certain circumstances, if they are to accomplish what they are meant to. It took Iraqs generals six years to work this out. But in the end they got it right. Thus, we may say that by the end of 1988 the Iraqi military had joined the ranks of the worlds modern armies. What about Iran? What can we say about its performance? The tragedy of the war, it seems to us, was that the flowering of Irans national spirit was crushed by the clerics. They simply were not up to managing events, much less encouraging the popular explosion that Khomeinis revolution set off. The fact that at the end of eight years they were still wrangling over essential reforms shows this to be the case. The basic challenge to Irans rulersand this was the case under the shahwas to develop a workable agricultural policy, one that would end the feudalism with which Iran was beset. The clerics never did this. The best elements of the peasantry and lower-class urban dwellers thus wasted


The Iran-Iraq War

themselves in theatricals. This, to us, is what most of the Revolutionary Guard campaigning was about. Perhaps it fed a deep need of Iranians, but it certainly made no sense from a military standpoint. In the end, the Revolutionary Guards deteriorated into a group of lawless adventurers. This is what happens whenever wars go on too long. The Revolutionary Guards in the end were undone by the loss of their mainstay; once the basij stopped volunteering, the Guards were bereft. In the end, one has the feeling, the Iranian people stopped giving a damn. They just quit.

1. Michael S. Sherrill, Iran on the Defensive, Time, June 20, 1988, p. 33; see also Frederick W. Axelgard, Iraq: Looking Beyond the War, Middle East International, June 29, 1988, p. 19; Jim Muir, Rout of the Revolutionaries, The Sunday Times (London), April 24, 1988, p. 13; John Laffin, The World in Conflict 1989: War Annual 3 (London: Brasseys, 1989), p. 107. 2. War Communiqu #3, 191, 1217 GMT, May 25, 1988, Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) NES 88-101, May 25, 1988, p. 16; War Communiqu #3, 189, 0730 GMT, May 25, 1988, Baghdad Voice of the Masses, ibid.; War Communiqu #3, 192, 1510 GMT, May 25, 1988, FBIS NES 88-102, May 26, 1988, p. 13. 3. Muhieddin Rashad, Faw Occupation, Liberation, Reconstruction, Baghdad Observer, June 25, 1989, p. 4; Laffin, The World in Conflict 1989, p. 107. 4. Muir, Rout of the Revolutionaries, p. 13; Laffin, The World in Conflict 1989, p. 107. 5. Numbers of corps and divisional headquarters are not particularly useful indicators of the number of troops actually employed. The Iraqis have been silent on the actual numbers of units committed to this operation. On the basis of our interview we feel confident in saying the Iraqis overwhelmingly outnumbered the Iranians in all battles. 6. Laffin, The World in Conflict 1989, p. 106. 7. FBIS NES 88-107, June 3, 1988. 8. Patrick E. Tyler, Rout of Iran from Faw Still Puzzling to West, Washington Post, May 3, 1988, p. A-20; Jim Muir, The Gulf WarCatching Them Napping, Middle East International, April 30, 1988, pp. 45. 9. Iraqs Victory Rewrites Military Science for the 29th Century, The Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA), October 10, 1988, p. A-7; Axelgard, Iraq: Looking Beyond the War, p. 19; Muir, The Gulf WarCatching Them Napping, p. 4; Muir, Rout of the Revolutionaries, p. 13; G. H. Jansen, Gulf WarOminous for Iran, Middle East International, July 8, 1988, p. 14; Nadim Jaber, The Gulf WarContemplating Peace? Middle East International, June 24, 1988, p. 11; Godfrey Jansen, The Gulf WarIran in Disarray, Middle East International, June 24, 1988, pp. 1011; James A. Bill, Why Tehran Finally Wants a Gulf Peace, Washington Post, August 18, 1988, p. B-1; Alan Cowell, Iraqs Dark Victory, New York Times Magazine, September 25, 1988, p. 34; Alan Cowell, Ceasefire Takes Effect in 8 Year Iran-Iraq War, New York Times, August 21, 1988, p. 6;

Tawakalna ala Allah


Dilip Hiro and Kambiz Foroohar, Upheaval on All Fronts, The Middle East, July 1988, p. 18; Safa Haeri, Iran: At a Crossroads, Middle East International, June 24, 1988, p. 12. 10. War Communiqu #3, 189, 0743 GMT, May 25, 1988, FBIS NEC 88-101, May 25, 1988, p. 15; War Communiqu #3, 191, 1217 GMT, May 25, 1988, FBIS NEC 88-101, May 25, 1988, p. 16; War Communiqu #3, 193, 1616 GMT, May 25, 1988, FBIS NEC 88-102, May 26, 1988, p. 13; Axelgard, Iraq: Looking Beyond the War, p. 19; Sherrill, Iran on the Defensive, p. 33. 11. Patrick E. Tyler, Iraq Dislodges Iranians from Outside Basrah, Washington Post, May 26, 1988, p. A-14. 12. Scheherazade Daneshkhu, IranRafsanjani Moves Up, Middle East International, June 11, 1988, p. 11. 13. Jaber, The Gulf WarContemplating Peace? p. 11; Iran Says It Retook Area near Basra, Washington Post, June 14, 1988, p. A-17; Baghdad Claims to Crush Major Iranian Offensive, Washington Post, June 15, 1988, p. A-27. 14. Baghdad Voice of the Masses in Arabic, 1000 GMT, June 25, 1988, FBIS NES 88-123, June 27, 1988, p. 22; Warren Richey, Iranian Morale Sinks in the Marshes, Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 1981, p. 9. 15. Baghdad Voice of the Masses in Arabic, 1042 GMT, June 26, 1988, FBIS NES 88-123, June 27, 1988, p. 23. 16. For greater insight into the theory of the relative effectiveness of larger numbers, the reader is referred to James J. Schneider, The Exponential Decay of Armies in Battle (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Studies, 1985). Schneider challenges the conventional wisdom of numbers especially as embodied in the Lanchester Equations, upon which most U.S. Army war games are based. He suggests that beyond a certain point Sun Tzu is correct; not only are extreme numbers an embarrassment but they will lead to higher casualties. There is a fascinating interview with General Balck, a Wehrmacht tactical expert, on page 19 in which the general says that too many tanks will lead to too many losses. 17. Baghdad Voice of the Masses in Arabic, Communiqu no. 3,257, 1009 GMT, July 12, 1988, and Communiqu no. 3256, 0600 GMT, July 12, 1988, FBIS NES 88-133, July 13, 1988, pp. 2122. 18. Iraqi Forces Pull Out of Dehloran, Baghdad Observer, no. 6,570 (July 18, 1988), p. 1. Also Youssef M. Ibrahim, Iraqis Say They Plan to Give Up All Land Captured Inside Iran, New York Times, July 18, 1988, p. A-8. 19. John Laffin, The World in Conflict, 1989, War Annual III (London: Brasseys, 1989), p. 114. The Mujahidin were attempting to incite an antiKhomeini revolt. It appears the Iraqis abandoned them because they did not want to bog down inside Iran. 20. In this regard, the matter of the terrain mock-ups is extremely relevant. The first of these mock-ups appeared just after the successful conclusion of the Karbala battles. The extensive drills carried out on them buttressed the argument that Iraqs general staff was operationalizing a preconceived plan, which we believe it put forward at the extraordinary congress of the Bath in 1986. See Alan Cowell, Iraqs Dark Victory, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 25, 1988, p. 34; Iraqs Victory Rewrites Military Science for Late Twentieth Century, Patriot News, (Harrisburg, PA), Oct. 10, 1988, p. A-7.

This is the point at which we originally intended to end the book. It is necessary, however, that we say something about Operation Desert Storm. At the same time, it does not seem possible to make any definite pronouncements; we are too close to the event. We will restrict ourselves to exploring an area that we deem essential to understand: Why did Saddam behave as he did? Why did he invade Kuwait? Information on this point is limited, but there are details that seem to throw light on the matter. It seems fairly evident that Saddam invaded Kuwait because he was strapped financially. He had ended the war with enormous debts, contracted to pay for the military buildup that began with the 1987 Karbala campaign. Iraq had a million-man army it could not demobilize because there were no jobs to send the men home to. And since the economy was flat, it could not make jobs for these people. For any other country there would probably have been no solution but to go under. Iraq, however, has the second largest reserves of oil in the world. Oil is like cash in the bank, in that ultimately, one assumes, it can be turned to account. Iraqs problem, then, was in the nature of a liquidity crunch; it was temporarily indisposed. In the minds of Iraqs leadership, other countries (i.e., its Arab partners in the Gulf) should have been willing to tide it over until it got back on its feet. They were not. At least Kuwaitwhich, in the Iraqis view, was the main villain of the piecewas not. Indeed, the emir of Kuwaitfor reasons we have yet to fathomseems deliberately to have picked a fight with



the Bathists. He announced to the world that money Kuwait had provided Iraq during the war would have to be repaid, after practically all observers had assumed that this was a gift in return for protecting the emir from the Iranians.1 The emirs announcement certainly was the trigger that ignited the crisis, but this is not to put the blame solely on him. Saddam ought to have had better sense than to invade his neighbor. He ought to have known that the United States would rush to its defense. He had the precedent of the Kuwaiti reflagging to guide him; the United States on that occasion had demonstrated clearly that it would look out for the Kuwaitis. We think that there is an explanation for Saddams conduct, but it needs to be put in context. Clausewitz said that war is policy carried out by another means. And most of usat least those of us who are connected with the militarytend to accept his premise. At the same time, we never ask ourselves how the transition is effected. How does the policymaker turn into the warmaker? We assume that this is a natural progression. Having failed to get ones way through negotiation, one goes to war. It is more likely that war is set off by a change in the dynamics of the dispute in which the parties have become embroiled. It must be that at a point in the negotiations, the ante is upped to a dangerous level. This is done as a form of coercion, much as one poker player will try to intimidate another by raising the bidding outrageously. When this occurs, the exchange ceases to be rational; the opponents have locked themselves into an escalatory spiral that drags them along, willy-nilly. This is what seems to have happened with Saddam and the emir. Saddam wanted the emir to negotiate the status of his debt. The emir refused. Saddam mobilized to pressure him. The emir still refused. Saddam invaded. It was either that or lose face, whichgiven the way Middle East politics is playedwas not an option.2 Under ordinary circumstances Saddam might yet have been able to extricate himself from the dangerous impasse to which he had brought matters; he should have had the option of retreating. As we have seen, this was not the case. Because of the enormous power of the U.S. military, once the war began, Saddam could not withdraw his troops safely. General Schwarzkopf has stated that once the air war commenced, Saddams army was trapped inside Kuwait, the United States having achieved air mastery. How we got this control has not been established. However, it does appear that our electronic warfare capability is nothing short of revolutionary. It seems that the perfection of our arms surprised even ourselves.3 Once Saddam realized that his air force could not protect his ground forces, he evidently decided to throw in the towel. However, as the United States had by this time made clear its intent of destroying his armyby bombing it to extinctionhe had somehow to salvage it; he had to have



something with which to protect his regime and to hold the country together once a cease-fire was declared. What he appears to have done is to allow the army to decompose. From roughly the last week in January there was a steep climb in desertions; whole units simply melted away. There seems to have been no attempt on Saddams part to interfere with this process. At the same time, as soon as the cease-fire was declared, the army reconstituted itself inside Iraq. The proof of this was the speed and effectiveness with which the army put down the so-called rebellions. A word about these rebellions. We do not believe that there was a genuine revolt in the south. We believe that the Iraniansspecifically the Revolutionary Guardstook advantage of the chaos of the Iraqi armys retreat to infiltrate the south in order to provoke a revolt. However, Iraqs Shias did not cooperate; they may even have fought the Iranians. There is simply no way that a legitimate rebellion could not have succeeded under the circumstances that obtained in southern Iraq immediately after the cease-fire. The fact that the disorder was so quickly quelled seems to rule out any possibility of a true uprising having occurred. The affair with the Kurds is more problematic. What went on in the north will take some effort to puzzle out.4 But, again, it is worth noting the speed with which Iraqs army put down the Kurds. Out of all this we are led to conclude that our original assessment of the Iraqi army is correctit is professional and of a high caliber. Only a professional army could have stood up to one of the longest, most savage aerial bombings in history and then proceeded to restore order in the country. Our assessment that the army was loyal to Saddam also appears to have been proved by events. The irony of all this, however, is that with everything that has gone on, the Gulf has now reverted to conditions of World War I. It is as if everything that has transpired since then, including the involvement of the Soviet Union in the region and the rise of Arab nationalism, had never taken place. The United States is nowas of this writingsending troops into northern Iraq and is thereby effecting the de facto partition of the country, much in the manner of Britain and France after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The vacuum that has existed in the Persian Gulf for so many years is at last being filledby the United States! President Bush insists that we are eventually going to withdraw and hand over to the United Nations. One can only wish, fervently, that he is serious about this and that he is able to fulfill his pledge. Nevertheless, when one looks back over the recent history of the region, everything seems to have been tending toward precisely this result: that the United States would some day have to establish a military presence in the Gulf in order to maintain its access there.



1. No one really knows how much Iraq owed, because the Kuwaitis and Saudis never published an accounting. The generally accepted figure was somewhere about $80 billion, if one counted the debt to the Arab states of the Gulf. What angered Iraq was that the emirs announcement came just as it was trying to reschedule its debts with its European creditors. Once the emir made his statement, the Europeans balked at rescheduling, saying this added burden of having to repay the Kuwaitis made Iraqs position untenable. 2. The question becomes Why does one party feel the necessity to break off the negotiations? It would appear that this implies recognition that the continuation of the negotiations, absent any significant concessions being made, represents a defeat. The threat to mobilize, therefore, followed by mobilization, is an admission of failure, accompanied by an expressed determination to get ones way. As long as the mobilization is announced and there is a decent interval between the announcement and the initiation of hostilities, the activity can still be interpreted as a form of bargaining, a last chance to make a deal. The danger is that the time relation undergoes a significant change once the threatening stage has been reached. If there is to be a deal, it must be made quickly. In other words, in a quite literal manner the parties are in the process of being carried away with themselves. 3. The United States does seem to have treated the Kuwait crisis in a manner similar to the way the Nazis handled the Spanish Civil War. It became a laboratory for testing weapons. Weapons like the cruise missile, for example, were largely unknown quantities before they were tried out against Baghdad. 4. For a discussion of Operation Provide Comfort, which dealt with the Kurds in northern Iraq, see my study The Kurds and Their Agas: An Assessment of the Situation in Northern Iraq (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1991).


Maps of Karbala V Battles



JANUARY 911, 1987


JANUARY 1114, 1987


JANUARY 1421, 1987



Axelgard, Frederick W. Iraq: Looking Beyond the War. Middle East International, June 24, 1980. Iraq and the War with Iran. Current History, February 1987. Bergen, Carol. A Tense Wait Along the Border. MacLeans, February 1,1988. Bergquist, Ronald E. The Role of Airpower in the Iran-Iraq War. Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1988. Brower, Kenneth S. Fuel-Air ExplosivesA Blow to Dismounted Infantry. International Defense Review, 10 (1987). Bruce, James. Iran Paying the Price of an Arms Embargo. Janes Defense Weekly, March 21, 1987. Soviet MIG Reinforcement for Iraq. Janes Defense Weekly, March 12, 1988. Gulf WarA Dangerous Legacy. Janes Defense Weekly, November 12, 1988. Chara, Birgit. Breaking the Persian Gulf Stalemate. World Press Review, March 1987. Childs, Nick. The Gulf War: Iran Under Pressure. Janes Defense Weekly, May 9, 1987. Cordesman, Anthony H., and Wagner, Abraham R. The Iran-Iraq War and Western Security, 198487. London: RUSI, 1987. The Lessons of Modern War, vol II, The Iran-Iraq War. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990. FYIWorld War I Failure Rate of Generals Within 90 Days of Entering Combat. Strategy and Tactics, MarchApril 1990. Glantz, David M. August Storm: The Soviets 1945 Strategic Offensive in Manchuria.



Leavenworth Paper No. 7. Ft. Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1983. Goodman, Hirsh, and Carus, W. Seth. The Future Battlefield and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publications, 1990. Home, Alistair. To Lose a Battle, France 1940. New York: Penguin Books, 1987. Isby, David C. Arms for Baghdad. Amphibious Warfare Review, Winter 1989. Jupa, Richard, and Dingeman, Jim. How Iran Lost/Iraq Won the Gulf War. Strategy and Tactics, MarchApril 1990. Karsh, Efraim. The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis. Adelphi Paper 220. London: IISS, 1987. ed. The Iran-Iraq War: Impact and Implications. New York: St. Martins Press, 1990. Marshall, S. L. A. Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51. Chevy Chase, MD: Operations Research Office, 1951. McNaugher, Thomas L. Ballistic Missiles and Chemical Weapons: The Legacy of the Iran-Iraq War, International Security, Fall 1988. Naft, Thomas, ed. Gulf Security and the Iran-Iraq War. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985. OBallance, Edgar. The Gulf War. London: Brasseys, 1988. Olson, William J., ed. U.S. Strategic Interests in the Gulf Region. Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1986. Pelletiere, Stephen C. The Kurds: An Unstable Element in the Gulf. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984. Pelletiere, Stephen C., Johnson, Douglas V. II, and Rosenberger, Lief R. Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East. Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1990. Politi, Alessandro. Iran-Iraq. Defense Today, 910 (1989). Sajer, Guy. Forgotten Soldier. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Schahgaldian, Nikola B. The Iranian Military Under the Islamic Republic. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1987. Segal, David. The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis. Foreign Affairs, Summer 1988. Sick, Gary. Trial by Fire: Reflections on the Iran-Iraq War. Middle East Journal, Spring 1989. Staudenmaier, William. A Strategic Analysis of the Gulf War. Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1982. Tuckery, Anthony R. Armored Warfare in the Gulf. Armed Forces, May 1988. Zabih, Sepehr. The Iranian Military in Revolution and War. London: Routledge, 1988.

Abadan-Khoramshahr-Ahvaz-Dezful axis, 34, 36-38 Abu Dhabi, 2 Aden, 7 air attacks: on civilian targets, 85-86; increased use of, by Iraq, 82-84, 109-10; on tankers, 84-85. See also Persian Gulf Al Faw: counterattack by Rashid, 97-99; effects on the home front, 99-100, 102-3; events preceding, 94-95; main attack, 96; retaking of, 141-42; role of Republican Guards, 97; significance of, 93, 100; unusual preparations in 1986, 95-96 Algiers Accord, 9-10, 16 Arab Charter, 30 Arab-Israeli issues, Bathists and, 24 Arab oil embargo (1973), 9-10; Bathists and, 24 Assad, Hafez el: Barzani and, 79; Saddam Hussayn and, 28, 33 Ataturk, 12 Aziz, Tariq, 31, 131 Badr, Battle of, 88-90 Baghdad, creation of Iraq and, 4 Baghdad Pact, consequences of the, 5-6 Bahrain: creation of, 7; Iranian attacks on, 61-62; shah of Iran and, 8-9; Shias in, 29 Bahrainis, 2 Bakhtiar, Sharpur, 32, 34-35 Bakr, Ahmad Hassan al, 18, 28, 32 Bani Sadr, Abol Hasan, 14, 32, 39, 60 Barzagan, Mehdi, 32, 38-39, 59-60 Barzani, Mulla Mustafa, 9, 78, 79 Basij, 40, 41, 60, 80 Basrah: creation of Iraq and, 4; fighting in, 63-64, 80 Bathists/Bath (Renaissance) Party, 6; access to the Persian Gulf and, 10, 29-30; Algiers Accord and, 10; Arab-Israeli issues and, 24; Arab oil embargo and, 24; development of Iraqi southern provinces and, 24-25; Islamic Revolution and, 29-31; Khomeini and, 16, 31; lower-class character of, 23-24;

164 ninth congress of, 65-67; rise of Shia opposition and, 25-26; Saddam and, 27-28, 33; shah of Iran and, 8, 15-16 Battle of Badr, 88-90 Belgium, 130 Brezhnev, Leonid I., 44 Bridgeton (tanker), 129 Bubiyan Island, 101

Index Golden Triangle, 27 Great Britain: concessions of, 2; reflagging of Kuwaiti ships and, 128; relations with Egypt, 3, 5; rescheduling of Iraqs debts and, 87; role of, in the Persian Gulf, 1-2, 130; Umm Qasr and, 101; waning influence of, 3 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), 60-63, 124 Gulf states, financial aid to Iraq, 72, 73 Haj Umran, 76-79 Halabjah, 136-37, 146 Hamzah, Mohammad, 66 Hashemi, Mehdi, 102 Hashemite dynasty, 3, 5; Baghdad Pact and, 6 Havana Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, 32 Hawizah Marshes, 95-96, 98 home guard, 40 human wave attack, 40-42 Husayn (Hussein), Saddam, 9; American hostage crisis in Iran and, 18; Assad and, 28, 33; Bathists and, 27-28, 33; changing role of, 107-9; invasion of Kuwait and, 151-53; Khomeini and, 32; modernization of Iraq and, 26-27; ninth congress of Bath Party and, 65-67; Pan-Arabism and, 24, 29; Shias and, 26, 31, 33 India, 1, 86 International Petroleum Saudi Arabia-I (IPSA-I), 73, 128 Iran: effects of war on, 132-36, 147-48; formation of, 11-12; oil production and transportation, 74, 86, 132, 133; relationship with the Soviet Union, 88; support for, 88; war of attrition, 75-76 Iran, civil strife in: division between conservatives and radicals, 133-34; events leading to the war and, 38-40; Khomeini and, 53-55; role

Carter administration, 30, 125 Carter Doctrine, 30 cease-fires, 37 children, Irans use of, 41 China, 126-27 Clausewitz, Carl von, 144, 152 clerics in Iran, role of the: civil strife and, 55-60; conflict among the clergy, 56-57; land reform and, 56; Reza Khan and, 51-52; Shah Reza Pahlavi and, 52-53; the war and, 35, 38-40, 58-59 Cossack Brigade, 12 Council of Guardians, 56, 57, 133-34 Crist, George, 127 Crowe, William, 129 Dawa, 26 Dehloran, 144 Dubai, 2 Dezful-Ahvaz-Khoramshahr-Abadan line. See Abadan-KhoramsharAhvaz-Dezful axis Eden, Anthony, 3 Egypt, relations with Britain, 3, 5 Ethiopia, 7 Exocet missiles, 83 Faisal (first ruler of Iraq), 5 Fakhri, Hisham al, 82, 89, 98 Fedayeen e Khalq, 34 Fish Lake: fighting in, 63-64, 118, 120; retaking of, 142-44 France, 83, 86-87, 130 gas, use of, 81-82, 89, 137, 146 Germany, 2

Index of the clerics, 35, 38-40, 50-53, 55-60; Shah Reza Pahlavi and, 50, 53-55 Irangate, 110-12 Iranian army, shahs problems with, 14-15 Iranian National Oil Co., 3 Iran-Iraq War: Bath Party congress and, 65-67; events leading to, 23-34; Irans response, 63-64; last campaign of, 136-37; 1985 period of, 87-88; opening round of, 34-38; origins of, 1-18; the peoples war, 40-42; regional response to Irans attacks, 60-63; Tawakalna ala Allah, 141-48 Iraq: civilian control versus military control, 105-9; closing of the pipeline through Syria, 61, 71-72; financial aid from the Gulf states, 72, 73; formation of, 3-5; Kurds in, 76-79, 153; Petroline, 73, 87; pipelines through Turkey, 72-73, 87; reaction of, to the fall of Shah Reza Pahlavi, 15-16; reflagging of Kuwaiti ships and, 129; relationship with the Soviet Union, 6, 8, 11, 87, 88; relationship with the U.S., 82-84; rescheduling of debts, 86-87; strategic defense of, 104-5; support for, 61, 72-73 Iraqi Communist Party, 11 Iron Ring, 117 Islamic Action Organization, 62 Islamic Liberation Front of Bahrain, 61 Islamic Republican Party (IRP), 39 Islamic Revolution: funding issues, 58; impact of, 45; Iraq and the rise of, 29-31. See also clerics in Iran, role of the Israel: Irangate and, 111-12; Kurds and, 9 Italy, 130 Jabburi, Sadi Tuma al Abbas, 98 Jenes, Theodore, 101 Jordan, 111


Karbala V campaign: background of, 117-18; description of, 118-20; significance of, 121-22 Khameneii, Ali Husayni, 131 Kharg Island, 83, 85-86 Khayrallah, Adnan, 109 Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah: anti-American campaign and, 16-18; background of, 53-55; Bathists and, 16, 31; division between conservatives and radicals and, 133-34; Gulf states and, 61, 63; Kurds and, 76; land reform and, 54; relationship with other ayatollahs, 57; Saddam Husayn and, 32; Saudi Arabia and, 127-28; Shah Reza Pahlavi and, 14, 53, 54-55 Khoramshahr, 37, 42 Kissinger, Henry, 125 komitehs, 35, 56, 59-60 Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), 76, 78 Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), 79 Kurds: creation of Iraq and, 4; Haj Umran, 76-79; in Iran, 75-76; in Iraq, 76-79, 153; shah of Iran and, 9; Talabani, 78; Turkish connection, 79-81 Kuwait: fighting by, 84; financial aid to Iraq, 72; Iranian attacks on, 61, 62, 123-24; Iraqi invasion of, 151-53; reflagging of ships, 124-26, 128-32; Shias in, 29; Umm Qasr and, 101 League of Nations, 4 Lebanon, 4 Libya, 85, 88 Lloyds of London, 85-86 Majnoon Island, 82, 98, 144 Mecca riots, 127-28 Mehran, 103-4 Mesopotamia, 3-4 millet system, 4, 25 Missouri (battleship), 129

166 Mohammad Rhez Pahlavi. See shah of Iran Mohtashemi, Ali Akbar, 135 Mossadeq, Mohammad, 18 Mosul, creation of Iraq and, 4 Mujahdin e Khalq, 34 Nasser, Gamal Abdul, 3, 5, 7 Netherlands, 130 Nixon, Richard, 7, 9 North Korea, 88 North Yemen, 7 Nunn, Sam, 125

Index Petroline, 73, 87 Popular Army units, 41, 42, 76-77, 100, 102, 107 Qajars, 12, 51 Qasemlu, Abdur Rahman, 76 Qasre Shirin, 144-45 Qatar, 2; creation of, 7; financial aid to Iraq, 72 Qom, 132 Rafsanjani, Hashemi, 44, 59, 60, 61, 121, 134, 144 Rajai, Muhammad Ali, 44 Ramadan, Taha Yasin, 60, 73, 86, 133 Rashid, Abdul Maher al, 81, 97-99,118 Ras Tanura, 84, 127 Reagan administration, 101, 110-11, 124 reflagging of Kuwaiti ships, 124-26, 128-32 Republican Guards, 97, 108, 114, 141, 144, 145 Resolution 548, 84 Revealing the Secrets (Khomeini), 53 Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), 66, 109 Revolutionary Guards, 35, 40, 41, 56, 80, 126, 127, 148; attacks in Kuwait and on Gulf shipping, 123-24 Reza Khan, 11-12, 51-52 Ruhani, Sadiq, 29 Russia, imperial, 1 Saddam Husayn. See Husayn (Hussein), Saddam Sadr, Muhammad Bakr al, 31, 54 Saudi Arabia, 2; and control of Iraqi oil, 128; financial aid to Iraq, 72; fighting by, 84; International Petroleum Saudi Arabia-I, 73, 128; Iranian attacks on, 61, 62; Mecca riots in, 127-28; and Petroline, 87; Shias in, 29; Umm Qasr and, 100-101 SAVAK, 15, 53 Schwarzkopf, Norman, 152

oil: concessions, 2; nationalization of, 3; Irans production and transportation of, 74, 86, 132, 133; Saudi control of Iraqi, 128 oil pipelines: closing of Iraqs pipeline through Syria, 61, 71-72; Iraqs pipelines through Turkey, 72-73, 87; Petroline, 73, 87 Oman, 2, 7, 30 OPEC, 74 Operation Desert Storm, 151-53 Operation Staunch, 84 Organization of the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula, 101 Osirik, 111 Ottoman Empire, 4 Our Economy (Sadr), 54 Pahlavi dynasty, 11-12. See also shah of Iran Pan-Arabism, 24, 29 Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), 78 peoples war, 40-42. See also Revolutionary Guards Prez de Cuellar, Javier, 130 Persian Gulf: Bathists and access to, 10, 29-30; Britains role in, 1-2, 130; Iranian attacks in, 123-24; other countries patrolling in, 130; reflagging of Kuwaiti ships, 124-26, 128-32; Soviet-U.S. conflicts in, 30, 130-31; U.S. role in, 129-30

Index Scud missiles, 85, 129, 136 Selassie, Haile, 7 shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi): Bathists and, 8-9; clerics and, 52-53; fall of, 10-11, 13-15; father of, 11-12; Khomeini and, 14, 53, 54-55; modernization efforts and impact on Iran, 49-50, 55; role of, 7-10; Shatt al Arab and, 8, 9; Soviet Union and, 10-11; weapons program of, 13-14; White Revolution and, 10, 11 Shariati, Ali, 54 Sharjah, 2 Shatt al Arab: British support for Iraqs control over, 4-5; shah of Iran and, 8, 9. See also Al Faw Shias: Islamic Revolution and, 29; Saddam and, 26, 31, 33 Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq, rise of, 25-26 Silkworm missiles, 126-27 Soviet Union: Irans relationship with, 88; Iraqs relationship with, 6, 8, 11, 87, 88; reaction to the war, 44-45; reflagging of Kuwaiti ships and, 124; shah of Iran and, 10-11; U.S. conflicts with, in the Persian Gulf, 30, 130-31 Stark (destroyer), 128 state system of government, 4 Strait of Hormuz: Irans threat to close, 83; Iraqi access to, 10, 29-30; shah of Iran and, 8 Suez Canal Co., 3 Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq, rise of, 25-26 Super Etandard fighters, 83, 84 Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, 78 Susangard, 39-40 Syria: closing of Iraqi pipeline through, 61, 71-72; creation of, 4;


relationship with Iraq, 28 Talabani, Jalal, 78 tanker wars, start of, 84-85 Tawakalna ala Allah: Al Faw, 141-42; critique of, 145-47; Dehloran, 144; Fish Lake, 142-44; Majnoon, 144; Qasre Shirin, 144-45 Tehran International Service, 61-62 Thatcher, Margaret, 128 Trans-Jordan, creation of, 4 Tudeh (Iranian Communist) Party, 11 Turkey, 12; Iraqs pipelines through, 72-73, 87; policing of northern Iraqi border by, 79-80 Umm Qasr, 100-102 United Arab Emirates (UAE), 7; financial aid to Iraq, 72; Shias in, 29 United Nations, role of, 130 United States: Irangate, 110-12; Khomeini and the hostage crisis of 1979, 16-18; oil concessions and, 2, 6-7; reaction to the war, 43-44; reflagging of Kuwaiti ships and, 124-26; relationship with Iraq, 82-84; role of, in the Persian Gulf, 129-30; Soviet conflicts with, in the Persian Gulf, 30, 130-31; Umm Qasr and, 101-2 Vinogradav, Vladimir, 44 Warm Water Ports theory, 30 war of attrition, 75-76 War Powers Act, 125, 129 Webb, James, 129 Weinberger, Caspar, 60, 62, 125 White Revolution, 10, 11, 52, 54 World Court, 3 Yugoslavia, 86

About the Author STEPHEN C. PELLETIERE is Professor of National Security at the United States Army War College. He has written two of the most influential studies of the Iran-Iraq WarIraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East (with D.V. Johnson II and L.R. Rosenberger) and Lessons Learned: The Iran-Iraq War (with D.V. Johnson II)which were circulated widely among the U.S. military during the Kuwait crisis. From 1982 until 1987 he was an intelligence officer in Washington working on the Iran-Iraq War.