Uluslararasr Hukuk ve Politika Cilt:1.

No: 4 ss 137-144,2005 @

The lran-Iraq War And lts Effects On Turkey


One of the most important t'actors that aft'ect the peace and the stabilitq in the Middle East is the struggle t'or heqemonq. Iraq approved twice that it is one of the most eft'ec' tive parameters of this struggle in the penod of 1980-1990. Iran, after 1979
Revolution, tried to be the balancing plwer


the Middle East and even to spread the

Islamic fundamentalism. This airn resulted as a harsh war between the two countries.

I will trq to explain brieflu the reasons and results ot' the war and the et'fects of this war on Turkish foreign polictl and inner politics, which are still big problems. These effects can be summarized as Kurdish nationalisrn, Islarnic fundamentalisrn and the econornic problems.

Reasons of The War
We can say that the basic reason of this war is the regional hegemony struggle of the 1970s. This struggle had begun when Britain stated in l968 that it will withdraw from the east of the Suez latest by the end of l97l. The desires of Iran to filt the gap of power in the region were completely against the Iraq's self-designed regional role. The invasion of three islands, which belonged to Sharjah and Ras Al Kharimah Emirates before, by Iran, is the first step of the struggle. We must also add the view

of Ba'ath Party of lraq that Iran was a tool of the imperialists against the Arab unity under the leadership of Shah. It is a known fact that Shah had always close relations

with lsrael and USA.' After the withdrawal statement of Britain, USA under the load of the Vietnam War, started to use a "twin pillar policy" on the Middle East which puts the security of the Gulf region on two bases. One of these bases would be lran with its military power, and the other Saudi Arabia with its political power. This was a great chance for Iranian government. The policies of lran were aiming to put lraq out of the regional politics. This effort resulted in lraq USSR close relations and paved the way to sign 1972 Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. I
KermitRoosevelt. CounterCoup:TheStruggleForTheControlof lran(London: MccrawHill, 1979),p.35 137



Ba'ath Party of lraq had the aim of protection of the Arab identity. lf the Arab identity in the Gulf region would be protected, then lraq could become the leader of the Arab world Only rival to Iraq was Iran, which served to USA and lsrael with

her expansionist policy under the guidelines of the twin pillar policy.'So, lraq protested the invasion of these three islands by Iran and put obstacles on the right of pass of lran to Abadan oil refinery and Khorramshahr port. Border of Shatt-al-Arab is another reason for the struggle of both countries. The transportation on the river of Shatt-al-Arab has been done according to 1937 agreement between both countries, which approved the sovereignty of lraq on the river and accepted a middle-line in front of Abadan as the border This border became a problem between both countries after 197l. Kurds living in Iraq had the maior rights like education in their language, and a certain extent of internal independence. But, there had been differences in the views concerning the application of these rights Struggles between Ba'ath Party and the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) began. Iran supported Kurds against the lraqi government. lran's aim was to come to a certain point of agreement about Shatt-al-Arab issue. So, in 1975, both countries signed the Algiers Agreement lraq gave up its decisive policy on the river because of the huge problems it confronted inside the country with the Kurds. This rapprochement between both countries has come to an end with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. (February 6, 1979) Iran, under the leadership of Khomeini, became a fundamentalist country which tried to spread the lslamic fundamentalism all around the Middle East. Ba'ath Party had a strong tradition of viewing itself as the leader of the Arab world and the guide of pan-Arabism, This characteristic of Ba'ath party makes rt always very suspicious about any anti Ba'ath policy movements. So; lranian fundamental religious government under Khomeini was a big "reason" of Saddam's conspiracies. Shi'ites in lraq supported Khomeini. As a reaction, Ba'ath Party arrested all the
Leaders in October 1979 ln Iate 1979 lran escalated its anti-Ba'athist campaign by resuming its support for the lraqi Kurds; it also began providing moral and material support to Shi'ite underground movements in Iraq; and last, the Iranian government initiated terrorist attacks on prominent officials, the most significant of which was the failed attempt to assassinate the Iraqi Deputy Premier, TariqAziz, on April

, t980.', lran and Ba'ath Party regarded lslam as the Arabs'great cultural heritage; it nonetheless subordinates it to Arab nationalism. while Arab nationalism takes
I ABSP, Revolutionary lraq, 1968-1973. of haq, Baghdad, 1974,p.210
Affairs, Vol.64,
The political report adopted bq the English Regional Congress

olthe ABSP

Efraim Karsh, "Military Power and Foreign Policy Coals: The lran-lraq War Revisited ", lnternational No l, l9ii8 pp83-95 and Dilip H'ro The LonqestWar (London: Crafton Books, 1989),







lts Effects On Turkeg

precedence over tslam. In other words, the lraqi Ba'athists are opposed to the politicisation of religion. So; Iraq tried to prevent the spread of Iranian tslamic

lraq suppressed the Shi'ite underground organisations and expelled lranian citizens in the domestic sphere. On the external level, lraq tried to organise a united Arab front to prevent the export of lranian revolution and launched a series of verbal attacks on the lslamic regime and supported lranian separatist groups such as the lranian Kurds and theArabs in Khuzestan'On September 17, l9BO, Saddam abrogated the 1975 Algiers Agreement. He said that "shatt-al-Arab River must have its Iraqi-Arab identity restored.''
The War

On September 22, l9B0 Iraq invaded Iranian territories lraqis captured some villages and the important port of Khorramshahr Iranians failed to launch any successful counter-offensives. Khuzestan was invaded by Iraqi forces. By 1982, lranian forces made gradual advances and even forced lraqi army to withdraw from the border. lran invaded lraqi territory. Khomeini and other leaders wanted the removal of Saddam and the payment of reparations to lran for the war damages in Khuzestan. In 1984, lraq acquired French-made Exocet missiles to launch attacks on Iranian oil facilities in the Persian Gulf lran attacked tankers loaded with Arab oil, and claimed that the profits from these tankers helped Iraq to buy new arms. As a response, Iraq attacked the lranian oil tankers. A Tanker War started. lranian military gains inside Iraq after l9B4 were a malor reason for increased superpower involvement in the war. ln February 1986, lranian troops captured the port of Al Faw. By late l986; Iran launched several attacks to capture Basra. ln late May 1987, on Iraq's northern front a conflict was so intense. This was a joint effort by Iranian units and lraqi Kurdish rebels. They endangered Iraq's oil fields near Kirkuk and the northern oil pipeline to Turkey. So; the superpowers became more directly involved because they feared that the fall of Basra might lead to a proIranian lslamic republic in largely shia-populated southern lraq. The superpowers were also concerned about the intensified tanker war. During l9B7,lran attacked 29 ships and lraq assaulted I 5 Kuwaiti ships were favourite targets because Iran strongly objected to Kuwait's close relationship with the Baghdad regime. Kuwait turned to the superpowers, partly to protect oil exports but largely to seek an end to the war through superpower intervention. Moscow leased 3 tankers to Kuwait, and by June l987 USA had re-flagged 22 Kuwaiti tankers. Finally, direct attacks on the superpowers' ships drew them into the conflict. The intervention of the superpowers, especially the USA, resulted with the economic weakness of lran and reflected as the defeat of lranian forces in many fronts. The continued usage of chemical weapons and missiles attacks by lraq against the

4 Jl,l Abdulghani,lraqand 5 Karsh. lbid, pp 87-88




Crisis (London: Croom Helm



p I8l



civilian areas coupled with the superpowers' support for the lraqi war efforts proved that Iraq and its supporters had decided to spread the war at any price. lran accepted the cease-fire on August 20, 1988

Turkey and The lran - Iraq War The outbreak of the Iran-lraq War on September 22, l9B0; immediately brought Turkey face to face with unpleasant political and economic prospects, with the former dominating as the war continued. Turkish national security was in jeopardy. First, the ongoing war could further radicalise the regime in Iran, and this might well upset the regional equilibrium. ln such an event, the region would immediately become receptive to Soviet influence. Second, the war could spill over the borders of Iran and Iraq, involving the Arab countries around the Persian Gulf, and could become a war between lran and the Arab world. ln such an event, especially when if the superpowers were to become involved, Turkey could well be plunged into a Middle East war despite its determination to stay out of one. Third, the war could have a negative effect on the demographic and ethnic structure of the region. This would pose a threat to the security of Turkey's south-eastern areas close to its eastern border An illustration of this occurred in May 1983 when the Iraqi central government weakened, and the Kurds, emboldened by this situation, infiltrated Turkish territory and terrorised the south-eastern villages. Both warring parties shared their borders with Turkey, which provided them with their only overland access to Europe. Therefore Turkey's stance on the war mattered a great deal. Turkey declared itself neutral in the conflict. But, Ankara's relations with Baghdad were better than her relations with Tehran. There are two reasons for that. First, Turkey's Kurdish minority had been up in arms for the past many years in an area contiguous with the lraqi Kurdish region, and it had been co-operating actively with Baghdad in counter-insurgency. Secondly, as a secular society since 1924, Turkey had much in common with Ba'athist lraq, and shared Baghdad's fear of Islamic fundamentalism within its borders.u The Kurdish Problem
From the Turkish perspective, the renewal of the Kurdish insurgency in south-eastern Turkey is the single most detrimental by-product of the lran-lraq War.' Kurds in

Turkey have always been under the control of central government and any proKurdish movements were not allowed. The war resulted of lraq's loss of control of its own border areas following the transfer of lraqi troops from Kurdish areas in the north to the Iranian front. Kurds had more space and freedom to operate against Turkey. The name of the Kurdish terrorist organisation was PKK. (Workers Party of Kurdistan) PKK was attacking the civilian and military targets and running back to northern lraq. In countering the Kurdish problem, Iraq received enthusiastic co-

6 7

p 81. Barkey, "The Silent Victor: Turkey's Role in the lran-traq War," in Efraim Karsh (ed.) Iraq War. Strategic and tulitical Imphcations (London: Macmillan,l989), p. l4l
Dilip, Hko, @.cit,


The Iran






lts Effects On Turkey

operation from Turkey, with which it had in 1978 concluded a secret accord allowing each side to pursue "subversive elements" up to 9 miles inside each other's territory. In May 1983 Turkish troops infiltrated lB miles into lraqi Kurdistan to destroy the bases of its Kurdish guerrillas in the KDP-occupied part Following this, Tariq Aziz visited Ankara to reinforce mutual security co-operation further. The outcome was the signing of an agreement in October l9B4 permitting cross-border operations up to 18 miles into each other's territory This permission given to the Turkish armed forces was counter to Saddam's policy which rejected "the facilitation of the
presence of any foreign armies, bases or armed forces in the Arab homeland, under any pretext and guise and for any reasons."u
PKK and the insurrection of the Kurdish movement as a result of ongoing lranIraq War effected Turkey negatively The foundations of the regime were effected and the Kurdish question has crept into the international discourse. The Kurdish issue had become an internal and external problem for Turkey. This problem still continues as an obstacle to the Turkish political stabilitv.

Islamic Fundamentalism I must also note that the Shi'ite fundamentalism of the Khomeini regime was an obvious danger to the Turkish state, where nearly l0 million inhabitants are of Shi'ite origin.n And indeed, soon after his victory Khomeini stated that the Turkish regime rested on the force of bayonets and suggested that Turkey's leaders were headed for the same fate as the shah. Short after this statement, Turkish military intervened and the coup of September 12, 1980 happened in Turkey. So; while Turkey maintained diplomatic relations with both Iran and lraq during the war, even providing lran with a commercial outlet to the West, Turkey saw lraq's final victory as in its interest, that is, in containing the spread of Iran's revolutionary impulse.'o lran was following the Soviet model on the export of its revolution by improving her relations with all the states and supporting the terrorist groups which aim to destruct the regimes of those states. Iran attacked the traditions and the symbols of the Turkish state during the war. (These symbols are mostly related to the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish republic) Tehran involved in domestic politics of Turkey and protested the preventing of religious students who wore kerchiefs from attending university. In addition, the Khomeini regime provided support to Cemalettin Kaplan, a fundamentalist anti-regime preacher in cermany who had sizeable followers among Turkish workers in Europe."




Thomas Naff, Gaf &curity and the lran-lraq Ltlar, (Washington: National Defense University press, 1985), p.146. http://www.adherents com/larsecom/com shiite html 90"/o of the Shi'ite population in Turkey are of Alawi origin, as the remaining l0 % are mainly Caferis. Henri J Barkey, Reluctant Neighbour:Turkeg's Role In The Mrddle East. (Washington: US Institute of peace Press, 1996), p. aj Henri .1. Barkey, The Slent Wctor, p. 143.




The lranian "model" became the basic reason for Turkish fundamental groups to claim and struggle for an Islamic state. They used arms to fight against the Turkish armed forces under the name of Hezbollah, IBDA-C etc. All of these organisations' statements show that the lranian Revolution and the insurgence of the Islamic identity in the Middle East were the reasons of their existence. These statements also include that the lran-lraq War resulted with the defeat of lslamic Resistance to the "evil" lraq and USA. There is an increasing tendency in the Turkish society towards

the re-birth of the lslamic Revolution. Economic Situation
In the beginning of l9B0; Turkey had many economic problems. By the introduction of new economic policies on January 24, 1980, Turkey left the import substitution

policy and used to get into export markets and an industry which could compete with international markets. But, Turkish industry had limited experience in export' ing. But, after the coup of September 12, l9B0; a full economic authority was given to new government. Both lran and Iraq, as a result of their international isolation, were forced to rely on Turkey as a major source of needed commodities imported from Turkey itself or from the West. By showing no favour to either party, Turkey has become a maior trading partner of both. lran and Iraq increasingly turned to Turkey to satisfy their import needs. They found Turkish products to be less expensive. Throughout the l9BOs, the war with Iran gave lraq an incentive to co-operate fully with Turkey, including in the establishment of commercial exchanges between
the two countries. Turkey quickly became one of Baghdad's main customers. 60% of the oil consumed in Turkey was imported from lraq. When Turkey saw that "lraq was threatened with collapse under the battering of the lranian advance", the Turkish minister of State, Kamran lnan, publicly warned that "no less than 1,5 million Turks and Turkomans live in the northern regions of lraq." Inan, in effect, wanted to assert Turkey's pre-emptive right in the event that an Iranian advance let to the break-up

of lraq.

In l9B4-1985 Turkish-lranian trade amounted to 230 million $ making Turkey Iran's third most important commercial partner after West Germany and Japan.'' lran balanced its trade with Turkey by selling 100.000 b/d of its oil to its neighbour. Despite the irritation caused by the lraqi strikes in May and June l9B5 against Turkish-owned oil tankers carrying lranian oil, Ankara's relations with Iraq remained cordial. Turkey and lraq had a strong interest in maintaining the military co-operation in suppressing Kurdish insurgency In November l9B5 Turkey concluded a contractwith Iraq fora second oil pipelinewith an annual capacityof 7l million tones. (1.4 million b/d) But, we must mention the negative effects of the war to the Turkish economy. Not only did the lraqi pipeline to the Turkish city Iskenderun stop functioning, the
ence allrefer com/countrv-euide-studv/iran/iran I

More information about the trade relations between Turkey and Iran can be found at: htto://referI t html






lts fffects On Turkey

oil tankers were no longer able to enter the Persian Gulf. When, as a consequence, Iran and lraq stopped shipping oil, Turkey's reserves went down at an alarming

Another disadvantage of the war was the increasing threat to the KirkukYumurtalik oil pipeline between Turkey and lraq This pipeline had stopped functioning at the beginning of the war. The bombing of it during the war would have meant not only a slowdown or a halt of oil deliveries from lraq but the loss of transit revenues from the pipeline, of which 690 kilometres passed through Turkey.
The main reason of the favouring of Turkish goods by lran and lraq was the gen-

erous credit terms Turkey offered to the both countries. But, by the time lraqis found themselves increasingly unable to pay for their purchases By l9BB, Iraqi debts to Turkey had reached to 3 billion $. Iraq's inability to pay has become a potential political problem for the Turkish government lraq even started to seek new countries which provide better export credits than Turkey lran also had payment problems The war could no longer provide as much benefit to Turkey as it
used to.'' The effects of this economic decline are one of the maior factors of the ongoing instability in the Turkish economy Because of the payment problems of lraq and Iran, Turkey got credits from western countries and the foreign debts of turkey increased to 65 billion in l9BB, from 20 bitlion dollars in l98O Effect of the oil transport failures is another declining factor of the Turkish economy.

The Strategic Importance of Turkey American-Turkish relations improved considerably in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution. USA provided all the possible support to the Turkish democratic regime, trying to prevent Turkey to fall under the effect of lslamic fundamentalism After the lranian advance on Iraqi territories, USA sent commissions to Turkey about the preparation of Turkish army to a rapid annexation of the oil-rich northern provinces of Iraq (like Kirkuk) to prevent the oil from falling into the Islamic fundamentalist lranian regime.'o Turkish authorities denied such scenarios. Following the lranian Revolution, Turkey felt that it had clearly become the most powerful Muslim nation in the region. After the end of the war, we can see an increasing effect of Turkey in the region with the largest and strongest army and with the secular model to the countries of the region comparing with the lran's fundamenta list structure.
To make a conclusion we can say that lran-lraq War, in general terms, had negative effects on Turkey The Kurdish nationalism was awakened and the Kurdish terrorists found safe-havens for themselves in the destabilised northern regions of lraq. The


Henri I. Barkey,






Bruce Kuniholm. "Retrospect and Prospect: Forty Years Of US Middle East Policy", Iournal Vol 41, No I , Winter 1987,pp7-25.

Middle East




use of military forces against these terrorists and the military operations made by Turkey to lraq during the war, made the international community suspicious about

the Kurdish issue. The effect of lslamic fundamentalism in Turkey does not have as much importance as the Kurdish nationalism. The only negative effect is the reflection of Islamic Revolution as a model to fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups in Turkey which aim to establish an Islamic state like Iran. ln the economic area, we can see the negative effect of the delay of oil transportation and the non-payment of debts, on the Turkish economy. These resulted
as a decline in Turkish export policies and as an increase on the amount of Turkish foreign debts. We can see that being neutral and in the same time trying to gain the maximum

advantage does not work effectively as a foreign policy tool This neutrality has turned into the internal catastrophes of Turkish economic and political policies towards both sides.


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