What were the causes and consequences of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88?

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Domination of the Gulf

  • Saddam was looking for a shift in power which would give him dominance of the Gulf
  • Iran and Iraq were the only serious contenders to be the dominant country as they alone had the necessary financial and military resources
  • The war between the countries can be regarded as part of the age-old contest for power between the Persians and the Arabs going back to the ancient civilisation
  • Saddam believed that the annexation of Khuzestan and control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, his oil reserves would expand a the expense of his main rival
  • Gaining power was seen by Saddam as an aid to being made leader of the Arab world following Egypt's expulsion as a result of their peace accords with Israel
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The opportunity provided by the Islamic Revolution

  • Saddam was keen to exploit the impact of the Islamic Revolution of 1979
  • The overthrow of the Shahbrought an end the alliance between the USA and Iran thus depriving the Iranian army of much needed spare parts for its miliatry weapons
  • The revolution also brought a major purge of seniour officers in the Iranian army thus reducing its effectiveness
  • Saddam was Iran as being politically unstable, in diplomatic isolation and with its military disinterating; It was a unique opportunity for him
  • Delaying would provide iran with an opportunity to recover but Saddam had miscalculated
  • Iran was not as weak as anticipated
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Ayatollah Khomeini's opposition to Saddam Hussein

  • Khomeini regarded Saddam's regime with contempt because of its religious composition and because he (Khomeini) was expelled from Iraq in 1977
  • Iraq was a secular state governed by Sunni Muslims vs. Iran was a Shiite Muslim state governed according to Muslim law
  • Saddam Hussein felt threatened by the Islamic Revolution that had forced the Shah out of power in 1979
  • Khomeini saw Saddam as a brutal Sunni tyrant who was oppressing his country's Shia majority
  • From June 1979 Khomeini encouraged the Iraqi Shiites to overthrow the Baath regime and establish another Islamic republic
  • Anti-Baath riots broke out and Saddam became convinced that Khomeini was delibraretly trying to undermine his government
  • In Saddam's view the best form of defence was attack
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Describe the course of the Iran-Iraq War

  • By 1982, Iranian forces had regained the territory they had lost but Khomeini rejected an offer of a ceasefire
  • Thousands of young Iranians were sent to their death in 'human wave attacks'
  • Chemical weapons were used against the Iranians by Saddam and against the Kurds of Halabja - his own people
  • The civilian population of both sides were constantly bombarded from the air
  • Both sides attacked opposition oil tankers in the Gulf in an attempted to prevent trade
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The Iran-Iraq War


  • 22 September 1980 - August 1988
  • Iraq invaded western Iran through the land and air
  • The war estabilised the region and devastated both countries.
  • Saddam seems to be the undoubted agressor, but one could argue that it was a pre-emptive strike - He wanted to destry Khomeini before Khomeini destroyed him
  • Saddam claimed the reason for invasion was a dispute over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. This waterway formed the boundary between the 2 countries. In addition there was regional rivalry.

The 4 causes of the Iran-Iraq War

  • Territorial disputes
  • Domination of the Gulf
  • The opportunity provided by the Islamic Revolution
  • Khomeini's opposition to Saddam Hussein
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The effect of the 'tanker war' on the Iran-Iraq Wa

  • changed the Iran-Iraq war into an international one
  • Both the US and Soviet Union became involved in response to Kuwait's appeal for protection
  • Faced with opposition Iran became exhausted and isolated
  • A ceasefire was accepted by Khomeini in July 1988
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Describe the consequences of the Iran-Iraq War

There was no winner: Neither side achieved its war aims

  • Saddam and Khomeini both remained in power
  • There was no change I the Iran-Iraq border and the pre-war status quo was restored
  • There wasn't any long term diplomatic change as the Western powers soon aligned against Saddam in the First Gulf War

Both sides suffered substantial carnage and devastation: Death toll = 2% of pop.

  • Iran death toll = 1 million = 2% of pop.
  • Iraq death toll = 1/4 - 1/2 million = 2% of pop.
  • Many suffered from serious wonds or psychological damage

Both sides suffered considerable economic damage: Both countries faced bankruptcy

  • Living standards plummeted in both countries and in Iraq, social projectsstopped
  • Iraq owed $80 billion in foreign debt and annual oil revenues halved to $11 billion
  • Iran incurred a smaller foreign debt and its oil revenues halved to $10 billion
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Describe how Saddam viewed the Iran-Iraq War

  • Saddam claimed a glorious victory for Iraq
  • He had halted the spread of the Islamic revolution and prevented to toppling of his regime
  • an imposing monument to this achievement appeared in Baghdad
  • However he knew that the people would not be bought off by extravagant symbols and sought ways to increase the wealth of his country
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Territorial disputes

The Shatt al-Arab waterway

  • Is formed by the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers
  • The waterway was important for both countries for their oil exports as it provided a link to the Persian Gulf
  • It was Iraq's only outlet the sea
  • In the 1937 an agreemetnt, favourable to Iraq, had been signed which placed the boundary between the two countries on the eastern bank of the river
  • In 1969, the Shah of Iran rejected this treaty and refused to pay futher shipping tolls

The Iranian Province of Khuzestan

  • Saddam claimed the right to control the south-western Iranian province of Khuzestan
  • He encouraged the Arabs who live there to revolt against the Shah's rule
  • Khuzestan was an oil-rich province
  • In retaliation, Iran began encouraging the Kurds in the northern Iraq to take up arms against Saddam's regime
  • The Shah provided military bases and military equipment
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Algiers Agreement

  • Iran and Iraq shared a land border of 1,400 km
  • The signing of the Algiers Agreement between the 2 countries in 1975 was regarded as a setback by Saddam
  • He was determined to regain lost ground
  • Under the agreement Iran ended its support for Kurds and in return Iraq dropped its claims to Khzestan
  • It was also agreed that the border along the Shaat al-Arab was to be more equitable
  • Saddam renounced this agreement shortly before invading Iran in September 1980
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The West's interests in the Iran-Iraq war

 The western powers' interest was two-fold.

1. they wanted to preserve the balance of power in the middle east
2. They wanted to ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil supplies

  • The greatest fear was instability and volatility in the region would result from an Iranian victory and the installation of Islamic revolutionary governments in the Gulf states
  • The USA's aim was to ensure that at the very least Iraq didn't lose the war
  • USA supplied Iraq with arms and finance
  • Britain , France and West Germany supplied military equipment
  • The USA became more involved from May 1984 - sent warships to the Gulf to help guarantee oil supplies as each side was attacking the other's sinkers and merchant shipping
  • As a result of Western assistance, Iraq ended the war with a clear military advantage over Iran
  • This military superiority was a factor that convinced Khomeini to agree to a ceasefire in Aug 1988
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