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 Detailed Timeline of Iraq History
Independent Iraq (1958-80)  <<  Iran-Iraq War  >>  Gulf War/Sanctions (1988-2003)

Iran-Iraq War (1980-88)
In an effort to dominate the region, Iraq is nearly ruined.

Go to "History of Iraq" Interactive Map

 Further Understanding:  Precursors to the Iran-Iraq War

Iran-Iraq War PretextIraqi Claims Over Iranian Khuzestan: During the Muslim Caliphate Era, a large number of Arabs settled in this region. It was restored to Persian rule centuries later, but rulers of Iraq would frequently attempt to pry it away from the Persians, including the Ottoman Empire and the British. The region maintained a substantial Arab constituency after Iraq became independent in 1958. By the 1970s, Iraq actively encouraged Arabs in the oil-rich Khuzestan to revolt against Iran, joining fellow Arab-Sunni Muslims as part of Iraq.

(Timeline Continued Below)

Controversy Over Shatt al-Arab Waterway: The Shatt al-Arab is a river formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. It is divided between Iraq and Iran. The Ottoman Empire claimed both sides during their rule, although the Persian side was generally not ruled by the Ottomans. Based on the strength of this, Iraq claimed the east bank (Iranian side) of the river, a critical piece of property, since the Shatt al-Arab is its only outlet to the Persian Gulf. Iraq agreed to the division (i.e. sharing) of the waterway with Iran in a 1975 treaty, which was claimed invalid by Saddam Hussein in 1980, just before the war commenced. Iraq also claimed sovereignty over a handful of disputed islands in the Persian Gulf.

Islamic Revolution in Iran: The rise of a Shi'a republic in Iran in 1979 further strained relations with Sunni-ruled Iraq. The Ayatollah Khomeini (Shi'a religous leader who rose to the head of the Iranian government during the Revolution) saw the secular Iraqi government as an abomination to Allah, and called for Shi'a in Iraq to rise against the Ba'athist ruling party. Iraq also admonished Sunni Arabs inside Iran to lead a separatist movement against the new regime in Iran. Consequently, both sides deeply distrusted and despised the other. Adding to this, Saddam was desirous to establish Iraq as the dominant force in the Middle East, and believed a successful invasion of Iran would ensure his designs.

The Trigger to War: In March of 1980, an assassination attempt was made against an Iraqi Foreign Minister in southern Iraq. Saddam blamed the attack on Iran, using it as a pretext for war. Iraq invaded Iran in September of 1980. - The World's Largest Maps Store!

Iraq Invasion of Iran 1980Iraqi Invasion Begins (Sept 22, 1980): The surprise offensive yielded quick gains, as Iraq immediately took control of Iranian border cities and territories. The Iranian army was still in disarray following the 1979 Revolution, catching the new government off guard. Both sides carried out air raids deep inside enemy territory, causing damage, but failing to provide strategic gains. Iraq achieved its deepest penetration by March of 1981. The front would remain largely unchanged until the Iranian counter- offensive beginning in March of 1982.

Iran Regains Khorramshahr (May 1982): This is the key Iraqi defeat that compelled Saddam to retreat back inside the pre-war boundaries.

Iranian Counter-Invasion 1982Iraqi Retreat (June, 1982): Aware that his troops were demoralized after a string of defeats beginning in March of 1982, Saddam ordered a full retreat back within the pre-war Iran-Iraq border. Saddam did not believe his troops could defend the territory they still held inside Iran in their deflated state, withdrawing them instead of risking further losses.

Note: Iran Turns the Tide. Saddam counted on large numbers of Iranians (especially Arab-Sunni Muslims) to turn against the Ayatollah of the infant Islamic Republic of Iran. Instead, hundreds of thousands volunteered to fight against the invading Iraqi forces, overwhelming and outnumbering the intruding army. Plus, the Iranian Air Force was able to gain air superiority.

Iranian Offensive 1982Iran Refuses Peace Offering (June, 1982): After Iraq withdrew from Iran, the Ayatollah Komeini proclaimed that Iran would invade Iraq. Saddam, with the backing of fellow Arab states (fearful of the Shi'a Revolution being exported into their lands), offered favorable terms to Iran in order to end the fighting. The offer included $70 billion in war reparations. Iran refused, insisting that the only acceptable resolution was the removal of Saddam from power, replaced by a Shi'a Islamic Republic.

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Failed Iranian Invasion of Basra (July, 1982): Iran's first offensive into Iraq targeted the strategic city of Basra, since Iraq would lose access to the Persian Gulf if lost. Iran employed human wave attacks, where unarmed soldiers (mostly boys) rushed the enemy position with the support of armed infantry and air support. However, Iraqi soldiers were much more deeply entrenched within their own fortifications than they were when human wave attacks were used with greater success inside Iran. As a result, this operation was extremely deadly for Iran, as the martyrs were mowed down by Iraqi gunmen. Iraq also killed many thousand with chemical weapons.

Iranian Invasions Offensives (1983): Despite the failure of the invasion of Basra, the Ayatollah continued to refuse terms of peace with Iraq. Instead of concentrating their force on a single city, Iran invaded all along the shared border with Iraq throughout 1983. The attacks were largely unsuccessful. Iran managed only to gain possession of small islands in the Persian Gulf, which it held until the end of the war.

Iran-Iraq War Stalemate 1985-88Stalemate Along Front (1985-88): Since Iraq retreated from Iran in 1982, and Iran began launching offensives into Iraq the same year, only minor gains inside enemy territory would be accomplished. Iraq lacked the manpower to contend with the far more numerous Iranian forces. Iran lacked the weaponry to adequately support its ground troops.

Note: Civilians Targeted. As neither side proved capable of capturing enemy territory, both sides resorted to irregular warfare. Both sides regularly engaged in air raids targeting soft targets in highly-populated cities. Both sides also targeted oil tankers to disrupt the others' commercial activities, resulting in a total of 546 damaged or destroyed tankers during the war. The US also began to engage in combat against Iran, even shooting down a commercial airliner in 1988.

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 Further Understanding:  Chemical Weapons Used by Iraq

Iraq frequently used chemical weapons against Iranian troops in Southern Iraq near Basra, in a desperate move to prevent this strategically-vital city from falling into Iranian possession. Basra was never captured, despite Iran pushing within a few miles of the city. Saddam also ordered the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1988, just before the end of the war, as Kurds were suspected of collaborating with Iran. The attack instantly killed thousands of primarily civilians, while resulting in severe health problems for many thousands more. The U.S. single-handedly blocked UN-condemnation of Iraq's use of chemical weapons. Consequently, Iraq was never sanctioned by the international community for its actions. The international community was also largely responsible for aiding Iraq's chemical weapons program.

Iran and Iraq Accept Peace Terms (Aug, 1988): In July of 1988, when Iran had been pushed out of Iraq, while suffering invasions from Iraqi forces inside its own borders once again, it agreed to UN-established peace terms (a return to the status quo from before the war). Iraq was not prepared to accept peace terms while it was making advances into Iran. But by August, its efforts had bogged down, compelling Iraq to also agree to peace terms, ending the war.

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Further Understanding of Iran-Iraq War

Aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War:

Status Quo: At the end of the war, both sides agreed to pre-war boundaries. No war reparations were demanded by either side.
Economic Devastation: The all-important oil industries for both Iraq and Iran were badly crippled from extensive bombing, as oil facilities were targeted by both sides. Production capacity for Iran and Iraq has never fully recovered.
Iran Galvanized: The new Islamic Republic of Iran was struggling to consolidate rule by the start of the war. The war had a galvanizing effect, fostering loyalty and devotion to the new nation-state built upon a somewhat radicalized ideology.
Decline of Iraq: Before the war, Iraq had risen to unprecedented heights in terms of economic strength (largely based upon a strong oil industry), regional influence. security and stability. The war so thoroughly degraded Iraq economically, it was forced to take out enormous loans from Kuwait. The overwhelming indebtedness to Kuwait would serve as a factor to its 1990 invasion of the country, inviting contempt and hostility from the international community that would lead to suffocating sanctions and the eventual removal of Saddam Hussein from power in 2003.

Estimated Casualties:

Iraq: 250,000 - 500,000 soldiers and civilians killed or wounded. Iran: 500,000 - 800,000 soliders and civilians killed or wounded.

Foreign Contributions to Iraq:

Soviet Union: Offcially neutral, but was Iraq's largest supplier of military equipment. Provided a smaller level of support to Iran.
France: Iraq's second-largest supplier of military equipment.
Saudi Arabia: Provided $20 billion in financial aid.
United States: Publicly supported Iraq. Provided large amounts of financial aid and sophisticated military equipment including chemical weapons. Also engaged Iran directly on occasion in the Persian Gulf.
Italy: Provided substantial economic aid and military equipment.
United Kingdom: Publicly supported Iraq, sold equipment to both sides.
Spain: Supplied chemical weapons to Iraq.

Foreign Contributions to Iran:

North Korea: Sold military equipment in exchange for US currency, to enable it to procure material for its emerging nuclear program.
Soviet Union: Provided a small level of support to Iran.
United States: Secretly provided weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages by Iran-proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. (Iran-Contra Affair)
Israel: Sold military equipment to Iran, fearing a strengthened Saddam-led Iraq.

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Next: Gulf War & Sanctions (1988 - 2003)

Previous: Rise of Independent Iraq (1958 - 1980)

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