Fact: The Horrific Iran-Iraq War Cost $350 Billion (And 1 Million Dead)
The Iraqi war against Iran was one of two wars started by Saddam Hussein:
The world awoke to ominous news on September 22, 1980. Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein had launched a massive armored and air attack across the Iraq-Iran border. Believing that his Islamic fundamentalist neighbor to the east had been weakened by the ongoing revolutionary turmoil that in February 1979 had toppled the Shah, Hussein was confident that his forces would win a lightning victory and restore long-disputed territory to Iraqi control. Such a victory, not incidentally, would put Hussein at the forefront of a resurgent Middle Eastern pan-Arabism.
The British and other Western powers received a League of Nations mandate after World War I to carve up the remains of the Ottoman Empire and virtually rewrite the map of the Middle East. The Ottomans had backed the losing side, Germany, against their traditional enemies, the Russians.
The new map ignored religious, tribal, ethnic, and historical divisions. Borders did not reflect natural frontiers such as rivers and mountains, but rather demarcations on a map drawn in a European conference room.
- Great Britain took control of Palestine, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and various Gulf states
- France was responsible for Syria and Lebanon.
Of all the new nations created with the potential for ethnic-religious strife, Iraq was the worst, a combustible mix of mutually antagonistic peoples—Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Kurds—each of which considered itself separate and sovereign.
The Iran-Iraq rivalry was profoundly altered by the Islamic Revolution that toppled the Shah in February of 1979, ending 2,500 years of monarchy. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s sudden rise to power created a regime in Iran that was far more of a threat to Iraq than the Shah had ever been.
The revolution cut Iran off from the United States and the West. The 444-day U.S. Embassy hostage crisis began on November 4, 1979, and a brutal power struggle broke out between religious revolutionaries under Khomeini and radical Marxist movements that had initially supported the revolution.
The internal disarray made Khomeini seem far more vulnerable than he really was, and led Saddam Hussein to believe that the time was ripe to transform Iraq into the dominant power in the Gulf.
On September 17, 1980, Hussein abrogated the 1975 Algiers Accord and declared the Shatt al-Arab “totally Iraqi and totally Arab.” Heavy fighting broke out along the waterway, and Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr decreed a general mobilization.
Convinced that his antagonist had been severely weakened by the purges of its regular forces and was preoccupied with suppressing grave internal threats, Hussein launched an invasion two days later. Six Iraqi army divisions advanced into Iran on three fronts along a 435-mile-broad arc in an initially successful surprise attack.
In the north, an Iraqi mechanized division overran the border garrison at Qasr e-Shirin in Bakhtaran Province and pushed on, advancing 25 miles eastward to the base of the Zagros Mountains. Iraq’s forces spent several days reaching the villages along the main route to Tehran; many villages were destroyed and their inhabitants expelled.
On the central front, Iraqi forces captured Mehran, on the western edge of the Zagros chain in Ilam Province, an important position on the major north-south highway close to the border.
Unexpected Fierce Resistance
Emulating Israeli tactics used in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Hussein sent formations of MiG-21s in a preemptive strike against Iran’s air bases at Mehrabad, Ahwaz, Dezful, and Abadan, but failed to destroy Iran’s air force on the ground.
Iranian jets were housed in hardened shelters and survived intact; Iraqi bombs designed to crater runways could not destroy Iran’s spread-out airfields.
Within hours, Iranian F-4 Phantoms took off from the airfields, attacking strategic targets near major Iraqi cities. Although Iran’s 100 sorties were not especially effective, they shot down two aircraft and surprised the Iraqis; the Iranians also used helicopters to fly transport and attack missions. The Iraqi air force, with at least a 3-to-1 numerical advantage, virtually abandoned the skies to preserve its planes.