The First Gulf War (Iraq-Iran War), 1980-1988

During the 1960es and 1970es, SHAH REZA PAHLEVI of Iran was regarded as a reliable Western ally. The Iranian royal family featured prominently in the western tabloid press; TEHERAN was granted the Olympic Summer Games of 1984. Few westerners noted that the Shah's regime was established on the harsh repression of the large majority of the population, Iran's secret service having a reputation for brutality. Numerous political and religious leaders were in exile. In 1979 Shah Reza Pahlevi was seriously ill, and AYATOLLAH CHOMEINI, from his French exile, lead the ISLAMIC REVOLUTION, called for and organized from the nation's mosque, a popular rebellion which took over the entire state, including the army.
The US immediately took a hostile stand toward the Islamic government, freezing Iranian assets at US banks. The Islamic Republic of Iran responded by taking the staff of the US embassy in Iran hostage, a crisis which lasted on for over a year. A US attempt to free the hostages failed.
With Iran being internationally isolated and its military leadership replaced by inexperienced zealots, Iraqi dictator SADDAM HUSSEIN saw a great opportunity having arrived. He ordered his army (for years, he had spent much of the nation's oil revenue to equip and expand it) to invade Iran. Within days, Iran's oil-priducing province KHUSISTAN (called 'ARABISTAN' by the Iraqi invaders, having a mostly Arab speaking population) was occupied. Yet Saddam Hussein had seriously underestimated the resolution of Iran's leadership and the support it enjoyed among the Iranian people. In secret negotiations with the US, the release of the hostages was combined with the sales of urgently needed military equipment to Iran (IRAN-CONTRAGATE); Iran recruited soldiers as young as 11, and sent them to the front. The war lasted 8 years (1980-1988), and step by step the Iranians retook occupied land, finally even entering Iraqi soil, threatening Basra.
Saddam Hussein grew increasingly desperate; Iraq shot missiles loaded with poison gas onto Irani territory (HALABJA 1988). In 1988 Iraq was on the verge of collapse; a peace was signed largely on the basis of the status quo ante - with one difference : Iraq now had to recognize the border running in the middle of the Schatt el Arab (Iraq used to claim its entire width).

This war a war between two of OPEC's major members; the solidaric front which had kept the oil price up, fell apart. Both the Islamic Republic of Iran (Shi'ite, as opposed to most Arab countries where Sunnism is the dominant interpretation of Islam) and Iraq under its erratic dictator SADDAM HUSSEIN found themselves diplomatically isolated; Saddam hat, at first enjoyed the (financial) support of Arabia's oil-producing countries whose rulers feared the revolutionary rhetoric coming out of Iran. Over time they developed a more distant position towards Iraq.

Iraq-Iran War 1980-1988, from FAS
Encyclopedic description of and links to the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 from Simonides Warzone

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on July 27th 2001, last revised on November 17th 2004

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