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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988)

Iraq-Iran war
War cemetery Behest-e Zahra in Tehran / Foto Fanack

In 1979, after the fall of the Shah and the formation of the Islamic Republic in Iran, a chance appeared to present itself for strengthening the position of Iraq in the region. Until then Iran, also a large producer of oil and itself heavily armed, had been one of the leading powers in the Gulf region, holding two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves.

Taking advantage of the confusion and chaos surrounding the change of power there, Saddam Hussein’s regime hoped to fill the regional power vacuum that had been created. Baghdad also had set its sights on the conquest of Khuzestan – an ethnically Arab province of Iran, bordering on the Iraqi province of Basra and the Persian Gulf – and on regaining full control over the Shatt al-Arab (after the humiliation of the 1975 Algiers Treaty), which would eliminate Iraq’s landlocked situation. Finally, Saddam Hussein hoped that, by involving Iran in a war, the new Islamic Republic would be weakened, and he could thus eliminate the encouragement the Islamic Revolution was undeniably giving to Iraq’s Shiites. Because of their shared fears about the export of this revolution, Iraq was assured of support, in any future conflict, from most Arab regimes and their Western allies, Tehran having further alienated itself from the West by taking hostage the staff of the US embassy. Moreover, Khuzestan was the Achilles’ heel of the Iranian economy, because it contained most of the country’s oil reserves and oil-industry facilities. If Iraq could take possession of Khuzestan, it would control oil reserves even greater than those of Saudi Arabia.

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