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The Iran-Iraq War’s long aftermath

The Iran-Iraq War’s long aftermath
The immediate trigger for the war was Saddam Hussein’s fear that the 1979 Iranian Revolution would be exported to Iraq and the other Gulf states. (Getty Images)
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Updated 26 April 2020

The Iran-Iraq War’s long aftermath

The Iran-Iraq War’s long aftermath

The conflict, sparked by the Iranian Revolution, led to two Gulf wars

Summary

On Sept. 22, 1980, Iraqi aircraft bombed 10 air bases in Iran, launching a brutal war that would drag on for eight years.

The immediate trigger for the war was Saddam Hussein’s fear that the 1979 Iranian Revolution would be exported to Iraq and the other Gulf states. The two countries also had a long history of conflict over control of the Shatt Al-Arab waterway and Saddam hoped to seize the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.

In 1981, the land war escalated into what became known as the Tanker War when Iraq began attacking ships bound to or from Iranian ports. Iran reciprocated, attacking oil tankers from neutral countries and leading the US Navy to introduce a convoy system to protect shipping in the Gulf.

By the time the conflict ended in stalemate and a UN-brokered peace deal in 1988, it had cost the lives of up to 1 million people. As one commentator wrote, “few wars in modern history had done less to further the ambitions of the leaders that started them at so high a cost to their peoples.” 

LONDON: I joined the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 1980, two weeks before Iraq invaded Iran and started the bloodiest war in modern Middle Eastern history. Perhaps a million combatants and uncounted civilians died. Four decades later, we still live with the consequences.

Key Dates


  • 1

    Following anti-government riots inspired by Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Iraq demands Iran withdraws its ambassador.


  • 2

    Iraq executes Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr, a supporter of Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his sister.

    Timeline Image April 9, 1980


  • 3

    Iraqi militants linked to Iran assassinate a number of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party officials.


  • 4

    Saddam announces Iraq is withdrawing from the 1975 Algiers Accord, under which Iraq and Iran agreed to resolve their border disputes.


  • 5

    Iraqi air force bombs Iranian airfields.


  • 6

    Iraqi troops cross the border into Iran.

    Timeline Image Sept. 23, 1980


  • 7

    US frigate the USS Samuel B. Roberts hits a mine laid by Iran in the Gulf.


  • 8

    The US warship USS Vincennes accidentally shoots down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 people on board.


  • 9

    Iran accepts UN Security Council Resolution 598, which calls for an end to the fighting and a return to pre-war borders, and requests a cease-fire.


  • 10

    Under pressure from the UN, US and Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq finally agrees to cease-fire.


  • 11

    Resolution 598 comes into effect, ending the war.

    Timeline Image Aug. 8, 1988


  • 12

    Iran-Iraq peace talks begin.


  • 13

    The UN peacekeeping force sent to monitor the cease-fire in August 1988 finally withdraws.

There had always been tensions between the two countries. But 1979 had really set the scene. That was the year that changed everything. The shah was overthrown, Juhayman Al-Otaibi seized Makkah’s Grand Mosque, Zia-ul-Haq executed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an Islamist insurgency in Syria accelerated, and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. These events ushered in a new and alarming era of turbulence and instability.

 

For the Middle East, the subsequent outbreak of hostilities between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and revolutionary Iran became the defining event of the period. It represented a clash between two competing versions of modernity: The Baathist dream of mystical Arab nationalism and Ruhollah Khomeini’s heterodox reimagining of Islamism, based on a mythical past and deriving legitimacy from a reactionary interpretation of clerical authority. Both systems were harshly repressive. And each had their true believers.

Iraq thought itself to be stronger, especially after the revolutionaries in Iran had purged the generals and Tehran’s traditional sources of military supply in the West dried up. But Iran, surfing a wave of popular enthusiasm, proved more resilient than expected. The war became an attritional stalemate. Khomeini refused all appeals to bring the conflict to an end until he was finally forced to do so in 1988, after horrifying losses on both sides.

For much of this period I had a ringside seat as a young diplomat in Abu Dhabi. The impact on the Arab states of the Gulf was huge. They feared the expansion of the Iranian revolution into their territories. Article 154 of the new Iranian Constitution had committed Iran to exactly this. And it had been put into effect partly through the activities of an organization linked to Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri and partly through support channeled through what became Lebanese Hezbollah to dissident Shiite movements in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in particular — whose activities included bombings and plane hijackings. This was the most serious challenge to their stability and cohesion that these states, most of which had only achieved independence between 1961 and 1971, had ever faced. Their domestic institutions and military capacities were still weak. And Iran represented both a material and an ideological threat. It is hardly surprising that they chose to financially support Iraq, which was Arab, Sunni-ruled, populous, educated and a familiar (if sometimes overbearing) neighbor.

The end of the war in 1988 left Iraq with massive debts to other Gulf states, particularly Kuwait, and widespread damage to essential infrastructure, particularly in the south, around Basra, where most of Iraq’s oil fields are concentrated. Saddam decided to recoup his losses by bullying Kuwait, which refused to buckle. That led him to invade on Aug. 2, 1990. He may have thought he could do a deal that would have left him in control of Kuwait’s northern oil fields. Instead, he suffered a catastrophic defeat that left his military aspirations in tatters, his weapons programs subject to international supervision and the economy crippled by sanctions, which tore apart the fabric of Iraqi society. The uprisings that followed in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north — neither successful in a conventional sense — helped set the scene for the way in which Iraq reconstituted itself along sectarian and ethnic lines after Saddam’s eventual fall in 2003.

“Only a few weeks ago, observers were wondering whether Iraq and Iran would soon be fighting a border war. Today, with this question answered, another one arises: Will such a war remain a limited one, or will it grow into an all-out conflict?”

From an editorial in Arab News on Sept. 23, 1980

In Iran, the myth of the war as one of exemplary national resistance at a time of isolation has endured powerfully, at least within the ranks of the regime and its supporters. It has fed a narrative of victimization that already had deep historic and cultural resonance among many Shiites. It also led Iran to double down on a strategy of so-called mosaic defense and proxy warfare, designed to compensate for conventional military weakness. It does not in any way seem to have reduced Tehran’s appetite for destroying Israel and ultimately bringing its neighbors under Islamist rule.

And this is the context within which Saudi Arabia operates today. The war had a direct impact on the Kingdom, as the US and other Western forces mobilized on Saudi soil to confront the invasion. It was this that led elements of the so-called Sahwa to confront the government and set Osama bin Laden irrevocably on the path to 9/11. In Kuwait, pressure built for a restoration of the prorogued National Assembly in the name of democracy. In practice, this gave various tribal and religious groups a stick with which to beat the government. This has complicated Kuwaiti politics ever since.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Sept. 23, 1980.

These complications remain. The overthrow of Saddam in 2003 was widely seen as a belated sequel to 1991, when coalition forces had failed to follow the fleeing Iraqi army all the way to Baghdad and had instead allowed Saddam and his loyalists to regain domestic control outside the Kurdish areas. The diplomatic maneuvering of the subsequent decade corrupted parts of the international system, with the oil-for-food scandal and persistent obstructionism by certain members of the UN Security Council. But 2003 was, in practice, a victory for Iran — as was the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

And this story isn’t over. The Taliban is back, Iraq remains in turmoil, and Iran itself is now perhaps coming up against the limits of its own competence both domestically — where its responses to the shooting down of an airliner and now to coronavirus have been scandalously mishandled — and externally, where the consequences of overextension in Syria and Iraq may now be starting to appear.

Iran, surfing a wave of popular enthusiasm, proved more resilient than expected

Sir John Jenkins

If Khomeini had not been expelled from Najaf in 1978; if the shah had not had cancer; if Saddam had reacted more calmly to Iranian provocations in 1979; if Khomeini had agreed to a cease-fire after the recapture of Khorramshahr; if Saddam had not then gambled on an invasion of Kuwait; if Iran had become a more normal country, then we should be living in a different world. But we’re not. More’s the pity.

  • Sir John Jenkins is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. Until December 2017, he was Corresponding Director (Middle East) at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in Manama, Bahrain and was a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. He was the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia until January 2015.


’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
Updated 3 min 59 sec ago

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
  • Consignment of 54,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at April’s end, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory
  • The challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines as some question whether the virus itself is a threat

IDLIB: In northwest Syria, where health care is rudimentary and those displaced by war are packed into squalid camps, the arrival of vaccines to fight COVID-19 should have been cause for relief.
Instead, a UN-backed vaccination campaign has met with suspicion and mistrust by an exhausted population, who feel betrayed by their government and abandoned by the international community after a decade of conflict that ruined their lives.
“It’s all a lie, even if the dose is for free I wouldn’t take it,” said Jassem Al-Ali, who fled his home in the south of Idlib province and now lives in Teh camp, one of many in a region controlled by opponents of the Damascus government.
Youssef Ramadan, another camp resident who lived under bombardment for years, echoed the doubts. “Will we be like sheep who trust the herder until they are slaughtered?” he asked.
A consignment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at the end of April, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory, delivered through the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX. Inoculations started on May 1.
“There is a large amount of hesitancy and what made it worse is everything in the media continuously about AstraZeneca and blood clots,” Yasser Naguib, a doctor who heads a local vaccine team working in opposition-held areas, told Reuters.
Similar concerns about the coronavirus vaccine have slowed the rollout in Europe and elsewhere amid worries about rare cases of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca shot.
Most governments have said benefits far outweigh the risks, although some have restricted it to certain age groups. But the challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines. Some question whether the virus itself is a threat.
“If there really was coronavirus in Idlib you would hear about tens of thousands of people getting it,” said 25-year-old Somar Youssef, who fled his home in Idlib’s rural Maara region.
Naguib said it was challenging to convince people fasting during Ramadan to take a shot when they can’t take oral medication for any side effects, such as a fever. Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim month, starts this week.
“We are optimistic that after Eid it will be better,” he said, adding that a 55-strong team was working to raise awareness about virus risks and vaccine benefits.
At the same time as doses from COVAX landed in Idlib, 200,000 shots arrived in Damascus, part of the World Health Organization campaign to inoculate about 20 percent of Syria’s population, or 5 million people across the nation, this year.
Officials have not given any indication about take up in government-held areas, where Damascus also aims to use vaccines from Russia, the government’s military ally, and China.
In Idlib, Naguib said 6,070 people out of around 40,000 health care and humanitarian workers on a priority list had been vaccinated by May 9. But even some health care workers are wary.
A Reuters witness saw just seven out of 30 medical workers receiving vaccines on the first day of a campaign at one Idlib medical center. Initially, only three had volunteered.
“As a director of the kidney dialysis unit, I was the first one to get the vaccine and I wanted to encourage the rest, who were scared because of all the rumors about it,” said Taher Abdelbaki, a doctor at another clinic, the Ibn Sina medical center.
By the end of 2021, two more COVAX vaccine batches are expected to arrive in Idlib to inoculate about 850,000 people in a region of about 3.5 million people, a target that leaves the region’s vaccination teams with much work to do.
“We will not be their lab rats here in the north,” said Abdelsalam Youssef, a community leader in Teh camp.


Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 2 min 24 sec ago

Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14

LONDON: The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, promoter Eddie Hearn said on Tuesday.

Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14. He said Aug. 14 is his preferred date because the Olympic Games in Tokyo will have finished, making the Joshua-Fury fight a bigger “global spectacle.”

“It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia,” Hearn told British broadcaster Sky Sports. “To be honest with you, I don’t mind giving you that information.”

Fury’s US promoter, Bob Arum, has previously said Saudi Arabia would be the location of the fight.

Hearn has yet to respond to AP requests to confirm the details of the fight.

READ MORE

On a rainy night in Diriyah in 2019, Anthony Joshua regained his world heavyweight titles after a unanimous points decision from the judges over Andy Ruiz Jr in an epic night of boxing in Saudi Arabia. Read how it happened here.

It would be Joshua’s second fight in the kingdom. He reclaimed his WBA, IBF and WBO belts from Andy Ruiz there in December 2019.

Joshua’s only fight since saw him retain his titles by knocking out Kubrat Pulev in December.

Fury hasn’t fought since beating Deontay Wilder in February last year to capture the WBC title.

Fury and Joshua have called each other out over Twitter over the last 24 hours, both urging the other to finalize terms for the fight.

Hearn said the “deal is done” but there was frustration on both sides that the fight had not been officially announced.

“From our perspective and AJ’s perspective, we’re ready to go,” he said. “From Tyson Fury’s perspective, they’ve got a couple of lawyers across it from their point.

“We have to nail this,” Hearn added, “and I’m not going to stop until I nail it, and everyone has just got to move forward collectively. We’re ready to go from our side. We’re not far away from their side and it is inevitable.”


Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
Updated 50 sec ago

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
  • Priority for age groups and medical vulnerability waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands
  • Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million

NAXOS, Greece: A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday.


Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations
Updated 29 min 32 sec ago

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday a series of fines to be enforced against individuals and businesses which do not comply with COVID-19 regulations and social distancing, state news agency SPA reported.
The fines vary between 10,000 riyals ($2,666) and 50,000 riyals for individuals while businesses will have to pay between 10,000 and 100,000 riyals.
Recidivist business owners will be prosecuted, SPA added.
($1 = 3.7502 riyals)


Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
Updated 11 May 2021

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
  • Turkey’s Karadeniz supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Karadeniz, which supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges, told Beirut to halt action by the Lebanese prosecutor to seize its vessels and said it must draw up a plan to settle arrears to avoid a cut in supplies, a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson for Karpowership, a unit of Karadeniz that operates floating power plants, was speaking on Tuesday after Lebanon’s Finance Ministry cited a lawmaker saying the country had been threatened with a cut to its supplies.
A Lebanese prosecutor issued a decision last week to seize the barges and fine the firm after TV channel Al-Jadeed reported corruption allegations tied to the power contract. The firm denies the charges and says it has not been paid for 18 months.