Written by: Bae Soo Youn (19-I5, ESAS)
Edited by: Sit Jie Ren (19-I4, EJC Press and ESAS) and Wong Sean Yew (19-U4, EJC Press and ESAS)
Designed by: Lee En Tong (19-U2)
In 1980, Saddam Hussein launched an attack on the newly constituted Islamic Republic of Iran. What was initially expected to be a quick and easy war for the Iraqis soon devolved into an 8-year long protracted conflict (Black, 2010), triggering rising religious sectarianism in the Middle East.
Hussein, in his miscalculations, predicted that Iran would be heavily disorganised following its 1979 revolution which would grant the Iraqis a significant military advantage, and greatly hamper Iranian retaliation. The commencement of the war saw the Iraqis seizing the initiative, and obtained significant military gains in Iran (History.com, 2009). Yet, Iranian revolutionary fervour enabled it to mobilise its vast population and began to repel the invasion, and gain the initiative, mounting operations to take Iraqi cities and territory (Hardy, 2005). However, the severely weakened Iranian National Guard, following leadership purges and equipment maintenance issues, hampered efforts to mount effective operations (History.com, 2009).
With either side unable to gain any initiative, the war situation deteriorated into a stalemate as the Iraqis were not in a position to end the war, while the Iranians refused to do so (History.com, 2009). This stalemate would ensue for close to a decade, with trench warfare inflicting huge losses of life (Doucet, 2015). Chemical weapons and ballistic missiles were utilised, and by the end of the war, the casualty count was estimated at 1 million (Black, 2010).
Points of Contention
Religious, Sectarian Factors (Beliefs and Values)
Due to Iraq’s demographics, with around 60% of its population being Shi’i Muslims, the dominant Sunni Muslims practices a secular ideology known as Arab Nationalism, which emphasises the importance of Arab solidarity and collectivism. This diametrically opposed the ideology practised by Iran, that of Islamic Fundamentalism, which promotes obedience to ancient Islamic beliefs, while condemning Western or modern views. By their nature, these two ideologies are mutually exclusive in their implementation, hence this war can be seen as a reflection of the rift between these two values (Swearingen, 1988).
Foreign Intervention in the War (Power and influence)
Many foreign powers hold vested interests in the region and exert their power and influence in accordance with this. The Arab states aim to ensure that neither state achieve total victory and become too powerful. As Iran went on the offensive, the international community intervened in the war. The West funded and supported Iraq with weapons and raw materials for gas and chemical weapons (Black, 2010), while Saudi Arabia, fearing increasing Shi’i influence in the region, subsidized the Iraqi war effort. This foreign intervention effectively rendered Iraq as a proxy of Saudi Arabia, and prolonged the war for another 7 years.
Discussion: ‘Countries experiencing conflict should be left to sort out their own problems.’ How far do you agree? (2016 A Level Question)
- Hardy, R. (2005, September 22). The Iran-Iraq War: 25 years on. British Broadcasting Corporation, Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4260420.stm
- Black, I. (2010, September 23). Iran-Iraq remember war that cost more than a million lives. The Guardian, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/23/iran-iraq-war-anniversary
- Doucet, L. (2015, October 6). Legacy of Iran-Iraq war lives on. British Broadcasting
Corporation, Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34444337
- History.com (2009, November 9). Iran-Iraq War. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/middle-east/iran-iraq-war
- Swearingen, W. (1988). Geopolitical Origins of the Iran-Iraq War. Geographical Review, 78(4), 405-416. doi:10.2307/215091
- Faily, L. (2018, August 21). Reflecting on the Iran-Iraq War, Thirty Years Later. Atlantic Council, Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20181031134536/http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/reflecting-on-the-iran-iraq-war-thirty-years-later