|(Weapons and Warfare)|
1. There were many issues involved in the run up to the Iran-Iraq War. Which do you think were the most important to explain how the conflict started?
I find this largely forgotten war fascinating. Historically there was long running bad blood between the countries stemming from religious and ethnic differences. In my view the war in Iraqi Kurdistan during the 1970s was the catalyst, because the Iranians backed the Iraqi Kurds. The Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Shah offered Saddam Hussein a prime opportunity for revenge.
At the same time Revolutionary Shia Iran was looking at Iraq with a Shia majority population, but run by the Sunnis and thinking the country was ripe for regime change.
2. What was Iraq’s initial plan for the war and how did it go wrong so quickly?
It was this very issue that partly prompted me to write an account of the war. Despite its significance it is a conflict that has been neglected over the years.
Saddam planned for a short decisive war against Iran’s weakened armed forces. In many ways the Iraqi invasion of Iran was similar to Nazi Germany’s assault in the Soviet Union. The hope was that the invasion would cause an internal collapse, but that did not happen. If the Ayatollah’s government had fallen the hope was that pro-Shahists could be installed in Tehran, who would be friendly toward Baghdad. In return Saddam would have got concessions over the Shatt al-Arab Waterway and ‘Arabistan’ in southern Iran.
3. Iran and Iraq had two of the largest militaries in the Middle East, but proved unprepared for the war they fought. What is your assessment of the two armed forces and do you think their deficiencies explain the length of the war and the massive casualties they suffered?
What made the conflict interesting from a purely military point of view was that the Iraqi armed forces were schooled in Soviet doctrine while the Iranians had been trained by the Americans. This partly made the conflict an extension of the Cold War. Although Iran had a much larger manpower reserves, shortages of spares greatly hampered its armored and air forces.
They were though both armed to the teeth. Like many countries Iraq and Iran were recipients of the Cold War bonanza whereby both the Superpowers readily supplied enormous quantities of weapons to states they considered allies. However, neither the Iraqis nor the Iranians had any experience of conducting largescale armored warfare. Nor did either side have attainable strategic goals, which resulted in a long drawn out conflict.
4. Iraq tried different tactics like the Tanker War attacking shipping heading for Iran and the War of Cities where it fired missiles and conducted air raids on Iran’s major urban areas to try to force Iran to the negotiating table. How effective were they?
Yes, Saddam’s generals tried everything once the war bogged down on the battlefield, bombing, missiles and chemical weapons – the full horrors of modern warfare. Iran of course reciprocated. By the end I think they had the desired result, both countries were exhausted after eight years of war. In a way Iraq’s tactics made the Iranians more determined than ever to triumph, but Tehran recognized its forces were never going to reach Baghdad.
5. What finally brought the war to an end in 1988?
Essentially they had fought each other to a standstill, having suffered the most appalling casualties. There was complete deadlock on the battlefield. Washington was becoming increasingly clear that it would intervene if the Middle East’s oil supplies were cut off – and indeed had put warships in the Gulf.
6. What were the long term ramifications of the Iran-Iraq War?
These were far reaching and catastrophic. Saddam portrayed himself as the victor and the champion of the Arab world. His subsequent invasion of Kuwait sparked two further wars, but with the Western powers not Iran. As for Iran it became ever more insular backing militant Shia groups around the world such as Hezbollah. Iraq disturbingly became the wellspring for Islamic State or Daesh, which is the subject of my next book charting the collapse of Iraq and Syria.