Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review The Iran-Iraq War Volume 3: Iraq’s Triumph

Review Hooton, E.R, Cooper, Tom, and Nadimi, Farzin, The Iran-Iraq War Volume 3: Iraq’s Triumph, West Midlands: Helion & Company Limited, 2018

The Iran-Iraq War Volume 3 again focuses upon Basra province like the previous volume. From 1986-88 there were four major Iranian offensives and three Iraqi ones in southern Iraq. For Tehran the goal of all their operations was to take the city of Basra which it hoped would deal a death blow to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iraq on the other hand, wanted to recapture the territory it lost in Basra in the middle of the 1980s. The authors give a very detailed run down of each of these campaigns covering the planning, the implementation down to the battalion level and the effects. The book blames the Iranian leadership for failing to see the realities of the war in the second half of the decade, while Saddam finally gave way to more competent commanders to turn the tide of the conflict.

In the mid-1980s the Iranians had seized the initiative in the war and carried out a series of attack which attempted and failed to seize Basra city. That was covered in volume two of the series. The authors placed much of the blame for this outcome upon the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), which had major shortcomings such as a lack of heavy equipment and poor command and control. By the end of the decade Tehran was still trying to take the province with diminishing returns. Hootin, Cooper and Nadimi this time believed that the Iranian leadership, especially the clerics were responsible because they ignored military conditions and strategy, and ordered one offensive after another with no real hope of success. That cost the lives of thousands of men from the IRGC, which were some of the most devout followers of the Iranian Revolution.

For example, in 1987-88 Iran launched two assaults upon the Iraqi Fish Lake defensive line that protected Basra with no real regard for its own personnel. The January 1987 Operation Karbala 5 was launched with little planning, took no account of tactics, and was rushed into action. The Iranians assembled a force of 215,000 men almost all coming from the Revolutionary Guard with the goal of breaking through the Fish Lake line and then moving on Basra city. The Iranians lacked armor and artillery and were attacking an in depth defensive system of berms, trenches and strong points backed by massive firepower and air superiority. They would also be open to Iraqi fire from three directions. Facing this dilemma, the Iranian leadership ignored any innovative techniques to counter the Iraqi advantages and ordered frontal assaults instead. Even the IRGC commanders were weary of the campaign. The next year in June, Operation Beit al-Moqaddas 7 used four understrength IRGC divisions to attack the northern wing of Fish Lake that was doomed from the start. During Karbala 5 the Iranians made a 10 kilometer beachhead, were able to shell Basra City, and were helped by an incompetent Iraqi corps commander, but couldn’t sustain their advance. The IRGC suffered such high casualties that the Guard Ministry called for volunteers to help during the offensive. Once the ineffective Iraqi corps commander was removed the Iraqis quickly counterattacked and recaptured almost all of the lost territory by the start of February. The Iranians lost an estimated 52,000-62,000 casualties versus 40,000 on the Iraqi side. Beit al-Moqaddas 7 attacked north of Fish Lake, drove 9-10 kilometers into the Iraqi lines but within hours the Iraqis had pushed them back to their starting points. The Iranians suffered 4,000 casualties versus 2,500 by the Iraqis. Neither offensive achieved anything but huge losses. That could have been predicted even before they were started, but the leadership in Tehran didn’t seem to care. Despite the tide of the war turning in the middle of the 80s, they were still convinced they could win through pure revolutionary zeal, and sacrificed their men in fruitless attacks as a result.

The Iraqis on the other hand, were facing a completely different situation as they were carrying out their first successful operations since the start of the war. Saddam Hussein shook up his military commanders in July 1987 to put in more offensive minded officers. That led to the April 1988 Operation Ramadan which retook the Fao Peninsula, the May 1988 Operation Tawakkalna ala Allah that recaptured the Majnoon Islands, and the June 1988 Tawakkalna ala Allah 2 that eliminated the last Iranian bridgehead around Fish Lake and entered Iranian territory in Khuzistan province. The Iraqis finally had more professional officers, better planning and training, and used their large advantages in armor, artillery and air power to break through the Iranian defenses and take back all the territory that was lost in Basra province. Earlier in the war, Saddam was too controlling and the officer corps was mostly determined by Baath Party membership and relations to Saddam’s extended family, which didn’t help with professionalism and competence. Towards the end of the war, Saddam finally loosened the reigns and gave the military more freedom, which resulted in a series of successes.  

The one critique of volume three is that it mentions the last two Iraqi offensives in July 1988, which occurred in central Iran, but only in passing. Those two operations are discussed in more depth in volume four, but because the title of this book is “Iraq’s Triumph” and number four is “The Forgotten Fronts” it seems like the former would have been a better home for that information.

The Helion Company did terrific job with this entire series on the Iran-Iraq War. Although each volume is only around 70-80 pages long, they are printed on large size paper with small font so they pack a lot. There are tons of pictures from personnel collections, which means they haven’t been seen publicly before, maps of each campaign, and charts breaking down the opposition forces in each campaign.

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