The Iran-Iraq war, which would last for eight years and claim the lives of about a million people, began with an Iraqi invasion of Iran, on this day, September 22nd, 1980.
The pretext for the invasion was the revolution in Iran, which had toppled the Shah and replaced him with a Shiite Islamic dictatorship. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, with a Sunni Muslim majority, felt threatened by an unstable neighbour – or at least that’s what it claimed. Saddam may also have been motivated by a desire to become the most powerful of the Arab states by adding to Iraqs oil reserves.
Over the course of the war, controversially, Iraq received considerable funding and support from the United States, which saw Iran as the greater threat. Though Henry Kissinger famously said of the conflict “it’s a pity they both can’t lose”.
Iraq used chemical weapons, repeatedly, against Iran. Several countries – Portugal, and Yugoslavia, for example, made money by selling weapons to both sides, as did the Soviet Union.
Because both sides were equally matched, the war dragged on for eight years, and descended into trench warfare, much like world war one. The slaughter was brutal. According to journalist Robin Wright:
During the Fateh offensive in February 1987, I toured the southwest front on the Iranian side and saw scores of boys, aged anywhere from nine to sixteen, who said with staggering and seemingly genuine enthusiasm that they had volunteered to become martyrs. Regular army troops, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards and mullahs all lauded these youths, known as baseeji [Basij], for having played the most dangerous role in breaking through Iraqi lines. They had led the way, running over fields of mines to clear the ground for the Iranian ground assault. Wearing white headbands to signify the embracing of death, and shouting “Shaheed, shaheed” (Martyr, martyr) they literally blew their way into heaven. Their numbers were never disclosed. But a walk through the residential suburbs of Iranian cities provided a clue. Window after window, block after block, displayed black-bordered photographs of teenage or preteen youths.
The War ended in 1988, with a UN-brokered Ceasefire. Neither country gained any territory, or won any concessions. After eight years of slaughter, nobody achieved anything.
The Iran Iraq war, which started on this day, September 22nd, 1980.