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The Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988 is considered a complicated military conflict, which still has an impact on political environment today. Military operations took place in the territory of the Middle East, resulting in numerous destructions, destabilization of the economies of both countries, and causing huge human casualties on both sides. The war was caused by a number of reasons, the most important of which are geopolitics and the balance of power (Abdulrazaq, 2016). The military conflict occurred due to the complex internal and external difficulties in the region. The outcome of the Iraq-Iran war includes diverse financial, economic, political, and geopolitical aspects. The international problems of the Middle East are associated with an alteration of the balance of forces caused by the military conflict. Thus, it is reasonable to investigate the aftermath of Iraq-Iran war, as well as its impact on the Middle East in general, while paying special attention to its role in rebalancing forces.
The Reasons for Iraq-Iran War
The war began on the 22nd of September, 1980, when Iraq army invaded the western Iran. Iraq declared the intention to restore the border between the countries that had been valid until 1975 as the official reason for invasion (Abdulrazaq, 2016). However, the real reasons are much more complicated due to the territorial and political disputes between the countries. Territorial discrepancies between the neighboring countries arose in 1971, when Iran occupied several Iraq islands in the Persian Gulf. After that, Iraq planned to conquer the oil-rich Khuzestan province of Iran. The Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was concerned about the Islamic revolutionary government of Iran and feared the possibility of a Shiite revolt in the south of Iraq (Szczepanski, 2017). He was convinced that revolutionaries could destroy his domination and threaten the country. The attempt to assassinate his deputy prime minister as a result of an Islamic conspiracy shortly before the outbreak of hostilities convinced Hussein in the need for a war with Iran (Ahmed, 2017). Starting the military conflict, Hussein was going to take full control of both banks of the Shatt al-Arab river, along which the historical border between the two countries passed (Zeidel, 2013). Accordingly, this was his initial motivation.
While attacking Iran, the Iraqi leader wanted to take the advantage of disorder caused by internal revolution and demoralization of Iran’s regular armed forces. The Iraqi leader planned to quickly destroy the enemy in the border area and create an artificial state in the occupied territory (Abdulrazaq, 2016). It was expected that the military defeat of Iran led to the fall of revolutionary regime of the rival. Saddam Hussein had no specific operational plans for the war. He intended to lead the military actions until the complete victory and decimation of Iran’s government. Thus, at the beginning of the war in 1980, there was evident distribution of balance of powers. Accordingly, Iraq was greatly supported by the monarchies of the Persian Gulf and the USA, who feared the Shiite uprising as well as the USSR for the same reason (Barzegar, 2010). Iran found itself in an unfavorable position due to internal conflicts.
Brief History of Iraq-Iran War
The military conflict can be divided into 4 main phases:
Fall 1980 – summer 1982: on the 22nd of September, 1980, Iraq started air strikes and ground invasion of its army in the Iranian province of Khuzestan. This date is considered as the beginning of the war. By December 1980, the Iraq offensive was stopped after the unexpectedly strong resistance of the Iranian forces (Szczepanski, 2017). The army of Iran comprised volunteers who were poorly trained. Therefore, the Iranian army could not prepare a counteroffensive. In general, the Iraqi troops occupied one third of the territory of Khuzestan (Szczepanski, 2017). The war was at standoff for the most of 1981. By 1982, Iran intensified its forces and launched a successful attack on Iraq (Abdulrazaq, 2016). In June 1982, Saddam Hussein suggested ceasefire (Szczepanski, 2017). However, the Iranian government led by Ayatollah Khomeini rejected the proposed peace, demanding the removal of Saddam Hussein, and began to prepare for an invasion of Iraq.
1982 - end of 1984: in the summer of 1982, Iranian troops invaded a part of Iraq territory. However, due to high level of Iraq military preparation, the hostilities mainly took place in the border regions. Until the end of 1984, air and missile strikes on cities, military objects, oil installations, and tankers from both sides happened there (Szczepanski, 2017). The distribution of the balance of powers is remarkable in this period. The Soviet Union and France supported Saddam Hussein, while North Korea and China promoted Iran and supplied the country with weapons and ammunition.
1985-1987: diplomatic fight. Iran strived for the exiting diplomatic isolation, but the endeavors were unsuccessful. This period was known as the continuation of "tanker war", when oil tankers were attacked by the hostiles (Szczepanski, 2017). On land, the sides exchanged offensives and counteroffensives, without any particular results, except for thousands of dead and wounded.
Summer of 1988: peace agreement between the enemies. In February 1988, Hussein conducted a powerful missile attack on Iranian cities and began to prepare another offensive on Iranians in order to discard them from Iraq territory (Szczepanski, 2017). Iran, which was tired of 8 years of hostilities and bearing heavy losses, on the 20th of July, 1988, announced the adoption of a peace agreement (Zeidel, 2013). In fact, Iran accepted the same peace conditions that were rejected by their government in 1982.
After the 8-year war, no geopolitical changes occurred. Moreover, both sides suffered huge human losses since 180,000 Iraqis and 500,000 Iranians were killed and missing, while more than 1.5 million individuals were wounded (Zeidel, 2013). Thus, the goals set by the leaders of the two belligerent states were not accomplished and there could not be any winner in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.
The Outcome of the Iran-Iraq War
The Iran-Iraq war did not bring tangible results to the belligerents. Hussein could not retain the territory seized from Iran, and Khomeini was not able to overthrow the reign of his enemy Saddam Hussein (Ahmed, 2017). However, the outcome of the war was significant for both sides. Iraq was in great debt due to borrowing billions of dollars from the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf (Zeidel, 2013). In addition, the economic crisis provoked another war in Kuwait in 1990 started by Iraq’s initiative. The long duration of the war is explained by the fact that several times during the military conflict Hussein suggested a ceasefire. In response, the Iranian leader made it clear that peace was possible only under the condition that Hussein left (Szczepanski, 2017). Thus, the desire for power and domination was confronted with religious fanaticism, which led to great economic, financial, and human losses for both parties. This war is considered a war without a winner, as it has not brought visible results or changes in politics and geopolitics to either side.
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The Impact of the War on the Balance of Powers in the Middle East
Any distribution of the balance of powers is dependent on the capacity and authority of the states in a particular region. The Iran-Iraq war had a strong impact on the political course of the Persian Gulf countries. According to the traditional definition of the balance of powers, the Islamic Republic of Iran began to threaten the safety of not only the neighboring countries but also the distant ones (Barzegar, 2010). Revolutionary government of Iran and its declared intentions became the main reason why many countries of the Persian Gulf as well as the United States supported Saddam Hussein in his goal to decimate Iran as a world threat. As soon as Iran took advantage in the war in 1982, the economic and military assistance to Iraq increased not only from the USSR but also from Western countries (Barzegar, 2010). At that time, the hostilities shifted to the territory of Iraq and the excellence of Iran became obvious. The American government, which had previously complied with formal neutrality in the conflict, began to implement pro-Iraq policy, using Israel as a supplier of the US weapons to Hussein. The war in the region considerably weakened both "centers of power", causing the strengthening of the US military presence in the Persian Gulf (Barzegar, 2010). The state policy of the USA was aimed at retaining the regional stability and safety. In the 1980s, the West called the Islamic revolution in Iran and its increased effect on religious movements the main source of instability (Barzegar, 2010). During the 1990s, the need of simultaneous containment of Iran and Iraq determined the US policy directed at keeping the balance of powers and achievement of the strategic goals.
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In 1982, Washington has changed its position, declaring that the defeat of Iraq in the war is adverse to the US interests in the Middle East. At the same time, Baghdad was excluded from the list of states "supporting international terrorism", which contributed to the establishment and development of contacts between the USA and Iraq (Barzegar, 2010). In addition, the American government allocated $460 million to Iraq, which consequently convinced the European countries and banks of the solvency of the Hussein regime (Zeidel, 2013). Apparently, this enabled Iraq to receive the loans. Among other Western countries, France occupied the second place after the USA in supporting Iraq. Cooperation in the military sphere between France and Iraq began in the middle of 1970s, and France was the second largest importer of weapons to Iraq after the Soviet Union (Zeidel, 2013). Other European countries such as the Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal interacted with Iraq regarding the military issues as well but considerably less than the United States of America and France.
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Meanwhile, the balance of powers in the Middle East led to an arms race, creating the premise for the presence of foreign peacekeepers, and provoked the safety problems in the region. As a result, these factors intensified the tensions between the countries of the Persian Gulf. Iraq-Iran 1980 war led to the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, in its turn, due to huge debts of Iraq to this state (Barzegar, 2010). As a result of these events, conservative Arab countries appealed to the US government for assistance in their struggle for stability and safety. These actions fostered continuous crisis, confrontation of countries, and instability as well as destruction of natural resources and energy.
The Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988 caused a dangerous, unstable, and complicated political environment in the Middle East. Hostilities and political events altered the balance of powers between the countries of this region. As a result of the war, both belligerent states were weakened, which affected the policy and authority of the conflict participants as well as the countries of the Persian Gulf (Barzegar, 2010). The specific problems of Iran and Iraq after the end of the war included dependence and economic weakness, poor legitimacy, bad training of the army, and various internal conflicts. The aftermath of war shifted the emphasis to the threats facing the countries of the Persian Gulf (Barzegar, 2010). The inability to establish a new "safe" balance of powers between Iraq and Iran has led to the need for more efficient regional cooperation and constructive competition between the countries in the Middle East.
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The Aftermath Effect of the Conflict
The outcome of 1980 Iraq-Iran war included human, economic, financial and political aspects. The eight-year military conflict caused great damage to both belligerent countries. According to some estimations, more than 1.5 million people became victims of this war (Zeidel, 2013). Iraq suffered considerable casualties, namely about 180,000 were killed, 340,000 were wounded and 50,000 were imprisoned (Zeidel, 2013). During the war, about 300,000 people were killed from the Iranian side, more than 500,000 were wounded, and about 70,000 imprisoned (Zeidel, 2013).
As a result of air strikes and marine attacks, the infrastructure of both countries was destroyed. Oil-producing and oil-refining industries of both rivals suffered the most. Saddam Hussein took huge loans for conducting the hostilities, which caused Iraq’s external debt to the countries of the Persian Gulf, Europe, and the USA totaling more than $100 billion by the end of the conflict (Zeidel, 2013). The Iranian economy mainly supported by oil production experienced a deep and continuous crisis. None of the belligerents could pay off their external debts after the end of the war. Evidently, this has had a destructive economic impact on the countries that were the main arms suppliers to Iraq and Iran.
In addition, at the final stages of the war, Iraq used chemical weapons, testing its devastating power on the Kurds, who according to Hussein supported Iran. As a result of this operation, about 5,000 people were killed (Ahmed, 2017). There were many other known cases of application of chemical weapons during this war, while thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed as a result. The use of this type of mass destruction weapons in the conflict proved its efficiency. During the period of hostilities, Iraq applied bombs, artillery, and warheads of ballistic missiles. Thus, eight-year military conflict between Iraq and Iran is considered a war that ended in a draw (Szczepanski, 2017). None of the goals set by the leaders of the belligerent countries have been achieved. The geopolitical situation has remained unchanged, while the economies of both states have been notably damaged, the army and population have been significantly reduced.
The aftermath of 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran had a significant impact on the balance of powers in the Middle East. The outcome was related to political, geopolitical, and economic sides of both states. As a result of the war, both belligerent parties suffered huge losses in the army and population. The military conflict led to a long-term economic recession, which postponed the growth and development of the states. The war originally planned by Saddam Hussein as short and victorious transformed into eight-year fight with tragic outcome for both countries. This conflict became a serious trial for both opponents. None of the states had experience in conducting such a tense and long war. Despite the complete mobilization of resources, neither side had a decisive advantage at the front.
Both countries failed in their goals since Iraq could not decimate the revolutionary government of Iran, and Iran did not manage to extend the Islamic revolution in Iraq. With the signing of the ceasefire agreement, the belligerent states actually returned to the initial geopolitical situation that had existed before the beginning of the conflict. The fate of the war was decided by the disjointed actions of both armies with the support of the fleet, aviation, and usage of chemical weapons. In spite of the fact that both opponents declared their victory in the military conflict, neither of the sides could be considered as the real winner. Hostilities and a complicated political environment provoked safety problems in the region, which became the main reason for strengthening the presence of foreign peacekeepers in the Middle East. At the end of the war, both belligerent countries were weak, economically dependent, and illegitimate. Thus, the outcome of the struggle had an essential influence on the balance of powers in the Middle East.