A Long, Vicious And Forgotten War: The country which unleashed the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) was Iraq. For the duration, Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, was able to count on the strong support of the United States. The backing of Presidents Jimmy Carter’s and Ronald Reagan’s administrations never wavered, not even when, for the first time since World War One, the Iraqis deployed chemical weapons.
WILL THERE BE a war with Iran? Better to ask: will there be another war with Iran?
So many of us in the West have forgotten that the country, currently being fitted-up as the next Middle Eastern aggressor, endured eight years of extremely vicious fighting, at the cost of at least half-a-million lives, between 1980 and 1988.
The country which unleashed this war was Iraq. For the duration, Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, was able to count on the strong support of the United States. The backing of Presidents Ronald Reagan’s and Jimmy Carter’s administrations never wavered, not even when, for the first time since World War One, the Iraqis deployed chemical weapons.
The date of the Iran-Iraq War’s outbreak, September 1980, is significant. Eleven months earlier, 52 American hostages had been seized in an attack on the US Embassy in Tehran. When his secret mission to rescue the hostages ended in disaster, President Jimmy Carter quietly appealed to Saddam, who, as a secular Baathist, was no friend of Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution”, for help. His reward, providing his army could win them, would be Iran’s most productive oil fields.
The hostages’ eventual liberation, pointedly timed to coincide with Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, came in January 1981. When asked by a reporter if he would ever go back to Iran, one of the freed hostages replied: “Only in a B-52!” Thanks to Saddam’s illegal invasion, however, President Reagan was never required to unleash his strategic bombers on the Iranians. The Iraqi armed forces had become America’s proxy punishers. Iran had humiliated the United States, and for eight terrible years it was required to pay the price.
With another war on Iranian soil looming, it is interesting to register the size of the Iraqi invasion force. Saddam sent 100,000 troops and hundreds of battle tanks across the Iranian border in September 1980, while his air force flew hundreds of sorties against Iranian targets. The scale of Saddam’s invasion bears close comparison with the Anglo-Soviet invasion of neutral Iran in August 1941. That, too, was a massive affair, involving hundreds of thousands of British Empire and Soviet troops.
Remember, these were invasions of Iran – not by Iran. As strategic analyst, Dr Paul Buchanan, observes:
“[I]t should be remembered that modern Iran has not engaged in an unprovoked attack on another country. Although it supports and uses irregular military proxies, it is nowhere close to being the sponsor of terrorism that several Sunni Arab petroleum oligarchies are. In spite of its anti-Israel rhetoric (destined for domestic political consumption), it has not fired a shot in anger towards it.”
This is important. If war is unleashed against Iran, its 80 million citizens will find themselves engaged in a defensive war. Accordingly, the Iranians will enjoy the home-ground advantage. The Americans, and whoever is foolish enough to join them in such a mad endeavour, will find themselves, like the Iraqis, required to fight not only Iran’s people, but also its formidable geography. In addition to confronting human-beings, the United States will be battling snow-capped mountain ranges and waterless deserts.
The Americans are not daunted. When it comes to the Middle East (and its oil) the behaviour of the United States can only be described as unhinged. When Saddam dared to act independently of the US, the debt America owed his country, for its costly – and ultimately futile – war against its Iranian neighbour, was forgotten in a heartbeat.
And it wasn’t just Saddam who paid dearly for his failure to comprehend the full extent of America’s derangement. When US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was asked by CBS’s Lesley Stahl: “We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
Astonishingly, the same people who beat the war-drums for the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, are beating them again in 2019. President Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, gives every impression of never having seen a square kilometre of Middle Eastern soil which could not be immeasurably improved by being pulverised with US ordnance.
It would be comforting to believe that wiser heads will prevail. Sadly, history suggests otherwise.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 July 2019.